Alipay, one of China's most widely used digital wallets, is testing a new social networking feature in its latest attempt to take on WeChat, the country's leading messaging app.
The mobile payment tool, run by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, has rolled out the new service that allows some of its users to stay updated on topics of interest to them and get in touch with people who share these interests online.
Alipay said in a statement on Monday that the service, named Quanzi or Circle in English, is designed to build real-name online communities that help users get acquainted with strangers more comfortably via the company's big-data enabled credit rating system.
"Trust is the key issue in the social networking scene among strangers in China. Anyone in Quanzi is using their real name and their online credit scores can also be checked for reference, which provides icebreakers to make communication more easily," said Alipay, which boasts 450 million real-name users.
The move is seen by analysts as Alibaba's latest effort in social networking, an area in which its rival Tencent Holdings Ltd does particularly well, with WeChat, its mobile messaging app with more than 800 million users.
Wang Xiaofeng, senior analyst with Forrester Research, said that it is very difficult for late arrivals to boost their market share in the social networking market. But, Alibaba has never given up its hope in this field after years of efforts of rolling out all kinds of messaging services, such as Laiwang and DingTalk.
"With WeChat growing bigger and bigger to include payment into its services, it makes sense for Alipay launch a counter attack to step up its effort in social networking," she said.
Despite its effort, whether or not Quanzi can grow into something important still remains to be seen, said Lu Zhenwang, an internet expert based in Shanghai.
"WeChat is a social networking tool for close friends while Weibo is a social playground for complete strangers. Alipay is trying to build something in between, which requires hard work," he said.