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ByteDance to relaunch chat app Flipchat with new audio-based feature
Qing Na

ByteDance to relaunch chat app Flipchat with new audio-based feature

Header image: Flipchat logo. Source: Tech Planet.

ByteDance plans to relaunch Flipchat, or Feiliao in Chinese, an interest-based social app, according to a Chinese media outlet LatePost.

The company best known for its video-sharing product Tik Tok, once revealed that Flipchat would be an attempt by ByteDance to enter the realm of social media apps.

“Feiliao is an open social product,” said a statement provided by ByteDance to TechCrunch, “We hope Feiliao will connect people of the same interests, making people’s life more diverse and interesting.”

Image: Flipchat’s app description on App Store.

The app was launched in May 2019 following the birth of the photo-sharing social app Xintu and the video-sharing social app Duoshan in January. While the former was short-lived, the later has become a communication tool attached to Douyin, where users can send audio or texts whilst sharing a video.

The original version of Flipchat combines text chats and video calls with social network-style feed and chat groups and forums. Despite being ranked top 5 on the Apple Store shortly after its launch, the popularity of this app dropped after just a month and was removed from the Apple Store two months later.

The move soon caught the attention of its rivalry WeChat, one of the largest Chinese communication apps developed by Tencent, who swiftly blocked all share links from Flipchat, barring users transferring Wechat profiles and friend connections to Flipchat, and not authorising login via the Tencent app.

Although it had the help of both Toutiao and Douyin who have hundreds of millions of users on each platform, Flipchat saw slow user growth.

Image: Flipchat’s latest update was on 28 March 2021. By the end of this March, the app had been removed from almost all major App Stores in China. @科技知新V/Weibo

The app was taken down from other App Stores in China this May and is under the management of Toutiao, a Chinese news content platform which is another core product owned by ByteDance.

According to Tech Planet, a brand of 36Kr which is a Beijing-based media focusing on technology news, ByteDance has long had its eye on the social media app landscape and has tried to reactive the long-gone feature of “recent visitors” on its flagship product Douyin, in a bid to encourage interaction among users who don’t know each other.

It allows posters to see visitors who viewed their videos with a 30-day time limit. The feature has not been rolled out to all users while an invitation-only test is still being carried out.  

Image: Screenshot of a test site view of “recent visitors” feature on Douyin. Users can switch on/off the function in the left column and visitors are displayed in the right column.

Speaking at this year’s Innovation Summit held by GeekPark – a Chinese innovators community providing updates on Internet products and tech trends, Kelly Zhang, CEO at ByteDance China said: “the demand of interaction on Douyin - the Chinese version of Tik Tok – is growing, which drives [the development of] social function on this app.”

The relaunch of Filpchat is viewed as a second attempt by ByteDance to enter the social app world. Unlike the former version, the revived Flipchat would focus on real-time audio-based communication, a similar feature to Clubhouse. However, there are sceptics as to if the app could survive its relaunch, even with this new feature.

Analysis by Leitech, an online content production agency specialising in high tech, believes the app provides nothing new except for a concept to “integrate online forums and all communication tools including Weibo, Wechat and QQ into one to create a ‘comprehensive’ social app” which is seen as “redundant and like hitting a stone with an egg” given that all the three have already developed strong communities on their own platform.

It also cautions that the audio-based feature may not be as attractive to Chinese netizens as it is to users with Clubhouse overseas and says it is uncertain how Chinese users would react to this feature due to the “conservative” social habit of Chinese people, which means they are less likely to chat with some strangers over audio in an open chat room.

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