(21st Century Business Herald 2011.03.09)

On March 4, Sina launched the Weibo Air application for its microblogging service, which incorporates all of the traditional offerings in addition to IM. The new function enables users to communicate via a chat box on the microblogging service, a feature similar to QQ, China’s most popular IM service.

A message containing a download link to Weibo Air sent by a Sina employee has been re-sent 2,059 times and attracted 190 comments from internet users. Market watcher XIE Wen said that whether Sina’s Wiebo Air app could impact on QQ would depend on the development of the entire microblogging service and not just the development of the app itself.

Weibo, which now has more than 100 million registered users, has proved to be a huge boon for Sina. Its stock price has risen from around $30 at the beginning of 2010 to $88.73 at the close of trading in New York on Tuesday, giving Sina a market value of around $5 billion. Weibo was launched in August 2009.

Tencent, one of China’s largest and best known internet companies, is valued at around $51 billion, almost 10 times the size of Sina. Its stock closed at HK$226.80 on Tuesday in Hong Kong.

Tencent is seen as the biggest rival to Sina in China’s nascent but booming microblogging field, although competition is now coming from web portals NetEase.com and Sohu.com, which have both launched similar services. A Chinese internet industry executive told the 21st Century Business Herald that the Weibo Air app would optimizes Sina’s microblogging service and help it build a valuable social network through its embedded IM tool. He also said Sina’s Weibo social network might become more valuable that Tencent’s, as users of Weibo are newer and connect with their friends more often, whereas QQ users are usually old friends who keep in touch less frequently.

HONG Bo, founder of 5G, a consulting company, said Weibo won’t replace QQ because Tencent’s IM is like a mobile phone, while microblogging is just a function of the phone. HONG added that microblogging is only a medium for broadcasting and not a peer-to-peer communication tool, so Tencent’s service has its own value.