Can ByteDance's new app challenge WeChat in China?

January 16, 2019 13:28
Chinese startup ByteDance has unveiled a new video messaging app, raising the prospect of a faceoff with Tencent's WeChat messenger. Photo: Reuters

After scoring huge success with the short-video clip sharing service Tik Tok, China's ByteDance is stepping up its game and pushing into social media, an arena long dominated by Tencent's WeChat. 

On Tuesday, the Beijing-based startup, which also owns the leading news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, unveiled a new video messaging app that aims to encourage sharing content within small groups.

Called Duoshan, the new app will allow users to send videos and other visual content that will disappear after 72 hours, making it an appealing prospect for young people. 

In an interesting strategy, Duoshan will not have a "like" or comment function enabled for the videos. The purpose is to reduce the pressure on users for securing affirmation online.

The company made it clear that it wants to establish a new way for people to connect with their friends on social media.

“I want to share and record my life without pressure. I don’t want to miss any updates from my close friends. I want to enrich the way I interact with my close friends,” the product presentation read, explaining that this is what netizens seek from social media. 

Young people are not satisfied with the existing social media apps, and they are they looking for something more, ByteDance believes. 

In Duoshan, users can share their videos to a group of friends immediately and they can also edit the photos with special effect. The videos can only be seen within the group and no outsiders can access the group. If users want to chat with a specific friend in the group, they can launch a dialog box to have a video chat.

Combining the functions of US messaging app SnapChat and image sharing platform Instagram, along with some unique features, Duoshan could find itself in a position where it could throw a serious challenge to Tencent's dominant WeChat messenger.

ByteDance has sought to play down rivalry with WeChat, with one executive saying, according to Reuters, that Duoshan and WeChat “are different products, they face different groups.” 

Still, there is little doubt that with the new launch the tech upstart could face off with the Tencent unit in the social media space.

It is interesting to note that during the ByteDance press conference on Tuesday, journalists failed to access Duoshan website through QR code scanner inside the WeChat app.

Tencent appears to have barred access to Duoshan from the WeChat app, suggesting that the internet giant sees ByteDance as a major competitor.

ByteDance announced yesterday that Tik Tok has daily active users of 250 million and monthly active users of 500 million as of now. That represents massive growth in very short period of time, as a year ago the short-video platform had only 30 million daily active users.

Tik Tok is no doubt the fastest growing app in the market. To ride the strong momentum, the parent company is now offering the new standalone app Duoshan, which translates to “flashes” in Chinese.

There has been speculation in the market for some time that ByteDance, which is currently touted as the world's most valuable startup, will launch a new app to compete with WeChat to tap China's fast-growing mobile internet market.

The launch of Duoshan could well be ByteDance's answer to the Tencent-owned market leader. While WeChat is now a must have app for people living in China as it can perform several functions such as payments, communication, entertainment and shopping, many users, especially the younger lot, hesitate to use the "complicated" app to connect with their friends.

They just want an app that is solely meant for communication with close friends. Duoshan aims to please such group of users.

In order to reduce the pressure of getting “likes”, the videos published on Duoshan will not come with a Like button. Instead users will only know who has watched the videos. Users can start a chat immediately by clicking their friend’s profile headshot.

The aim is to encourage people-to-people communications, rather than having users compete for the number of Likes or Shares. Such arrangement, apart from easing the social pressure, will also offer comfort to users that the platform is not all about monetizing.

The rapid rise of Tik Tok has led to a platform battle with WeChat, which is now treated as the core of social interaction. Now, Duoshan will inevitably intensify such competition.

ByteDance Group, as a matter of fact, has emerged as one of the leading mobile platforms in China in terms of time spent by users. According to a survey released in the second half of 2018, the total time-spent share on ByteDance’s apps was 9.7 percent.

Tencent, with its wide product array, held a 47 percent share, but it marked a decline from the figure of more than 50 percent that it claimed a year earlier.

Duoshan may not aim to replace WeChat in all aspects, but it could well dilute the usage of WeChat further.

Tencent can't really afford to take it easy.

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EJ Insight writer