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Leader of Twitter on 'personal' China visit

Publication Date : 18-03-2014


Twitter Inc, one of world's most popular social networking service providers, took its first steps into China on Monday, with the company's chief executive officer starting a three-day visit - his first - to the world's second-largest economy.

Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO, arrived at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Monday morning.

His visit will take place only in China's business hub; Beijing will not be on the itinerary this time.

Describing the trip as a personal one, Costolo said he intends to mainly meet with academics, college students and officials in Shanghai.

Twitter refused to disclose more details about Costolo's talks with Shanghai government officials, explaining only that Costolo wants to "learn more about Chinese culture and the country's thriving technology sector".

What has been confirmed regarding Costolo's itinerary is a visit to Fudan University, the official sponsor of his visa. On Wednesday morning, he is scheduled to hold a roundtable meeting with teachers and students at the Journalism School and meet with some of the scholars afterward, according to e-mails from the school.

Hong Bo, an IT reviewer and former editor-in-chief of DoNews, a large information technology forum in China, also characterized Costolo's visit as basically a personal, not a business, trip.

"It is still very difficult for Twitter to enter China for the time being, as many of the tweets touch on political topics. But its Chinese counterpart, Sina Weibo, does not serve as an outlet for these sensitive topics," he said.

China is a huge market that no company would turn down, "but we have also seen Facebook receiving more than 1 billion users and prices going up even though it has been blocked in China for a long time", Hong said.

It also was reported by Shanghai local media that Costolo would meet with the officials from the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone. But the administrative committee of the FTZ said it had not been informed about Costolo's schedule, which was arranged by Shanghai's foreign affairs administration department.

Before the FTZ - which serves to test market liberalisation measures - was officially established, there were media reports of loosening Internet restrictions, such as lifting the ban on Facebook Inc and Twitter.

But authorities quickly scotched those rumours, and no sign of loosening has been shown thus far.

Ahead of his visit, Twitter denied it would be setting up a Chinese office anytime soon, as they don't want to "sacrifice the principles of the platform and the way we think users should be able to communicate in order to do so", Costolo told an interviewer in June.

But even though Twitter has not officially entered China, the company still can make money from the Chinese market.

A large number of Chinese application developers are now using MoPub, Twitter's mobile advertisement platform. Lenovo Group Ltd is one of them.

Unlike Costolo, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has stated on numerous occasions the company's goal of entering China.

Twitter, however, has never expressed such ideas.

For a social networking and micro-blogging service provider such as Twitter, its user numbers are what it lives on, as it mentioned in a public note released at its initial public offering last October, saying "our financial performance has been and will continue to be significantly determined by our success in growing the number of users and increasing our overall level of engagement on our platform as well as the number of ad engagements."

Twitter also has displayed its ambitions in emerging markets. In December, it signed a contract with a Swiss mobile software company to offer cheap Twitter access to users of low-end tariffs and basic "feature" phones. The service initially will be rolled out to users in Latin America, Africa, Asia and India.

Twitter also introduced its simplified Chinese version in 2011. But it seems that the service was not that popular. According to statistics released by Colorado-based social media data provider Gnip, only 0.05 per cent of the tweets sent in 2013 were written in Chinese.

But the juicy numbers released during Twitter's IPO showed it has 215 million monthly active users, 100 million daily users and sends 500 million tweets every day.


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