In 2009 the chinese government, concerned about how information could spread rapidly among millions of people over microblogs, blocked Twitter and shuttered domestic equivalents. Amid those obstacles, Charles Chao saw an opportunity. A journalist turned accountant who rose through the executive ranks to head Sina, China's largest Internet portal, he backed the company's own microblog service despite the failures of earlier players. And Beijing approved it, thanks in part to Sina's record of keeping content the government deems sensitive off its 20 million blogs.
The result, Sina Weibo, is a high-powered service that Chao, 45, calls a mashup of Twitter and Facebook. Weibo's photo and video features, plus the natural conciseness of the Chinese language, make it wildly popular in China. It reached 100 million users in March, vs. 200 million for Twitter. Weibo's ranks are filled with celebrities and athletes, scholars and artists and millions of regular folks from across the Chinese-speaking world. It is censored, Chao acknowledges, but it is also one of the freest online platforms in China.
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