Within China, Twitter is basically non-existent: people use Weibo, instead, a similar service previously available only in Chinese. On Monday, the Chinese company released an English translation of its iPhone app that has many wondering if it is planning to compete directly with Twitter in the future. Here is my take on what Weibo needs to do if it wants to stand a chance against the entrenched Twitter.

Respect the developers

The developer community deserves more credit than Twitter gives it for helping attract users. If services like HootSuite and TweetDeck didn’t exist, I’m certain Twitter’s quoted 200+ million accounts wouldn’t be that high. And that doesn’t take into consideration all of the mobile apps, 3rd party search engines, and fun web-based apps built on top of Twitter.

Twitter has been notoriously cold towards its developer community in recent months, cutting off whitelisting to its its API, cracking down on certain 3rd party developers, and not hosting a second installment of last year’s Chirp Developer Conference.

I’m not sure what Weibo’s current stance is towards their developer community, nor how robust it is. However, they have a big opportunity here: by embracing developers and showing them the respect that Twitter doesn’t offer to its own developers, Weibo might be able to lure away Twitter users through the 3rd party apps it fosters.

Lists, lists, lists

To some, lists might seem like a petty feature to include in this list. Surely, there are other things that belong in the “big three” that could see Wiebo give Twitter a run for its money. But not so, at least in my opinion. Lists are among the most potentially useful – and currently limping – features that Twitter offers.

Lists are one of the best ways to cut down on the noise within Twitter. They focus in on a specific conversation, built around something their creator defines: an industry, a topic, an event, a person. Lists are one of the best ways to listen in on Twitter, and to access the information that’s relevant to you.

But Twitter’s version of the “list” is lacking. For instance: lists cannot have more than 500 members, nor can you create a “list of lists”; there is no official directory of Twitter lists; you cannot search for people only on a certain list; and I could go on. Lists are a great idea, but their implementation has a long way to go.

If Weibo took the list idea – refining how you network with people more than just follower/following – and improved upon it, Twitter might face some serious competition.

Better filters

Like lists, Weibo might be able to entice some Twitter users to its services if it promises better tweet filtering. As it stands, the only real way you can filter tweets right now is basically by flipping the on/off switch and deciding to follow or not to follow someone.

Creating groups, channels or filters is one way Weibo could improve upon Twitter. If people were able to turn on and off different topics, individuals, hashtags and keywords, Twitter (or Weibo) would be a much more streamlined experience, and new users would likely be able to “get” Twitter a lot faster.