China’s biggest e-commerce company now has a social network of its own in the form of Laiwang, which launched quietly earlier this week with apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone (WP). It’s Alibaba’s major play in the social space, hoping to win over its hundreds of millions of online shoppers – from its Taobao and Tmall sites – to a new social network. It looks, on first impressions, like a cross between (Twitter-clone) Sina Weibo and Google+, with some UI elements from Path in there as well (on the iOS version anyway).
Though not mentioned in its app description, it’s essentially a very late-comer to the microblog wars in China, encouraging users to share short snippets of life experiences, photos, and links. That’s an area where Sina Weibo has already won, with its 300+ million engaged social users.
Rather than using a word like “retweet” – as seen on Twitter and Weibo – the Laiwang app calls such interactions “get togethers.” That doesn’t sound very catchy in English, but it flows better in the Chinese term “zha dui.” Such a “get together” (pictured above and below in the right-hand screenshots) could consist of mentions, but also can become bundled together to form a sort of club, and then it’s more of a micro-forum than a microblog. It’s a bit hard to describe, but at least it’s something quite new. The app also allows for more conventional comments on any of your ‘tweets’.
What seems absent from Laiwang is an emphasis on online shopping. We were prepared for this to be some sort of social commerce venture when we heard about Laiwang being in secret testing last December, but the app in its officially launched form doesn’t seem to cater especially to e-commerce, brands, or Taobao shopping. That might change in future updates.
Alibaba’s Laiwang will have to prove that it offers a more compelling experience than Weibo if it’s to prosper. A measure of its success will come, surely, in whether other apps – like, say, Chinese photo-sharing apps – update their features to allow sharing to Laiwang.
Find links to the Laiwang apps for Android, iOS, and WP on its new homepage. Anyone with a Taobao online account can use it to sign-in to the app.