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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58356. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058356. Epub 2013 Mar 8.

Reality check for the Chinese microblog space: a random sampling approach.

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Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.


Chinese microblogs have drawn global attention to this online application's potential impact on the country's social and political environment. However, representative and reliable statistics on Chinese microbloggers are limited. Using a random sampling approach, this study collected Chinese microblog data from the service provider, analyzing the profile and the pattern of usage for 29,998 microblog accounts. From our analysis, 57.4% (95% CI 56.9%,58.0%) of the accounts' timelines were empty. Among the 12,774 non-zero statuses samples, 86.9% (95% CI 86.2%,87.4%) did not make original post in a 7-day study period. By contrast, 0.51% (95% CI 0.4%,0.65%) wrote twenty or more original posts and 0.45% (95% CI 0.35%,0.60%) reposted more than 40 unique messages within the 7-day period. A small group of microbloggers created a majority of contents and drew other users' attention. About 4.8% (95% CI 4.4%,5.2%) of the 12,774 users contributed more than 80% (95% CI,78.6%,80.3%) of the original posts and about 4.8% (95% CI 4.5%,5.2%) managed to create posts that were reposted or received comments at least once. Moreover, a regression analysis revealed that volume of followers is a key determinant of creating original microblog posts, reposting messages, being reposted, and receiving comments. Volume of friends is found to be linked only with the number of reposts. Gender differences and regional disparities in using microblogs in China are also observed.

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