The crowded, competitive Chinese chat app market is again making waves with users of new arrival Laiwang saying they are being blocked from accepting invitations received through rival app WeChat.
Alibaba’s Laiwang, which was launched midway through 2012, is going up against the more established WeChat platform, which has more than 200 million active monthly users and announced only a couple of months ago that it had 100 million registered user accounts outside of China. WeChat is owned by gaming and social media giant Tencent.
Laiwang users were recently enticed into inviting others onto the service with the offer of a 1RMB (US$0.16) “red envelope” for every new friend invited.
However, users recently reported that when clicking on the invitations through the WeChat platform, they were blocked from accessing the resulting website, Tech In Asia said. Tencent’s security software informed users that the related website “may contain malicious content, and has therefore been blocked,” Sina.com.cn said.
Tech In Asia reported that Laiwang developers – in response to the reports of difficulties – said the invitation links “simply directed users to their Taobao account login page and then the website for the promotion.” Taobao is Alibaba’s online shopping service and is considered similar to eBay and Amazon.
Tech In Asia suggested that “if Tencent did deliberately attempt to block WeChat users from signing up to Laiwang, the resulting publicity in the Chinese media will likely only serve to boost its competitor’s visibility, rendering such tactics counterproductive.”
Laiwang’s “60 million red envelope” promotion has been one of a number of Alibaba efforts to attract greater numbers. In one promotion, Laiwang users were given access to the profiles of female models. As The Wall Street Journal noted: “The women are a part of Alibaba’s Tao Girl platform, which was created in 2007 as a resource for merchants who want to use professional models to show off their products on Alibaba’s massive e-commerce site.”
In another instance, the company’s chairman dumped his own WeChat account in favour of, as he called it, “his baby” – a reference to the new Laiwang chat service. Tech In Asia reported that late last month, Jack Ma posted online a letter which read: “In three days I’ll be closing down [my WeChat] account. Thank you to all my friends on WeChat for giving me so much happiness and inspiration. But now I have no choice but to nurse my own child, Laiwang.”