Reflecting On The Usability of Sina Weibo

So as I wrap up my investigation of Chinese social media and my autoethnographic experience of having a Sina Weibo account, I think it’s important to discuss the usability of the site and my response to this in light of my research. To reflect on the experience, I felt it would be beneficial to explore how I went about responding to the features of the platform and how it was used by those in China, and compare this to my Australian experience of social media platforms, namely Twitter and Facebook.

Initially I found the entire experience of using Sina Weibo disorientating and frustrating due to my severe lack of understanding of Mandarin, however once I looked past the language barrier I began to find aspects of the site familiar to Facebook and Twitter. As noted by Chao, the creator, he aimed to make Weibo’s interface more closely related to Facebook’s to increase its “stickiness”, meaning users would be more likely to stay on the site longer than if he decided to replicate Twitter’s interface (Epstien 2011). In my own experience, I find that I definitely spend longer on Facebook than Twitter and choose to access Twitter through the Tweetdeck app rather than the site because I feel that’s how I can get full functionality out of the platform. I felt that the functionality of Sina Weibo was much more similar to Facebook due to its sidebar, top bar, private chat feature and comment system, however I found the way people chose to use it was more closely related to my use of Twitter.

Gao et al (2012) conducted a comparative study of the users’ of Sina Weibo and Twitter providing some insight into these differences between usage, however I could not find any comparison between Sina Weibo and Facebook usage despite the common description of Sina Weibo as being a hybrid version of Facebook and Twitter. One significant point of difference in usage was the time in which users of the site were most active. Gao et al found that Sina Weibo users posted 19% more messages per day on the weekend, whilst Twitter users posted 11% less messages during the weekend, which I believe aligns with my own use of Twitter and is reflective of each country’s differing lifestyles (p. 98, 2012).

In terms of actual usability of the platform and its technical features, it is once again more closely related to Twitter (see Breaking The Barrier). The use of hashtags, I found on Sina Weibo to be quite annoying, however later I found out that the platform had the ability to perform ‘double hashtags’, which enables hashtags to integrate better with the text and in hindsight I now see that (Ghedin 2013).

Overall, I feel like I have achieved my aim, which was to investigate Chinese social media using the methodology of creating a Sina Weibo account. Through investigating the sign up process, governance, technology and usability of Sina Weibo through an autoethnographic perspective, I feel I have learnt quite a lot about the social media use in China and am able to inform an Australian audience about this topic through a research report.

Sources:

Epstien, G, 2011, ‘Sina Weibo’, Forbes, 3 March, viewed 12/10/14, < http://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0314/features-charles-chao-twitter-fanfou-china-sina-weibo.html>

Ghedin, G, 2013, Understanding Sina Weibo: Hashtags, VIP Hastags and More, Digital In The Round, article, 4 July, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.digitalintheround.com/sina-weibo-hashtags-vips/

Gao, Q, Abel, F, Houben, G.J & Yu, Y 2012, ‘A Comparative Study of Users’ Microblogging Behavior on SIna Weibo And Twitter’, Unknown, pp.88-101.

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