The new year tweeting frenzy reflects the massive growth of Chinese microblogging sites, which quadrupled their user numbers in 2011, according to Chinese government statistics. About 250 million people in China now use microblogs, almost a half of the country’s total online population.
Access to Twitter is blocked by the Chinese government, so most Chinese microblog users turn to home-grown equivalents. Twenty-six year old office worker Zhao Jie uses a Chinese microblog called Sina Weibo. “I stopped tweeting before the New Year, because I was busy preparing to go home,” he said. “But on New Years’ Eve I started again, and probably tweeted twice as much as I did last year.”
China’s cellphone subscribers sent out more text messages this New Year than ever before: 800 million text messages were sent on one network in Beijing alone, an increase of 4 percent on last year, according to mobile service provider China Mobile. Over 900 million people in China now use a cellphone, according to Chinese government statistics, and more smartphones were sold in China last year than any other country.
The rise of microblogs seems to have killed off some forms of text-messaging. Beijingers sent two thirds fewer picture messages with their cellphones than last New Year, suggesting that Chinese users prefer to post pictures to their microblogs to using relatively slow and expensive picture messaging services.
Its likely that the Year of the Dragon will a slower expansion in microblog use, as user levels have reached saturation point. “After reaching high levels, microblog usage rates have ended their explosive growth,” a report by China’s internet Information Center said this month.