Twitter is a giant. Its growth is insane. Its community is vast.
It seems unlikely that there can be a competitor to Twitter, at least not in the English speaking world. However, in China, Social Media is taking off with competitors to Twitter (and Facebook) who are grabbing market share nearly as fast as the bird itself did it its early days. And, it may open up a great opporutnity for 3rd party developers who heavily contributed to Twitter's rapid growth.
Sina Weibo is a Chinese microblogging site, is a social media site similar to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, launched by SINA Corporation, China's biggest web portal, in August 2009. According to Sina, the Weibo microblogging has more than 140 million users and millions of posts per day, and is adding 20 million new users per month. According to iResearch, Weibo has 56.5% of the microblogging market based on active users and 86.6% based on browsing time over competitors such as Tencent and Baidu. Sina has said it has more than 60,000 verified accounts, consisting of celebrities, sports stars and other VIPs. The top 100 users now have over 180 million followers combined. Furthermore, Sina said that more than 5,000 companies and 2,700 media organizations in China are currently using Weibo. The site is maintained by a growing microblogging department of 200 employees responsible for technology, design, operations, and marketing. The site is currently available in both simplified and traditional Chinese characters. (source: Wikipedia)
According to Dave from @TweetSmarter in an interview Leo Widrich:
"It isn't that hard for an international company to grow large enough to be a potential challenger to Twitter. MySpace could make changes and being growing again, and Sina Weibo with nearly 150 million total users is arriving in English soon."
Perhaps the most interesting thing Weibo has done is immediately make it more commercialized. Something Twitter has always had a love-hate relationship with 3rd party apps over.
According to Kathrin Hille of the Financial Times,
"Sina Corp, Weibo's parent, has developed features to make it more suitable than Twitter for commercial use. Pictures and videos can be easily posted and re-posted. Re-posted messages form a long thread in which pictures remain visible, and such a conversation makes it much easier for a commercial product or service to go viral."
The Big Opportunity:
In the often ethnocentric world of the west it's fairly easy to look at what is out there and assume the well is dry when it comes to microblogging innovation. But I am going to be watching this space very closely in other countries. The "lower hanging fruit" that was Twitter for developers may not be so accessible anymore, but it seems like there is still a lot of room for innovation - you just have to have a good translator.