Only three days after China’s metaverse social app Zheli topped the App Store in China, an impressive feat for a newcomer, the app’s owners pulled the platform from app stores across the country to address various controversies.

Zheli, which means “gel” in English, is a 3D avatar maker that allows users to share their daily lives with friends and shows users’ approximate location and mode (at school, at work, or near a shopping mall). 

The app provides fashionable characters and outfit options to create a customized avatar. It became an instant hit in China after its launch in January. Zheli allows users to add up to 50 friends via the app.

Why it matters: The quick rise of Zheli, less than one month since its launch, is a rare success story in China’s social networking industry, which has been long dominated by Tencent’s super app WeChat. Zheli’s emergence has further fueled the ongoing metaverse frenzy in the country, which has been building momentum since last year.

  • On Feb. 11, Zheli replaced WeChat as the most downloaded app in the App Store in China with a record high of 435,000 downloads. It’s the first time an app has taken the top download ranking from WeChat since 2019.
  • Chinese tech giants Baidu, Tencent, and ByteDance have been investing and developing metaverse features and services in the wake of the global metaverse craze.
  • China’s metaverse social networking companies also includes Soul and ByteDance’s Party Island.

Details: Beijing Yidian Digital Entertainment Co., Ltd, the operator of Zheli, said in a Feb. 13 announcement that it had removed the app from app stores and suspended new user registration voluntarily to improve the experience for existing users.

  • The firm cited various stability issues (slow loading time, constant crashes) as the major reason for the removal. But it denied having collected user information without permission when users made friend referrals through third-party messaging tools like WeChat and QQ. Last week, users claimed that the company violated users’ privacy. 
  • “I like the app for its designs and youth culture, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement functionality-wise,” Echo Gong, an analyst from research agency Coresight, told TechNode. 
  • Users can invite new friends on the app either through phone contact list or WeChat. But it could be a time-consuming experience as WeChat doesn’t support direct link invites and users might have to open browsers to complete the process. 
  • Zheli’s communication functions are still limited to photos and microblogging, less diversified compared with mainstream social platforms, which offer formats such as long texts, short videos, and emojis, Gong added.

READ MORE: Metaverse in China: Investors and tech leaders say they are prepared

Emma Lee

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 lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.