Baidu Launches “Twitter-like” Service iTieba, Then States That It’s Not Microblogging

The following is my latest post on Digital East Asia.

Two weeks ago Baidu, Inc. ((ADR) NASDAQ: BIDU) rolled out iTieba (in Chinese), an addition to the Tieba topic forums (think Google Groups, but much much more popular – Tieba literally means “post bar”). iTieba is a personal status page for Tieba users, a throw back to the original idea behind Twitter.

The site immediately caught the attention of the Chinese media, with many stating that Baidu has joined in the competition of microblogging platforms. Comparisons were immediately made to the Twitter clone launched by Sina Corporation ((USA) NASDAQ: SINA), as both prominently featured celebrity accounts. Sina is the master of using celebrities to push its services, as can be seen by its massively popular Sina blogs where it seems most Chinese stars from all walks of life reside (including Kaifu Lee, former head of Google Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chinese group). For Baidu’s iTieba, at launch it already had a number of popular celebrities such as Jet Li, and one pop artist has already amassed 1MM followers.

Interestingly, Shu Xun, the division manager of Baidu Tieba, went on the record on his Sina microblogging account to say that iTieba is not a microblogging service:

“Sina Microblog is very fun and I check it regularly. Thank you for all your interest in iTieba. iTieba is just the personal center of Tieba, and is a function of Tieba, so people who don’t use Tieba may not be used to it. According to my knowledge, Baidu has no plans for a microblogging service.”
– Shu Xun, Division Manager, Tieba

So it remains to be seen whether iTieba is a serious microblogging play from Baidu, or just a very Twitter-like new function for Tieba. Sina Microblog (which remains to be creatively named) has gained good traction in the past few months, both thanks to its celebrity strategy and the competition vacuum created when most of the leading Twitter clones in China were shut down for political reasons (the former leader, Fanfou, is still down, while Digu has returned). Microblogging is still a very new thing in China, and the potentially huge market is up for grabs, so it won’t be surprising if Baidu does want a piece of the action.

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