Catalyzed by the explosive popularity of Clubhouse, several Chinese Clubhouse-like apps are picking up steam. 

The invite-only audio app’s selling point is access to celebrities. But many users joining Clubhouse’s Chinese equivalents—Two, Dizhua, Yalla, and Tiya—weren’t looking to meet celebrities. They were after casual conversations and online dating.

These apps saw an uptick in downloads starting early last week, around the time that Elon Musk appeared on Clubhouse. China’s block of Clubhouse on Monday evening hasn’t changed the overall download trend as of the time of writing, according to data shown on app data provider Chan Dashi. 

READ MORE: Clubhouse no longer accessible in China

While the Clubhouse-like apps saw a jump in interest compared to their own histories, none of these networks are exactly topping the charts. On Feb. 7, Dizhua peaked as the 153rd most popular app in the social category in the Chinese iOS app store, according to Chan Dashi data—a big step up from its January place in the 700s and 800s—while Two hit 421st as of Feb. 9. Clubhouse is not listed in the Chinese app store, so TechNode could not make a direct comparison.

Clubhouse was not easy to access in China even before the ban, requiring an iOS device, an overseas Apple ID and an invitation. According to web analytics service Statcounter, Apple’s iOS only accounts for 20% of the market share in China as of January, 2021.

Clubhouse-likes

Justin Sun, founder of the cryptocurrency platform TRON and known for shelling out $4.57 million on a lunch date with Warren Buffett, announced on Twitter the launch of a Chinese version of Clubhouse called “Two.” The app is available to download in China on both the Apple and Android app stores. 

Although Sun described Two as a new app, TechNode has found 482 user reviews on the Apple store dated as far back as August 2020. As of the time of writing, on the Android app store alone, Two has 2,892,031 total downloads, according to Chan Dashi Data. New downloads saw a jump on the Apple app store on Feb. 2.

Tiya, an audio chat social network app backed by China’s leading podcast platform Lizhi, also gained significant market share in the west and users in more than 200 countries. Catalyzed by the popularity of Clubhouse, Lizhi share prices soared by more than 300% in a five day period in the beginning of February, reaching a historic high.

Clubhouse’s celebrity affiliation has made membership in the app a token of status. “Clubhouse brings true KOLs, celebrities, elites, and industry leaders into the conversation, instead of live-streamers and influencers who accumulated fans and followers over time,” Rui Ma, China media and tech analyst Rui Ma told TechNode.  

Prices for a Clubhouse invitation on Alibaba’s secondhand marketplace range from RMB 180 ($28) to RMB 500.

READ MORE: Clubhouse invites for sale on Alibaba’s used goods app

The homegrown networks offer a different vibe to the KOL-heavy Clubhouse. “A lot of the existing apps focus on connecting strangers and providing a place for them to socialize,” Ma said. 

Dizhua, an audio social networking app launched by the knowledge sharing community guokr.com in August, 2019, has seen a significant leap in downloads since late January, according to Chan Dashi data.

A few users who reviewed the app in the Apple app store comment that they found their romantic partner on Dizhua. 

“I found lots of interesting people and there are always things to talk about. Audio chatting is very efficient; you know right away who you get along with,” user Miaoeima commented (our translation). 

“It’s nice to talk to strangers willing to listen to your stories, whether it’s silly or sad things in your life, they are patient and supportive,” another user said (our translation). 

Many comments on the Apple app store said that Tiya is a good place for socially awkward people to make friends. 

“Personally, I am socially afraid,” user “Brooks Heg|mann” wrote in a review on the Apple app store on Nov. 24, 2020. “I meet like-minded people here.”

The clone

Another developer created a clone platform as a performance. Huancheng Bai wrote in a blog post that he wanted to create a clone app to better understand the software and show that it wasn’t hard to replicate. 

Bai successfully completed it within 55 hours, less than his original goal of 72 hours.  He used the Agora API, the platform-as-a-service technology underlying Clubhouse. He livestreamed the entire cloning process on Bilibili.

Bai named the project NESHouse and made its source code available to anyone interested in building a Clubhouse-style platform or studying the logic of the network. 

“NESHouse is not a commercial project, but more of an experimental product for programmers and geeks,” he tweeted on Feb.4. 

“I made it just for fun,” he told Technode.

Prospects 

A number of homegrown apps offer audio chat rooms in China, but none have captured the same kind of KOL-heavy user population. Clubhouse essentially paved its way to success by combining the rising popularity of podcasts with a real time social network allowing 5,000 people in a conversation.

It wouldn’t be surprising if more players—perhaps Chinese podcast platforms such as Xiaoyuzhou FM—try to bottle the Clubhouse lightning by throwing in a livestream chat room feature into its app. 

Yue Sun

Yue Sun is a Beijing-based journalist covering Chinese tech giants, e-commerce trends, online culture, and other cool things about China. She holds a Master's in Journalism from Indiana University and...