TikTok Mum or dad ByteDance Stated to Be Creating Clubhouse-Like App for China Amid Copycat Rush

TikTok owner ByteDance is working on a clubhouse-like app for China, sources familiar with the matter said as the global success of the US-based audio chat service is generating a rush of imitators in the country.

At least a dozen similar apps were launched in the past month. The momentum picked up after the clubhouse was blocked in China in early February. The clubhouse had seen an increase in users participating in discussions on sensitive issues such as the Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong independence.

Among the new offers is the revision of the Mi Talk app by Xiaomi to an audio service only for invitations, which last week is aimed at professionals. More are currently in development, say industry executives.

ByteDance’s plans are still in the early stages, said two sources who were not empowered to speak to media and refused to be identified.

Discussions about TikTok and ByteDance on Clubhouse had sparked interest in the genre among ByteDance executives, including CEO Zhang Yiming, one of the sources said.

ByteDance declined to comment.

The success of Clubhouse, which can accommodate up to 8,000 people per chat room and which saw a discussion between Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Vlad Tenev, CEO of Robinhood, has highlighted the potential of audio chat services.

However, similar apps in China are expected to take on Chinese features that take censorship and government oversight into account.

One such example is Lizhi’s Zhiya app, launched in 2013, which is listed on the Nasdaq and whose users usually talk about video games or sing songs.

The app requires real name registration, a trait that is vital in China, according to Lizhi CEO Marco Lai. The company also has people who overhear conversations in each room and uses artificial intelligence tools to sort out “unwanted” content such as pornography or politically sensitive topics.

The app was temporarily shut down by the Chinese regulatory authorities in 2019, but restored after corrections by Lizhi.

According to Lizhi’s Lai, there was plenty of space for audio chat apps outside of politics in China.

“Adults in China don’t like to express their views in public. We have learned to be cautious since we were young,” he said. “A good approach in China, however, is entertainment. They invite everyone to have fun.”

Some new entrants have had the hiccups.

Inke, known for its live streaming platform, launched a similar app, Duihuaba, this month, which recruited venture capitalists, fashion critics, and other celebrities for conversation.

However, the app was pulled abruptly two weeks into its debut and more improvements were needed without going into detail.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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