Chinese tech unicorn ByteDance launches new social app to rival WeChat

ByteDance, the world’s most

valuable start-up, has introduced a new video-based social messaging service, “Duoshan”, that aims to become as popular an everyday mobile app in China as Tencent Holdings’ WeChat. Duoshan, which translates to “many flashes”, lets users send text messages and stickers, as well as share images and videos accessible for up to 72 hours, to each other – features that are similar to those of US multimedia messaging app Snapchat and social network Instagram.

Senior executives at ByteDance, however, played down any direct competition with WeChat at the launch of Duoshan in Beijing on Tuesday.

“WeChat doesn’t have to see us as a direct rival because we are doing different things,” said Chen Lin, chief executive of ByteDance news aggregation unit Jinri Toutiao, at the Duoshan press conference.

“WeChat builds the infrastructure for social networking.” he said. “We are only touching intimate communications, letting people with intimate relationships communicate with each other without any pressure.”

Beta testing of Duoshan, which started on Tuesday, is available for all Android smartphone users, who can log on to the new service using their Douyin account. Short video app Douyin is known as Tik Tok outside China. A ByteDance spokesman cited technical reasons for limited beta testing for iPhone users.

While ByteDance has not positioned its new service to challenge WeChat, the Tencent super app has blocked the link for its more than 1 billion users to download Duoshan.

“I hope WeChat can unblock the link [to download Duoshan] soon,” Chen said.

Tencent had no comment, according to a company spokesman.

The latest offering from ByteDance steps up advances made by China’s major internet companies to build ecosystems and various platforms that can host multiple services, delivering greater convenience to consumers in the world’s largest smartphone market.

ByteDance’s Douyin, for example, has already integrated external online shopping links from Alibaba Group Holding’s Taobao Marketplace and Tmall platforms.

At the ByteDance press conference, the 25-year-old product lead for Duoshan, Chen Luran, said she had no experience in developing social platforms, but established the new service to meet users’ needs. The number of daily active users of Douyin reached 250 million in January, up from 1 million a year ago, according to ByteDance.

Founded by former engineer Zhang Yiming in 2012, ByteDance was reported to have secured US$3 billion in a new funding round at a valuation of US$75 billion, overtaking US ride hailing giant Uber Technologies as the world’s most valuable start-up, according to data from CB Insights.

To be sure, there are other WeChat competitors emerging. New social messaging app “Matong”, which means “toilet”, was unveiled on Tuesday at a press conference in Shenzhen by Wang Xin, founder of Chinese online video-streaming service pioneer Qvod Technology.

The Matong app lets users share their opinions and comments, and ask questions anonymously. WeChat has also blocked the link for its users to download Matong.

“We don’t look to compete with WeChat,” said Wang, echoing the sentiments of ByteDance.

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