The global popularity of the Chinese app TikTok is well known by now. However, perhaps less familiar is a range of Chinese digital platforms that are gaining popularity outside of the western world. It shows that China’s digital platforms are becoming regional (if not, global) standards.
What does this mean?
To take one example, the short-video app Kwai (called Kuaishou in China) is gaining ground overseas: in 2018, it ranked as the most downloaded app in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea. Bigo Live, a live-steaming platform, is popular across Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Saudi Arabia, and New Zealand. In India, as many as 44 of the top 100 apps are Chinese. The global expansion of Chinese tech companies is based on different strategies than those of U.S. companies. Whereas the latter try to leverage their global brands and scale, the former, having experienced how difficult it has been for western companies to gain a foothold in China, tailor their offerings to local tastes and invest in local start-ups before scaling up.
China’s digital platforms will most likely spread Chinese culture. However, we have to think beyond the obvious Chinese principle of censorship. Interestingly, the Chinese video-app Bilibili requires registration which involves passing a hundred-question test about anime trivia and comment etiquette. As a result, its community and comment culture is widely regarded as the best around. Besides this capacity to build community, Chinese digital platforms are creating new types of media & entertainment that may seem incomprehensible to us until they become popular (perhaps, similar to the rise of TikTok, among our youth). For example, Bilibili has popularized “bullet comments”: text-based user reactions superimposed onto online videos, which create a visual commentary track to which anyone can contribute (see example).