Ep. 52: Zhihu and Kuaishou — Has China’s Quora Found Its Prince Charming?

TechBuzz China is going to China! As part of our inaugural invite-only TechBuzz China Investor Trip for public market investors taking place right after Golden Week, we will be hosting live meetups. These will take place in Beijing’s Sanlitun after dinner on Tuesday, October 8, and in Shanghai after dinner on Thursday, October 10. If you are in either of those cities, do come out and have a beer on us! Check our Twitter (@techbuzzchina) for updates on the exact locations and times.

Episode 52 of TechBuzz China is on a topic from back in August, when Kuaishou, Baidu, Tencent, and Capital Today invested a collective $434 million into the Q&A site Zhihu 知乎. The site, which literally means “Do you know?” in Chinese, is comparable to Quora in its core services. Its 220 million monthly active users (MAU) is also comparable with Quora’s 300 million MAU. In typical TechBuzz fashion, our co-hosts, Rui Ma and Ying-Ying Lu, dive into Zhihu’s founding story, the company’s business strategy over time, and further comparisons with global sites such as Quora and Reddit. They conclude by explaining why the recent partnership between Kuaishou and Zhihu makes sense.

Listen to find out: What does Chinese media believe is significant about the hometown province of Zhihu CEO Zhou Yuan 周源? Over the course of several years, how did Zhihu beat out competitors that included other startups as well as products created by the likes of Baidu? In fact, how might these past stories help to explain Baidu’s participation in Zhihu’s latest round? What is Fenda 分答, how does it relate to Zhihu’s trajectory, and what might explain why it was one of the first instances in which a Silicon Valley entrepreneur openly admitted that he found inspiration in the innovative design of a Chinese company? In what ways is Zhihu’s latest financing so notable, and what does it tell us about the current state of the internet landscape in China? How does Bytedance fit into this fray, and what has been the extent of its investment in the space? Finally, what do our co-hosts think about the future of the user-generated text and voice content space in China?  

You can find these stories and more at pandaily.com. If you enjoy our content, please do let us know by leaving us an iTunes review, liking our Facebook page, and tweeting at us! We do truly appreciate your feedback and support. Thank you also to our listeners over at our partner, dealstreetasia.com.

We are grateful for our ever-talented producers, Shaw Wan and Kaiser Kuo, and for our intern, Wang Menglu.


(Y: Ying-Ying Lu; R: Rui Ma )

[00:00] Y: Hey guys! Welcome back to the show. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve done our regular format that you’ve come to love, but that’s because we were busy planning our upcoming invite-only investor trip to China, where we are taking some diehard TechBuzzers to see some of the exact companies we have covered on this show. 

R: Speaking of which, we’ll be holding a meetup in Beijing in Sanlitun after dinner on Tuesday, October 8, and another meetup in Shanghai also after dinner on Thursday, October 10.  Check our Twitter for the exact locations and times! Come and have a beer on us!

Y: Anyway, that’s the reason why we’ve been busy and today’s episode has been queued up a while, it’s actually a story from back in August, when Kuaishou, Baidu, Tencent, and Capital Today invested a collective $434mm into the Chinese internet company Zhihu 知乎.

R: Unless you’re very familiar with Chinese internet, you’re probably saying to yourself, Zhi … who?? Well, trust us, by the end of this episode, you will be able to write your very own Zhihu post on Zhihu the company.  Before we get started though, we do recommend that you listen to TechBuzz Episode 39, the one we did on podcasting in China, if you haven’t already.  Heck, you might want to go back and re-listen to it even if you have, because the “pay-for-knowledge” or 知识付费 space in China is a beast of a topic, and it is really good background to what we’re going to talk about today.

Y: Alright then! Let’s get to it!

[1:58] R: Hi everyone! We are TechBuzz China by Pandaily, powered by the Sinica Podcast Network on SupChina!

Y: We are a biweekly podcast focused on giving you a peek into what’s buzzing within the tech community in China.    

R: We uncover and contextualize unique insights, perspectives and takeaways on headline tech news that don’t always make it into English language coverage. So you can be smarter about the world of China tech. TechBuzz China is a part of Pandaily.com, an English language site that tells you “everything about China’s innovation.” I’m one of your two co-hosts, Rui Ma.

Y: And I’m your other co-host, Ying-Ying Lu. We’d like to acknowledge our partners DealStreetAsia and SupChina, creator of the Sinica Podcast Network! In addition to TechBuzz, you can also find Sinica which covers current affairs, NuVoices and Ta for Ta on women, the business-oriented ChinaEconTalk, and the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief from China’s leading business magazine. 

[2:55] R: If you were ever interested in visiting China and simply didn’t know where to begin, Pandaily is organizing a one-week immersion into China’s tech scene from October 13-19th. Applications are available on pandaily.com or email [email protected] for more information.
Y: Not to be confused with Pandaily’s trip, here at TechBuzz, we are also going to be in Beijing and Shanghai the week of October 7-13, 2019, right after Golden Week, for our inaugural invite-only TechBuzz China Investor Trip for public market investors.

R: Finally, as always, if you enjoyed listening to our podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast.  And to incentivize you to do so, we’re going to enter everyone who writes us a review on iTunes into a drawing and the winner shall receive a copy of Matt Sheehan’s The Transpacific Experiment. We’ll do the drawing when we hit 100 ratings! So help us get there!

[3:59] R: Before we start, as promised … let’s answer the question first: What is Zhihu?

Y: Well, the words Zhihu 知乎 mean “Do you know?” So yup, you guessed it, Zhihu is a question-and-answer platform that is basically the Chinese version of Quora. It’s also got some other services now, like columns and livestreaming, but all those arise out of its strength as a Q&A website, and that’s what it continues to be known for mostly today.

R: Zhihu’s CEO is the relatively low-key Zhou Yuan 周源, a 39-year-old originally from Guizhou, one of the poorest provinces in China and not particularly known for industry, but widely acknowledged as having some of the best natural scenery in the country. Zhou Yuan went to school in Chengdu, home of pandas and spicy Szechuan food, and then onto a graduate degree in Nanjing. He first started as an engineer, but quickly changed careers to become a reporter, before going after entrepreneurship in 2008, building a search advertising software company that ultimately failed.

Y: We mention these cities and his prior profession because very typical of Chinese media, geographic stereotypes and career choices are used as explanations for companies’ business models. And Zhou’s time spent in three Chinese cities all known for a laid back lifestyle has been blamed for his slowness to monetize Zhihu. His former career as a reporter — which is considered more artistic and less utilitarian than engineering for example — has also been used as an excuse.

[5:40] R: Well, is it laziness or patience? It really depends on if you’re a fan of his initial business strategy.  You see, after launching Zhihu in 2010, it remained invite-only for two whole years, and also another few years before it really started to get into advertising heavily. If you go back in time to 2015 or so, people were actually wondering why Zhihu could be so patient and how it was even surviving. Officially, it didn’t roll out much in the way of monetization by the way until 2017.

Y: Probably that was at least in part due to the fact that it hadn’t raised that much money yet. I mean, while Zhihu has now raised a staggering $889mm so far across seven rounds, 80% of that was raised in the last two years. Actually, 50% of that in this most recent round alone.  No massive fundraising, no massive pressure to monetize.

R: Right, and I’m not really sure they had a choice. I mean, if you look at Quora, which was founded in 2009 a full year before Zhihu, well that company didn’t start advertising until 2016. So also a roughly 7 year lag.

Y: It’s certainly a tricky thing. When all the content creators are contributing for free, it is very difficult to add advertising in an organic way.  That’s one of the issues Zhihu has been heavily criticized for.  Why don’t we start there?

[7:12] R: Ahh, yes, advertising. As we all know, advertising works best when you have lots of traffic and lots of data on your users, so you can target them properly.  Luckily for Zhihu, it has parts of both elements in its core Q&A product.

Y: So on traffic, as of January, Zhihu had 220mm users with over 130mm answers. I don’t know exactly how they define users because QuestMobile says Zhihu’s MAU is only about 13mm, but maybe those are app users versus all visitors.  Either way, if we use the 220mm number, that makes it pretty comparable to Quora, which has 300mm monthly active users, as well as Reddit, which is just a tad larger at 330mm

R: Very impressive really, given that both Quora and Reddit are global businesses whereas Zhihu is only in Chinese and presumably mostly used by people inside of mainland China. And Zhihu had plenty of competitors. Or we shouldn’t use the past tense just yet, because they still all exist. In the beginning, for example, there was Tianya.

Y: Yes, because before Q&A only platforms, online communities were mostly organized via BBS, or bulletin boards, and that’s where people asked their questions. Remember those? Forums? In the West, Reddit is still alive and well, and lots of other more verticalized communities of course, but in China, for a long while, there was Tianya and Baidu Tieba.

[8:53] R: Tianya was born in 1999 and claims over 130mm registered users, that wouldn’t surprise me, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if almost none of them are active any longer. I mean it’s a little like craigslist, it’s simple to the point of embarrassing, like a forgotten relic from the last century, which is … well, that’s actually exactly what it is. After going public on the New Third Board a few years back, Tianya delisted earlier this year. But it still sees a little bit of action.  For a blast from the past, feel free to check out tianya.cn.

Y: Baidu Tieba 贴吧 isn’t really all that much better. Launched in 2003, two years before Reddit, the two are pretty similar.  Like reddit, it has an internal system that allows more active members to moderate and grow their communities, meaning that it’s not just purely upvote based. Theoretically, anyway. Baidu ended up selling moderator rights to try to monetize the user-generated content, but had to backtrack on that when it was attracting too much spam.

R: And how big was this business? Well, even back in 2016, it already had over a billion registered accounts and over 20 million discussion boards. It even reached its 6 billionth post earlier this year.  But that’s not a good indicator of its quality, because it has always been quite spammy. Frankly, I don’t know how people can stand to use it. 

Y: It also most definitely has a reputation as the 屌丝 or loser hangout, but hey, as you learned from our earlier episode on livestreaming way back when, it’s diaosi who make the world of Chinese internet go round.

[10:44] R: Besides Tieba, Baidu does also have a product called Zhidao, or “To Know,” that was launched two years after Tieba, and is a Q&A platform much more similar to Zhihu. It’s also got half a billion answers, more than 3 times that of Zhihu’s total.  But you’ll also find that most of the questions are pretty basic, and the answers also mostly not worth your time to read.

Y: I mean that is the reason why Zhihu took so long to open up its platform to the general public and spent its first two years as invite-only.  Baidu’s products were launched 5 and 7 years before Zhihu, so they could really see the consequences of having a free-for-all environment. It’s not great.  Zhihu, at least in the beginning, really created an atmosphere where to be a part of the community meant that you had to thoughtful both in what you asked and how you answered.

R: That’s definitely how I remember it.  But anyway, the failure of Tieba and Zhidao easily explains Baidu’s participation in the latest round. I mean, it’s been getting creamed in advertising by Bytedance and its user-generated content platforms, as we’ve just explained, have basically become cesspools for spammers, so Zhihu is one investment it cannot afford to miss out on, especially now with Kuaishou backing it.

Y: A little aside on that — most of you probably remember that Kuaishou, who has been head-to-head with Douyin AKA Tik Tok in China in the past few years, is backed by Tencent. So that means both Kuaishou and Zhihu are Team Tencent, since Tencent led Zhihu’s Series C a few years back. While many years ago a startup would have had to pick between going with Tencent or Baidu and not both, nowadays, Baidu is simply no longer that threatening, I suppose.  But the fact still remains that it’d be nearly impossible to get Tencent and Alibaba on the same cap table.

[12:45] R: You know what’s interesting about this deal? It’s how much of the $434mm raised was filled by strategic versus financial investors. Actually, pretty much all strategic, it seems, except for one investor, Capital Today. This doesn’t happens in the West that much, except for maybe in autonomous driving sometimes. But in China, it’s not so rare because pretty much by now every internet company in China with a few hundred employees or more has a strategic investment arm. And many of these arms are quite active. That’s because that everyone’s seen what Alibaba and Tencent have been able to do by investing smartly,and that’s  just so different from here in the US, where it is still primarily a financial investor’s playground.

Y: So we now know about Baidu and their old-school competitors to Zhihu, but that’s not all right? Because it was pretty evident early on that Zhihu was going to be a superior experience. No one else tried to win at this game? All of the players we mentioned have hundreds of millions of users, so it’s clearly a customer pain point.

R: Of course people were trying to find ways to win against Zhihu. Whatever its difficulties monetizing, its traffic was still significant. And I think we should probably take a moment here to talk about one of the more interesting stories in this sector that I think single-handedly actually made “content” platforms such as Zhihu really sexy again.  And that is the story of Fenda.

Y: We didn’t talk about Fenda 分答 in the episode on podcasting and pay-for-knowledge 知识付费 because most of that episode was focused on why podcasting and pay-for-knowledge were not the same. But today, we definitely have to talk about it, because like you said, not only did it pave the way for the current craze around content startups, it was also one of the first batch of instances we’re aware of where a Silicon Valley entrepreneur openly admitted that he found inspiration in the innovative design of a Chinese company.

[14:52] R: Fenda, which literally means “minute answer” in Chinese, allowed people to ask questions and pay for an answer, delivered in the form of a 60-second audio clip. It first existed as a WeChat app, and was incubated out of Zaihang 在行, a one-on-one expert matching platform that was itself a part of tech media Guokr 果壳.

Y: Expert platforms are a dime a dozen, so we won’t bother explaining that, but Fenda’s key insight was that hearing a voice really made the answer feel very personal and authentic, much more so than text, and limiting it to 60 seconds meant that the barrier of production and cost of sharing were both very low. If done well, virality would come easily.

R: And so that’s what it did.  Fenda went and convinced a bunch of celebrities, including Wang Sicong, that guy you remember we’ve mentioned in multiple episodes so far, you know, China’s most eligible bachelor, he figures prominently in gaming livestreaming. Anyway he is definitely a 大V AKA influencer. So Fenda had him come and answer some questions on the product and they also ask him to post his answers on his Weibo where he has millions upon millions followers.

Y: While the question asker has to pay the full amount — usually $5-70, but as much as a few hundred dollars — to the respondent, who sets their own price, others are allowed to “eavesdrop” on the Q&A by paying just 1 RMB or $0.15 or so to “unlock” it, with each instance of “eavesdropping” netting the asker as well as answerer 50% of the proceeds each, so a bit more than a nickel.  

[16:38] R: Not a lot, but it could add up. If you asked something that was a burning question for many, like the most popular eavesdropped question at one point was “Hey, Wang Sicong, as the son of the richest man in Asia, what is something you cannot afford?” Well, that question if you had asked it, you would still make a good chunk of change.

Y: You see what Fenda did here though, they took the Zhihu playbook of seeding their platform with top influencers, utilized existing social networks such as Weibo and WeChat for distribution, and within 42 days of launch, netted 10mm users, of which 1mm collectively paid $2.5mm for answers to all their burning questions. 

R: 1mm transacting users in less than a month and a half. Even for China, that was record setting. No wonder that it immediately raised money at a $100mm valuation. No wonder Zhihu and a few others made a similar product that was also popular for a while.  But you know what, Fenda still stole the show this round.

Y: But then it got shut down. Due to some unknown censorship reasons, it’s been rumored, or if you go by the official stance, information safety and technical reasons. When it restarted, whatever momentum it had was lost, and it never fully recovered. Today it’s been folded back to the expert network Zaihang model. But its success really sparked the imagination of both Chinese entrepreneurs and investors around how to get people to pay for content and opened the door for many of these startups to get funded.

[18:22] R: And one of the companies who has made a serious attempt is someone we’ve talked about a lot in our episodes. Here’s a hint. This last round of over $400mm was led by Kuaishou. Kuaishou, for the most part, is just short video. Why spend hundreds of millions to have a stake in a primarily text and voice based platform?

Y: Great hint. Basically, one word, Bytedance. Kuaishou and Bytedance are now embroiled in this war to the death, which we’ll cover on another episode.  Bytedance has been experimenting in this space for a while, and Kuaishou is obviously not going to just give it away.

R: Right. Bytedance’s Q&A app was initially called 头条问答, and launched in 2016.  A year later, it changed its name to 悟空问答 Wukong Wenda and relaunched with great fanfare. Like Zhihu and Fenda had done, it was focused on getting influencers onboarded quickly and then using them to drive traffic.  But unlike Zhihu, it was very impatient of doing that.  Instead of building a community, Bytedance’s strategy was to just buy it.

Y: In 2017, Bytedance Wukong paid at least 300 of Zhihu’s influencers to migrate to their platform.  Some of them were asked to sign exclusivity agreements, meaning no re-distributing answers on Zhihu. Sounds familiar? Around the same time, if you’ll remember, gaming livestreaming companies were also throwing money at esports casters and making them sign exclusive contracts. We covered that in Episode 43.

[20:03] R: Well, it’s the same concept except a lot less profitable. These influencers were only getting paid what was up to about $100 per post.  And oh, the post did need to exceed 500 words and have a minimum number of page views to qualify.  A top poster could make $18K a year, which is a very respectable white collar salary in China, but nothing like what we saw in esports.
Y: In the beginning, Bytedance seemed to double down on this strategy. In fact, in 2018 it was leaked that Bytedance was planning to pay about $70mm to sign roughly 5000 “experts.” And that’s not including the other $70mm it was going to use in hongbaos or red pockets to incentivize answers.

R: But things didn’t go according to plan.  Whether it’s because the short video business just became much more profitable and all-consuming or Q&A wasn’t a golden goose they were looking for, Bytedance drastically reduced payouts to content creators, and by the end of 2018, had given up on the project. Now, why did that happen? There are a few theories.

Y: One is that Bytedance’s Wukong was just too lowbrow. While Zhihu is no longer as elitist as it was initially, a good portion of the questions on there remain things that you still need to be somewhat educated or experienced or at least thoughtful to answer. Wukong, on the other hand, was true to its Bytedance roots and for the masses. 

[21:41] R: Yes, we know that the common perception and some were back by data is that Bytedance is more urban than Kuaishou, but Zhihu, for a long time, was the place on the internet where the highest concentration of intellectually-minded Chinese people could be found. So it was definitely the most elite place.  Bytedance, not having  that audience, is presumed  to have started with a lot of low quality content. And these contents couldn’t keep users very engaged.

Y: Another reason was its algorithm.  Wukong apparently had a different system that wasn’t upvote based but also personalized algorithmically like everything else done by Bytedance. This resulted in a lot of the same type of content being surfaced, which quickly bored users.

R: I think we should stop here and discuss this in slightly greater detail, because this is a major point of contention when people talk about Bytedance. Bytedance really prides itself on its algorithms, but in the case of Q&A, there are complaints about how such a method have ruined the user experience.

Y: It’s certainly controversial, many users feel that the algorithmic driven recommendation of topics that’s become a bigger and bigger part of Zhihu has flattened their experience. Instead of getting exposed to a wide variety of topics, the algorithm narrows their interests further and further, so that it becomes nothing but topic X, for example.

[23:15] R: I could see that happening. I definitely thought that happened to me on Toutiao, which is why I stopped using it. Zhou Yuan calls the Bytedance algorithm highly “centralized” in what it recommends. His claim is that Kuaishou’s method is much more “decentralized” and therefore a better fit for Zhihu, because both Zhihu and Kuaishou, according to him, try to flatten out the head of the curve a bit more so that more creators could get their content be seen instead of the top 10%, let’s say, on Bytedance getting something like 90% of the traffic.

Y: It’s not that Kuaishou or Zhihu don’t use algorithms for their content — of course they do. What they’re claiming is that there is a fundamental difference in how the management of these three companies think about how to build a sustainable and engaged community.  And there is some evidence that Zhihu does what it claims.

R: Right. A data-driven analysis a few months ago showed that of all the posts in the first half of this year that received more than 1000 upvotes on Zhihu, only 19% were written by super influencers, that’s people with more than 200K fans on Zhihu, and almost half were written by micro influencers people with about 10K followers, and over a third were actually by regular users.  That’s not the distribution you would see on a platform that is more follower-based, for example, because on those platforms the super influencers tend get the vast majority of traffic and it’s not quite so evenly dispersed.

Y: And Zhihu is able to do this because while you can accumulate followers on Zhihu, they’re really not all that useful. Your influence is really measured by your contribution to a specific area, like the “knows about” section in someone’s Quora profile. You really enjoy a boost when you are answering questions within your area of expertise. And the argument goes that if Zhihu can continue inspiring all of its users to post quality content, regardless of whether or not they are individually very popular on the greater platform, then it will be able to sustain the content advantage it currently has over other platforms.

[25:37] R: Right, focus on the quality of the content, and reward that disproportionately as opposed to the generic “social status” of the poster.  That’s a more meritocratic and sustainable way of doing things, instead of paying influencers for posts. No wonder that in the end, the overlap between the user bases of Wukong and Zhihu was minimal — well less than 1% of Zhihu users was also on Wukong.

Y: Before you think that Zhihu has solved everything perfectly, let us assure you that is far from the case. Remember all that “patient slowness” we talked about Zhou Yuan and his team having at the beginning of this episode? Well, maybe because competition was flooding in, or investors were starting to pressure them, but Zhihu really made a concerted effort to monetize starting a few years ago, and it has been met with a lot of criticism.

R: For one, because they chose first to try an advertising model, they had to broaden the user base.  That meant a decision to allow for corporations and other entities to have accounts and answer questions.  So, obviously that provides some skewed views.

Y: Beyond that though, the push to generate more pageviews has also led to a degradation of quality in both questions and answers.  A high quality question that Zhihu was previously known for might be something like: “what’s a habit you’ve developed that has increased your happiness level in the long term?” is now, according to many users, much rarer to find.

[27:11] R: Instead, the platform is filled with questions the equivalent of “What’s the latest behind the feud between Kanye and Taylor Swift?” effectively leveraging trending topics, or sometimes there are simply nonsensical ones like, I saw on this one screenshot where the top suggested question for a user was “Is a cat a solid or a liquid?” Makes no sense. And by the way if you click on this question, especially if you are doing so on your mobile, you may have to scroll through several ads before you see the first relevant answer.

Y: Or you might be served some really irrelevant and tasteless, or even misleading ads, such as the fake medical ones that have gotten Baidu and Bytedance in trouble. Definitely go back and listen to our Episode 18 on that if you’re not sure what we’re talking about.

R: But I am not sure that it’s going to get better.  For one, Zhihu’s user base is only going to get broader and more mainstream, not narrower and more elite.  I mean, after all, it’s Kuaishou who led its last round!  To refresh your memory, Kuaishou is known as the home of 屌丝, or losers, a not-so-polite way of describing the less educated, less well-off Tier 2 or 3 and lower cities and other such populations in China. In fact, Zhihu posters regularly make fun of Kuaishou users. 

Y: But if you have been listening to TechBuzz, you would also know that one of the biggest trends in Chinese internet has been 消费下沉, or consumption trickle-down, meaning that products and services are extending to lower and lower tier cities and income brackets. Zhihu, if it ever wants to be a truly massive platform, will need to go out of the hardcore knowledge-sharing space, and become more mainstream, more entertaining, and yes, even less intellectual. But to capture that market, who better to partner with than Kuaishou, who built its business on exactly those characteristics?

[29:20] R: So looking forward a few years, will Zhihu just become a text-based Kuaishou? It’s possible, and maybe it’s already trending that way. But who can blame them? At a $3.5Bn valuation, where else can they go but away from the cities and into the countryside?

Y: I mean, the letter to employees from Zhou Yuan announcing this deal is very telling. When Zhihu first started, its mission was to “aggregate everyone’s knowledge, for everyone to use,” more recently, it’s changed to “let everyone find a highly credible answer to their question.” But in the letter, Zhou explains that Kuaishou and others have uncovered a new possibility for the internet, which is the fact that  “everyone’s life is worthy of recording and sharing, no matter how ordinary.” 

R: Right, he then urged his employees to keep an open mind and to pay more attention to the outside world, and do whatever it takes to create “greater value to their users.” I don’t know about you, but that  sounds like more change is definitely coming.  Zhihu has been successful turning some of its more studious users into paying users of its livestream — actually, live conference really — sessions with experts, but can that really sustain its $3.5Bn valuation? I’m not so sure.

Y: Actually that livestreaming product is pretty interesting, but we have to talk about it another time, as we’ve gone on for long enough about this company.

[31:00] Y: So let’s summarize what we’ve learned today. You go first, Rui.

R: Well, we learned today that 9-year-old question-and-answer website Zhihu received its largest round of funding ever, $434mm led by Kuaishou and Baidu, with follow-on investment from existing investor Tencent and Capital Today. Kuaishou, China’s other big short video app company besides Bytedance, supposedly has been long enamoured with Zhihu.

Y: One of the reasons is probably Zhihu’s relatively elite profile of users. Something like 90% are under 30 and 70% live in first and second tier cities.  And oh yeah, two-thirds are men. But this is a very desirable segment to advertise to, and also highly complementary with the 屌丝 or less urban and less educated population that Kuaishou commands. For Zhihu to grow, it’s got to go beyond the urban elite and into the countryside. This is the same trend that’s driven a major part of the growth in Chinese internet in the last few years. So the partnership does make sense from a business level.

R: It may not make sense from a user experience level, because we’ve already seen examples from the other major investor this round, Baidu, on how when you are not being very selective with content and trying to grow too quickly and monetize too quickly and prioritize user quantity over quality. Well that strategy can really backfire.  Baidu had a much bigger headstart in the Q&A and online forum space with its Zhidao and Tieba products, but couldn’t improve the user experience in time, and by most reports has pretty much lost that battle.

[32:47]Y: But both Baidu and Kuaishou are probably eager to partner with Zhihu in order to fend against Bytedance, whose efforts in this space have been substantial, but also unsuccessful.  One of the reasons given for their failure is their impatience — we talked today about how they just tried to buy influencers and users with cash, instead of trying to grow the community more organically. Another reason that has been posited is that its algorithms are more suited for starmaking than knowledge-sharing, which is more of a long-tail activity. It’s probably a lot more complicated than that so we won’t try to guess which is the correct answer here.

R: Whatever it is, the user-generated text and voice content space, including both online Q&A and online forums, still seems to have a long way to go.  Tencent is certainly bullish on it. Not only has it participated in Zhihu’s every round since Series C, it also invested $150mm into Reddit earlier this year at a $3Bn valuation.

Y: What do you think? Was this a great investment on the part of Kuaishou? Do you think this will be a happy union? Is Kuaishou Zhihu’s Prince Charming? Are they going to beat, or at least make a big dent in Bytedance, in this game? Let us know!

[34:17] Y: OK, that’s all for this week folks! Thanks for listening. As a reminder, our next episode will be out in two Fridays. We really enjoyed putting this together, and we are always open to any comments or suggestions. You can find us on twitter at thepandaily, at techbuzzchina, and my personal Twitter account is GINYGINY.

R: And my Twitter is spelled RUIMA. TechBuzz China by Pandaily is powered by the Sinica Podcast Network. Pandaily.com is an English language site that tells you “everything about China’s innovation.” Our producers are Shaw Wan and Kaiser Kuo. Our intern is Wang Menglu. Thank you for listening!