Knowing China through Taiwan

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Trials and tribulations of Alibaba's foray into social networking

  • Staff Reporter
  • 2013-05-01
  • 16:14 (GMT+8)
The Tao Jianghu android app. (Internet photo)

The Tao Jianghu android app. (Internet photo)

Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce group, recently acquired an 18% stake in the Twitter-like Weibo microblogging service owned by Sina as part of its ongoing efforts to expand into the social networking arena.

Alibaba's ambition to expand into the social networking sector began as early as 2008 when it acquired Yahoo China and launched Yahoo Guanxi, a social networking platform combined with e-commerce services.

But the service's popularity stagnated amid strong competition from its homegrown counterparts such as Tencent and NetEase, closing down one year after its launch.

In 2009, Alibaba, which runs Taobao Marketplace — China's largest e-commerce website — launched its social network Tao Jianghu, combining networking and mobile gaming services. The service again failed to prove popular with internet users. Alibaba founder Jack Ma infused an additional 5 billion yuan (US$810 million) into the platform and added the My Taobao feature to introduce personal blogging services but the service was later reduced to marketing channels by sellers on the platform.

The company again attempted to enter the market in 2012 when social networking giant Facebook filed its initial public offering on the Nasdaq, followed by a heightened interest in online scrapbook Pinterest.

Alibaba launched several Pinterest-like services on its site, including love.taobao and wantu.taobao, which allow users to post pictures online. Both services, however, have failed to gain traction.

The e-commerce group's recent move to acquire a stake in Sina's popular Weibo microblogging service reflects its efforts to compete with rival internet giant Tencent, whose messaging service app WeChat has attracted 40 million overseas users.

The move has also come after speculation that Alibaba is entering the mobile networking arena by acquiring Momotech, a Chinese app that allows users to connect with people in their vicinity.

The acquisition has since fallen though, leading analysts to believe that Alibaba's stake purchase in Weibo represents its latest and possible final attempt to pursue its dream of social commerce.

Who's Who

  • Zhang Jie (張杰)

    Zhang Jie (張杰)

    Zhang Jie has been the president of Shanghai Jiao Tong University since November 2006. He has been a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences since ...