How China's Twitter, Weibo, Became a Dating Platform

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Let's say you're a young man at Wuhan Normal University looking for a date. What would you do? You might post your photo, some basic information, and a QQ number to an "Instant Photo" group on Sina Weibo, a 140-million-user strong Chinese microblogging service, according to a post from technology researcher Tricia Wang. Then, the instant photo group would repost that information, allowing others looking around the Wuhan University Singles Rescues to get in touch with you. Simple, easy, and if Wang and Beijing Today are to be believed, the practice has exploded in China.

Here's an example of a posting:

weibo_4.png

Hey friends, I'm here! Born in 1988, 180cm tall, junior at Wuhan Normal University, from Xiamen. I'm a good person with a fun personality. I like to play basketball and sing. I'm pretty laid-back. I want to find someone to relax with and watch movies.
Wang has a lot to say about the phenomenon, glossing its Chinese cultural context, origins in a child rescue service, and possible implications for what Weibo can be a service. Those details are worth reading.

This also reflects changing norms among younger and older people around love and relationship. Online dating isn't a popular way to meet people; there's still a social stigma attached to it. But many of the people I spoke to said that using Weibo for finding a girl/boy-friend wasn't real online dating and that for them this was a very comfortable way of exploring "possibilities."
I'm fascinated that nothing similar has developed with Twitter. It may be that Twitter is not technologically a good platform for such a thing, as Wang insinuates.

On Weibo, you can have threaded converstaions, track commentary on posts, embed various media formats, view media within the same window, and sort by content type. There are a lot of other features... but this is all to say that communities like these can  develop on Weibo precisely because of its rich features and stable platform. Weibo simply works. There are no fail Weibo jokes.
Last point: one excellent thing about the development of the Chinese Internet is that Americans get to look across the Pacific at something technically like our own tubes, but distinct along many vectors. Let it serve as a reminder that these systems are both contingent (i.e. stuff just happens) and influenced by the culture in which they're implanted.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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