Weibo Story, ambient stories

Recently, Weibo, the Chinese dominant microblogging service, launched a new function called Weibo Story. It is similar to Instagram’s Story or Snapchat, which sets a limit of 24 hours for visual posts to exist online. The content posted through Weibo Story is not allowed for reposting and liking, which largely restricts its reach and spread to the wider community. My immediate reaction to this move is: Why does Weibo incorporate this copycat function? Here are my answers:

Launching new functions is always thought to be a key strategy to increase APP visibility and user engagement. Just a few examples include Facebook Live, Twitter Moment, WeChat Lucky Money, and the recent Weibo Story, all of which have fostered a hot topic both within and beyond the platform. The new function in the meantime brings novelty and fun to its users, especially those younger population who embrace changes and innovations. Their curiosity and tryouts boost user engagement and online content contribution.

As any single piece of Weibo Story stays online for only 24 hours, the anxiety of keeping up-to-date is therefore intensified among the users. Previously, Weibo users do not need to worry about missing other people’s posts, because they can always check back the content later, which is well archived on the timeline. Now users need to keep an eye on and tap immediately those red circled profiles, which indicates there is a Weibo Story due in fewer than 24 hours. Especially in the case that early adopters of this function are celebrities and online personalities, fandom publics, known for their loyalty and deep affection to these stars, appear to be the most anxious group, who will flood into these accounts, occupy the first row of comments (aka Shafa), and interact with other fellow fans.

Though not fully realized, Weibo Story holds the potential for news storytelling. On one hand, it opens the door for live broadcasting, particularly during major events such as crisis, ceremonies and sports games, where journalists and other witnesses are eager to communicate about the occurrences with the distant public at the first place. On the other hand, Weibo Story echoes the global trend of visual reporting, from viral Internet memes to compelling on-scene snapshots. As visuals are more dynamic and unpredictable, Weibo Story creates leeway for citizens to post content which would be otherwise censored in written form by the government. Toward this end, Weibo Story may not only consolidate Weibo’s role in online journalism, but also gain back Weibo’s democratic potentials, especially in facilitating both collective and connective actions in Chinese society.

Also noteworthy is the creative adaption of bullet screened comments (aka “dan mu”) into Weibo Story, distinguishing itself from other applications with similar functions mentioned above. While users cannot comment on Instagram’s Story, Weibo Story leaves the comment board open for verified users and carves out space for interaction, thus transforming the monologue of the poster into a chorus joined by a group of users. This feature reminds me of the recent booming live streaming apps, which have been recently regulated strictly or even cracked down by the Chinese government due to its porn and other illicit content. It is obvious that Weibo, as a late adopter in live streaming service, has the ambition to step into the flourishing area, and even to lead the market based on its giant user base and high-quality verified users.

Weibo Story is still in its infancy, but entails great capacity. Just like every early copycats on the Chinese Internet, Weibo Story, growing out of the West counterpart, must be able to carry out a Big Story with its own Chinese characteristics, as seen from OICQ to Tencent QQ, from Ebay to Taobao, from WhatsAPP to WeChat, and from Twitter to Weibo. The new Story is yet to come. Let’s wait and see!

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