This week, we’re taking a closer look at Lark (aka Feishu), the Bytedance work productivity platform that’s still in beta. The intrepid TechNode team tried out the combination mobile-desktop app, with interesting results.

Lark/Feishu

A new-ish app for work on the fly

Type: Free

Content: Work/productivity

Ranking: #170 in Business, Apple App Store (May 21)

Released: Jul. 2018

In focus / ByteDance #6

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TechNode’s ByteDance newsletter, one of the first in-depth looks in English at the now-giant upstart startup, was published from March 13 to Oct. 23, 2019.

Feishu and its international version Lark were originally created as a productivity platform for Bytedance employees. Last July, the company debuted the app on the ic and Android stores. However, it’s still not completely public; while anyone can download either version, work teams must apply to use the app. Lark’s functions also overlap with a few major platforms on the Chinese market.

Competitor: DingTalk

Among free productivity apps, Feishu’s biggest competitor is Alibaba’s DingTalk. The platform does occasionally garner complaints from employee-users but its reach is undeniable. According to the official website, 7 million enterprises use DingTalk.

Last year, DingTalk reported that it had more than 400 million individual users. The platform consistently ranks at the top of the “free” category of the Apple China App Store’s business category.

Feishu’s layout for basic work group chats, as well as the organization and nature of its features, resemble those of DingTalk—with a few exceptions.

However, it lacks one of DingTalk’s most useful and also most controversial features—an option to track employees’ GPS locations in order to keep them accountable.

In fact, DingTalk offers enterprises an entire suite of built-in optional services, from online reimbursement to in-app business trip booking. For now at least, Lark only has the option for enterprises to build their own apps—with sample features including a punch in/out button, a “bug tracker” for collaborative projects, and job application submission forms.

Competitor: WeChat Work

While relatively high-ranking in the Apple China App Store’s “Business” category, WeChat Work hasn’t achieved DingTalk’s scale. Earlier this month, Tencent said the three-year-old app had 1.5 million companies registered in its ecosystem, compared to Alibaba’s self-reported 7 million.

It does offer options for employees to apply for business trips and reimbursement, similar to DingTalk. When clicking into tabs such as “approval,” the resulting interface loads as a mini-program, with a slight lag time.

WeChat Work’s main advantage is its connection to its more social counterpart. Upon download, users are given the option to log in using WeChat accounts and to automatically connect with existing friends. They can also link an enterprise account to WeChat, using the work application to chat directly across apps.

The app’s overall design remains somewhat clunky, however, and it’s missing some of the functionality of DingTalk. Perhaps for that reason, its ratings across Apple and Android app stores (3.7) are close to a full point lower than those of both DingTalk (4.5) and Feishu (4.5), according to Qimai.

Competitor: Google Docs/Shimo

One of Lark and Feishu’s more interesting features is a collaborative document platform that seems specifically tailored for tech enterprises. The interface appears to be a blend of Google Docs, WordPress, and popular Chinese doc-sharing platform Shimo.

It’s an interesting alternative to both DingTalk and Enterprise WeChat, which offer users cloud storage space to share documents. Rather than creating files separately and uploading them to be shared, Lark users can choose to collaborate directly on documents, spreadsheets, and even coding blocks.

Not only does that intersect with the coverage of Shimo and Tencent Docs—a Google Docs lookalike launched last April—but it also creates a potential rivalry with GitHub, which is massively popular in China and currently partnering with Ping’an Cloud on enterprise services.

Other features

On the international version Lark, hints of cross-platform partnerships are evident. In the “Announcements” section of group chats, users can embed YouTube and TikTok videos as well as files from productivity platform AirTable. They can also add bots from Slack-like site Trello into group chats, although this feature has no discernable functionality yet.

The integration of features from popular Western platforms could presage partnerships—and potentially big plans—for Bytedance’s first workplace app.

Credit: Bailey, Tony

Bailey Hu

Bailey Hu is based in China’s hardware capital, Shenzhen. Her interests include local maker culture, grassroots innovation and how tech shapes society, as well as vice versa.

Tony Xu

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail: tony.xu@technode.com