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Can WeChat give these giant-killer apps a shake?

More than one billion people log into WeChat daily. However, Internet innovation researcher Jiang Hu thinks WeChat is not unassailable.

Jan 18, 2019 by A. Alfaro
Can WeChat give these giant-killer apps a shake?

Tencent forayed into the instant messaging business almost two decades ago with QQ and has never looked back. Local players such as NetEase, Baidu and Xiaomi are yet to put one on Tencent in the social space, despite persisting efforts. Even global giants including MSN Messenger and Skype couldn’t keep up. But it might all change this year.

According to Tencent’s vice chairman Zhang Xiaolong, more than one billion people log into WeChat daily. However, Internet innovation researcher Jiang Hu thinks WeChat is not unassailable. Last year, Tencent’s share price has dipped. New social apps focused on content have loosened WeChat’s octopus grip over the market, Hu was quoted as saying by 36kr. WeChat now has to deal with three major competitors.

Matong

In September 2013, Wang Xin was sentenced to three years in jail and fined RMB 1 million for “distributing obscene materials for personal gain” in Kuaibo, a video streaming app. Wang immediately got to work after he was realesed from prison. Matong is Wang Xin’s latest brain child.

Matong has been unveiled in Shenzhen. “It is difficult to express yourself on Moments (WeChat’s social feed). Everyone is cautious with what they post. People want to break free from peer pressure,” Wang said. In Wang’s opinion, an anonymous social platform is the answer.

The app has a “topics” feature to find kindred spirits. And, thanks to the app’s location-based services, users can be grouped by proximity. Tech portal Yulezibenlun reported the groups are buzzing with activity. There's one rub though. Chat histories get deleted after an hour – which might break continuity and come in the way of building meaningful relationships. Users can, however, follow others with common interests and foster connections.

Matong was downloaded 400,000 times on the first day of its launch. But Tencent retaliated in a jiffy. On the same day, Matong’s download links were blocked by Wechat preventing users from directly recommending Matong to their contacts.

Matong is a perfect tool to spread rumors and sensitive content anonymously– making the app an ideal candidate to run afoul of the Chinese government. The app was also taken down from IOS App Store on launch day. Although Matong claims it uses AI to filter sensitive content, the creator’s bad rap hazards the app's tenability.

Duoshan

Bytedance (previously known as Toutiao) has also rolled out a new app, Duoshan. Bytedance has made huge strides in short video space (Tiktok, Huoshan Video and Xigua Video) and news media (Jinritoutiao). The Beijing-based company and Tencent are at loggerheads. Last year, Tencent accused Bytedance of damaging its reputation. Later, Zhang Yiming, founder of Bytedance, posted on WeChat, where he blamed Tencent of copying Bytedance’s Tiktok. Duoshan is clearly launched to rival Tencent’s most successful app, WeChat.

Bytedance has been adding more features to Tiktok in line with WeChat Moments. However, the features have not caught the public’s fancy prompting Bytedance to come up with an independent social platform. The team behind Duoshan is all 90s-borns. Duoshan prioritises communication through short videos and stickers to capture the young crowd. Duoshan allows users to publish short videos that disappear in 48 hours, like Instagram stories.

Duoshan’s interface is clear and simple. Users can log in with their Tiktok account. Duoshan also has a “world” tab to connect with strangers. Chen Lin, Jinritoutiao’s CEO said during the event: “This is not an IM app. We are not Wechat’s competitors. Duoshan is a platform that connects good friends”.

Liaotianbao

On 20 August, 2018 Luo Yonghao’s company Smartisan launched Bullet Message (Zidanduanxin), racking up 7 million users in first three weeks. Liaotianbao is a successor to Bullet Message with some added features: Transcript speech from video messages; access from different devices; agile design; emojis and stickers.

The app allows you to connect with strangers who share common interests. Liaotianbao’s social feed only show updates from friends.

To sum up, the emergence of new players is clearly posing a threat to WeChat in 2019.

A. Alfaro

A. Alfaro is a Beijing-based freelance reporter. He focuses on China's politics, culture and society. He can be reached at varofaro@gmail.com. 

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