Breaking the Barrier

Sina Weibo is best described to a Western audience as a hybrid version of Facebook and Twitter, and over the next few weeks I set out to find out why. In my previous post, Melissa精彩, I discussed the signup process I went through to gain a Sina Weibo, this week I’m going to report back about my first week using the social networking site.

One of the founding features of Twitter is its limit on how many characters you can tweet, this being 140, which is also a feature on Sina Weibo. I wrote my first weibo (which literally means microblog in English) using a translated version of the site, assuming that it would turn my English characters into simplified Chinese once posted, because of the Chinese orgins of the site, but it did not. Despite the site not translating my posts, I thought I would of received the equivalent amount of characters in English, but this was not so. 140 Chinese characters allows the user to be significantly more expressively than 140 English characters as you are not forced to abbreviate like I often am on Twitter, which implies by using English I would be significantly limiting my weibo capacity (Gao, Abel, Houben and Yu 2010).

Having realised that my posts didn’t translate, I decided to explore and see if I could find any other accounts that used English, my results were negative, however I left my post in English along with my biography, which also didn’t automatically translate, to experiment. A few days later and I have received zero likes on my post, despite 59 people having read it. I also only gained 4 followers, and all the private messages I received were still in Chinese (this feature being more closely linked to the Facebook feature). Even upon discovering that there were other Australian accounts on the site, I still feel like an outsider, as they have taken to using Chinese, so this suggests I really should also.

Last week I also downloaded the Sina Weibo app to my phone, presuming when I found out it was English that it may actually translate certain things. I was mistaken and the only thing it enables me to do is navigate around the app because those are the only elements in English. All notifications, posts and messages are still in Chinese, so it’s a lost cause for me use it, not knowing an ounce of Chinese. Interestingly, the partial English interface for the site only eventuated last year, whilst the app has been around since April 2011 (Custer 2013).

So next week I’m going to give up attempting to use the app except to examine posts in Chinese, and try using Google Translate to translate my posts and see if that enhances my popularity and experience on Sina Weibo. I also intend to start mapping out my research report, which I have decided  will be an investigation of Chinese social media through the methodology of Sina Weibo.


Custer, C 2013, ‘Sina Weibo Launched an English Web Interface, But Why So Little So Late?’, TechInAsia, 10 January, viewed 11/9/14, <>

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.


  1. Navigating across that language barrier will present you with plenty of opportunities to be self-reflexive and autoethnographic. This is especially true in regards to how you enjoy it as a platform and how accurately you are able to both convey and extract meaning from posts with Google translate acting as a mediator across this barrier. Whenever a meaning becomes unclear or uncertain you can ask yourself, “is this happening as a result of language differences or cultural differences?”


  2. Hey,
    This is such an interesting idea for a research topic! I often forget about other social media sites that I might not use regularly (AKA those other than Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and this definitely helped to remind me of it. I find it really interesting that you are using China as a case study due to the high level of internet regulation that they have in that country – I think that this is definitely a factor when you think about the barriers between Chinese users and others, like yourself!
    Good work, this post was really informative, and you really use the autoethnographic methodology well, through the way you’ve included your own personal experience with the site.


  3. Sounds like a really interesting research topic! A couple of other questions I think would be great to ask yourself during your experiences could be along the lines of “what things did I pay attention to most?”, “what would I do differently next time if I researched the same thing?”, or may “are there any unexplainable holes in my understanding?”. I got these couple from Sheridan which I’ve been using as a starting point for my own questions.
    I think that there are so many opportunities with this study for you to reflect on and analyse, so your problem will probably be choosing between them! (lucky.)
    I hope I was actually kind of helpful, and good luck with everything!
    – Gabi


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