Jack Xu Talks about Failure in Copying Tumblr

3 min read

tumblr-diandianJack Xu admitted that Diandian, a pixel-by-pixel Tumblr copy, was a failure and a painful experience at the Silicon Dragon Beijing 2013 yesterday. To be fair, Diandian is just one of the dozens of Tumblr copies in China and none of them really gained traction but hype.

As one of the first projects incubated by Innovation Works, Diandian was released in February 2011 — about half a year after Sina Weibo’s launch. After securing millions of dollars angel investment from Innovation Works, it raised more than USD10 million from Sequoia China and Ceyuan Ventures later that year. With the money Diandian launched massive marketing campaigns such as giving away movie tickets in order to have 10 million users by the end of that year and 100 million in the next two to three years.

But by April 2012 the number only reached 6 million — Sina Weibo announced 300 million users and $10 million in advertising revenue as of that quarter. According to some Diandian’s customers, there may be only one or two staff working on Diandian from early this year.

Diandian(left) & Tumblr
Diandian(left) & Tumblr

He blames desktop era’s passing and mobile is the salvation — but I do remember he said “Mobile strategy is why we are different from Tumblr” in 2011. Quite a lot of critics predicted that Diandian and other Tumblr clones in China    would fail and some reasons they gave I agree on, including: 1) whatever posted on Diandian can also be shown on Chinese social networks such as Weibo, Renren, Douban, etc. Weibo, though widely-regarded as the equivalent of Twitter, can do whatever Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr can. Why don’t users choose a platform that they can get everything in one place?; 2) most content on China’s Web is created by a very small group of people so that the scale for a Tumblr-like platform cannot be so large as Tumblr and limited content cannot keep users stay long.

Apart from movie ticket giveaways, I cannot recall anything else that would attract Diandian users to revisit it. If I remember right, Tumblr was blocked, due to unknown reasons, in China before Diandian was launched. I was wondering Jack Xu just wanted to duplicate Renren case in the walled garden in the first place. Tumblr was unblocked later in 2011 — reasons are also unkown.


Mr. Xu decided to ‘forget about the desktop’ and embrace mobile wholeheartedly when he started up again with Papa. Also, by learning Zen, he said he was enlightened realizing that Internet services should be simple and interesting.

The mobile app enables attaching voice memos to pictures shared by users. He called the voice attachment part an innovation, but it wasn’t new either in or outside China when Papa was launched in late 2012. He was inspired by Instagram copies in China most of whom also failed, saying he still believed there was room for photo sharing on mobile.

He claimed there had been 10 million registered users and was happy seeing average users are excited listening to their entries contributed by celebrities. It’s unclear how much money raised for Diandian has been burned through, but Xu told media that Papa is self-funded when it was launched.

Theories of Copy

Xu regards the Facebook copy, Renren, as a success. He became in charge of it, formerly known as Xiaonei, after its founding team sold it to Joseph Chen’s company. I don’t know if a business that never turned a profit can be regarded as a success (Yes, Joseph Chen successfully brought the company some profits through stock trading, anyway). But it can be so if you, like many Chinese, think an IPO in the U.S. is a success.

To be fair, Renren still has the majority of Chinese college students on it, which is a treasure. But Joseph Chen seems to have determined to change it into a gaming company, imaging his team could develop games as popular and lucrative as those by Netease.

When it comes to copying, he now agrees with what Xu Xiaoping, co-founder of New Oritental Education and ZhenFund, told him that there is about 20% in difference between Chinese and the Western cultures that should be dealt with differently.