Chinese tech giant Alibaba has been testing a campus social networking app named Real since November, according to Chinese media reports on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The Real app is Alibaba’s latest move into social networking, historically the domain of its arch-rival Tencent and one where the e-commerce giant has repeatedly failed to gain traction.

  • Alibaba launched a messaging service called Laiwang in 2013 to compete with WeChat. Although it engaged in large-scale promotion both internally and externally, the app failed to take hold.
  • College campus-based social networking has recently drawn some big-name players. JD Finance began testing social networking app Liwowo in early September, and Bytedance’s acquisition of Biu Campus made headlines mid-month.

Details: Real, or “Ruwo” in Chinese, targets university students using the slogan, “Real Life, Real You.” The app supports facial recognition for login and features a variety of filters and stickers for photo and video editing.

  • The new app was developed by the Laiwang team. Chen Hang, Laiwang’s former product manager and now CEO of Dingtalk, oversees the project, Chinese media reported.
  • The app is now being tested by users who are invited to trial, mainly students attending the several universities located in Alibaba’s home city of Hangzhou.
  • A spokeswoman for Alibaba did not immediately respond with comments when reached by TechNode on Wednesday.

Context: Though it has struggled with individual social networking products, Alibaba has scored some successes in the enterprise-facing networking segment.

  • Alibaba’s enterprise efficiency app DingTalk says it has 200 million individual users and more than 10 million enterprise users as of August.
  • In addition to standalone social apps, Alibaba is also trying to integrate social networking features into its e-commerce apps including Taobao and Tmall.
  • Alibaba-backed payment tool Alipay also hit some bumps in its social networking efforts.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.

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