Beneath those sexual images, however, the creators of Weiboscope seea wealth of  valuable data and a means of tracking pressing concerns. 

With more than 250 million users, China’s Sina Weibo is one of the largest social networks in the world and, until recently, has been largely impenetrable for English speakers.

Enter WeiboScope, a new site that provides a searchable, visual matrix of top photo posts on Weibo, created by the folks at the University of Hong Kong’s journalism and digital media studies center.

What you learn after just a few minutes poking around is that Weibo users, like pretty much everyone else on the Internet, are horny.

From BDSM photo shoots to celebrity crotch shots to revealing almost-nudes, Weibo’s trending image posts are a potpourri of softcore sexual titillation. That’s perhaps a sign that China really needs to lighten its draconian stance on pornography. (Hardcore pornography is illegal in China.)

However, Weibo users are also tackling issues of pressing national concern. The top post as of this morning (EST), from Weibo user Wangshi, discussed China’s astonishingly poor air quality. That post was reblogged 24,276 times and drew nearly 5,000 comments. Another similar top post compared Beijing’s air quality to Australia’s, using two stunning photographs taken during a single flight.

The creators of WeiboScope are fully aware of all the sexual images but believe that data underneath the site is far more valuable than the stuff on WeiboScope’s front page.

That’s most evident when using WeiboScope’s search feature, which, though a little visually buggy on my computer, is still pretty powerful. If you don’t speak Chinese and want to get an idea of how the Chinese net is responding to the death of Kim Jong-il, for instance, WeiboScope gives you an instant, visual approximation of the Weibosphere’s reaction to the recently departed North Korean leader.

If images alone don’t give you a sense of the news, WeiboScope also provides a handy link to Google Translate on every post.

The WeiboScope image search demonstrates that when you are allowed to mash and mix, and remix data, it may lead to some discoveries and realizations that may not have been made possible otherwise,” Cedric Sam, one of the creators of the site, recently wrote on his blog.

“Rather than let Sina Weibo dictate the way the data produced by users should be displayed,” Sam added, “we borrow a bit from the open data movement and repackage posts in ways that may be a bit more useful to users.”

And that’s really the tool’s strength: It presents data in a way that Sina and its cadre of 700 censors might not approve.

Photo by 爱穿丝袜的色女

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