Just eight days after being shut down, Xiaomi’s instant messaging app MiTalk announced a comeback.
The Chinese smartphone giant on Saturday said it would turn the app into an invite-only audio chat platform for professionals — akin to Clubhouse, the viral app that was banned in China.
“MiTalk, begin again,” the company said in a notice posted on Weibo.
“The new MiTalk is an audio chat app for professionals. Here, you can listen to sharing and insights of professionals in various industries, and you can also ‘raise your hand’ to participate in the sharing. At the same time, you can create topics of interest to you,” the description read, adding that a small number of users have already received an invitation for beta testing.
MiTalk will be a completely brand-new product and there are no plans to transfer previous accounts and data.
Following a 10-year run, MiTalk went offline on Feb. 19. The IM app failed to gain traction among Chinese users and lost to Tencent’s WeChat, which has 1.09 billion daily active users.
MiTalk’s makeover sees it joining a raft of Chinese tech companies that have made similar announcements in recent weeks, in attempts to replicate the success of Clubhouse after it was banned in the country on Feb. 8.
NetEase Cloud Music on Monday launched an interactive function on its app, named “Kan Kan” (侃侃), which allows users to create chatrooms for specific topics. Users will not need an invite to join.
Another similar app, Capital Coffee, has been developed by Chinese technology news outlet 36Kr. Users of this emerging platform can invite friends to join the platform using mobile phone numbers.
Other apps include Two, developed by cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun, and Dizhua (递爪), which used to be featured on knowledge-sharing platform Zaih (在行) and was released as a separate app in August 2019.
However, industry experts remain skeptical about whether the audio-based format can catch on and maintain its popularity among users, among concerns of security and privacy.
During a session on Duihuaba (对话吧), another Clubhouse clone developed by Hong Kong-listed live-streaming firm Inke, Beijing Kunlun Tech Chairman Zhou Yahui pointed out some of the challenges that could be faced when attempting to develop such audio-based apps.
“I personally wouldn’t recommend startups develop such a product. With high barriers to entry and low user retention rate, the team would fail miserably,” Zhou said.
True enough, Duihuaba was removed from Apple’s App Store and multiple Android stores two weeks after its launch, citing improvements needed for the app’s technology and format. The app took the team only four days to develop and had 4,000 registered users by Feb. 20, according to tech media outlet 36Kr.
Banfo Xianren, a popular “self-media” account that offers commentary on current affairs, said in an article published on WeChat that such Clubhouse-like platforms raise concrete security and regulatory issues.
“There is a risk to both the platform and to users when they are allowed to speak in a large-scale semi-public or completely public space,” he wrote, meaning it’ll be hard for developers to monitor what’s being said in different chatrooms while posing additional costs on server support.
Furthermore, the audio-based format makes it difficult for the platform as well as Internet regulators to monitor and filter out inappropriate content and malicious users, posing a safety issue to users.
The article also emphasized that audio chat products are nothing new in China. Such features have already been heavily incorporated in Chinese dating apps over the years, meaning that these Clubhouse clones would not stand a chance in an already saturated, red ocean market.
These apps could enjoy tremendous user growth in the beginning, but long-term “stickiness” might be hard to maintain as users are very much likely to add each other on WeChat — China’s every day, all-encompassing messaging app — after meeting, inevitably shifting their conversations away from the platform.
Whether it is MiTalk with its revamp or new launches like Kan Kan and Capital Coffee, it remains to be seen how these companies will fare in a country with more than 940 million internet users.