Yahoo's microblog now in Chinese, but blocked in China

Yahoo microblogging site Yahoo Meme is now available in Chinese, but the service is blocked in mainland China, highlighting regulatory woes for the industry there.

The Meme Web site has launched a user interface in traditional Chinese, a version of the written language that is no longer used in mainland China but that local people can still understand. Traditional Chinese characters are still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The choice suggests China is not the main target of the service, but it comes as other companies increasingly look to tap the growing popularity of online social networking there. China has the world's largest number of Internet users and one in three of them, or more than 120 million people, already use social-networking sites, according to a government survey. Posting short microblog-style messages on those sites is already popular. Microsoft, top Chinese search engine and big Chinese portals are among the companies that have launched microblogging or similar services in China.

That market could be hard to tap for Yahoo since Meme appears to be blocked in China. The site currently cannot be accessed from computers in Beijing, and other microblog services are also banned in the country. Twitter and some of its local-language rivals, along with Facebook, have all been blocked in China since authorities blamed social-networking tools for helping whip up deadly ethnic riots in the country's western region in July.

China Yahoo is controlled by local e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which obtained the brand as part of a 2005 deal with Yahoo. An Alibaba spokeswoman said China Yahoo was not involved in Yahoo Meme.

Yahoo appears to be targeting large developing countries in Asia and elsewhere with Meme, which also has user interface choices in Indonesia's national language, Bahasa Indonesia, and in Portuguese, which is spoken in Brazil. The service is also offered in English and Spanish.

Chinese authorities are urging microblog providers to censor user posts containing certain political content or other sensitive material, challenging the services as they start to take off.

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