22 September 2018

Can Sina Weibo replicate Twitter’s big data success?

Big data is the buzzword right now. The term refers to a collection of both structured and unstructured data whose volume is so large that it makes data processing a very challenging task. For example, dealing with trillions of records of millions of people culled from different sources like web, sales, customer contact centers, social media, mobile phones and so on.

These data sets are so large that it is difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques. But data companies are rushing into the market, hoping to dig out whatever is valuable. Incidentally, this is also one of the fastest growing services provided by the operator of the US microblogging site Twitter (TWTR.US).

According to a regulatory filing from Twitter, its two largest income drivers are ad revenues and data licensing. In the data business, Twitter needs to group the data systematically at the first stage, and then it could get paid by allowing its data partners to access, search and analyze historical and real-time data on its platform.

Its revenue from selling data reached US$48 million last year, accounting for 15 percent of its top line. Such income has gone up 52 percent in the first half of this year.

After analyzing what people tweet, people can obtain information like the best time to update a blog post or when to release an advertisement. According to financial news channel CNBC, IBM has created a lab which specializes in analyzing big data, and it claims it can figure out a user’s personality in 200 tweets. The information is valuable in terms of target marketing.

In its filing, Twitter has cited Asian companies like Sina (SINA.US), which operates the Weibo microblogging platform, as its competitors.

Weibo, with its 500 million registered users, is certainly a formidable player, but can it really replicate Twitter’s success with big data?

Sina Weibo was largely considered as the mainland copycat of Twitter, but the former’s focus has gradually changed after e-commerce giant Alibaba bought an 18 percent stake this April.

Weibo is seemingly deviating from the microblog concept, and turning into a marketing platform as tons of e-commerce advertisements begin to emerge on the microblogging site.

The problem with those advertisements is that they are not precise enough, as internet forum provider Chinese Software Developer Network noted. For example, ads for girls’ clothes keep popping up in a grown-up man’s account, suggesting Sina still does not have the ability to gather, dig into and analyze its users’ data accurately.

Huge amount of unrelated advertisements may even annoy users and drive them away from the site eventually.

Twitter saw its shares soar 73 percent on their trading debut on the New York Stock Exchange last Thursday, while Sina shares have been trending lower in recent weeks.

Investors’ strong interest in Twitter can be interpreted as confidence in the company’s big data future. Twitter’s glitter has not rubbed off on Sina, a reflection of the Chinese firm’s laggard status in the arena.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]



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