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Top 10 of Chinese Apps by What’s on Weibo

A top 10 of the most useful and funny Chinese apps.

Manya Koetse

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What’s on Weibo brings you a short introduction to China’s fast-growing app market, oversight of alternative Android app stores and a top 10 of the most useful and funny Chinese apps.

 
Update 2019: We’ve noticed many people like this article. It’s from 2015, so it’s time to get yourself up to date in our Chinese app section that lists new popular apps. Follow us on @whatsonweibo to get the latest.

China is the world’s largest smartphone market. With approximately   520 million smartphone users in Mainland China, mobile app business is booming.

In 2014, Chinese mobile phone users collectively downloaded close to 185 billion apps – 59% of all app downloads worldwide. In comparison: mobile phone users in the United States only transferred 8% of all global app downloads.

China does not only have a flourishing mobile app market, it is also a unique one. Popular Western app services like Twitter or Facebook have been blocked in Mainland China for over five years. Since the end of 2014, all Google services, including Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps or Google Play, have been cut off. The absence of these major Western app services has created a distinctive Chinese app environment, where alternative brands such as Baidu, Weibo or Weixin dominate the market.

Since April 2015, China has officially surpassed the US as Apple’s biggest iPhone market. Although Apple has the number one spot in urban China smartphone sales (27.6% market share), it is Android that takes the crown in terms of application sales revenue.

Popular smartphone brands like Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo or Samsung are all based on the Android operating system. In China, the ‘iOs versus Android‘ battle is not an ‘iTunes versus Google Play’ duopoly, as seen elsewhere in the world. Because of the blockage of Google Play and China’s flourishing domestic app market, Chinese Android users download their apps through a variety of app stores.

NewZoo and TalkingData publish a monthly oversight of the top 10 Android App Stores in China. Alternative Android app stores like 360 (360手机助手), MyApp by Tencent (腾讯应用宝), Baidu app store (百度手机助手), the Xiaomi phone store (小米应用商店) or Wandoujia (豌豆荚) are amongst the most popular ones.

Some of these, like 360 or Baidu, are more than just an app store; they are tools to manage your phone by clearing the cache, deleting apps, saving on battery life, etc. Apart from the Baidu app store, Baidu browser and Baidu maps are convenient for anyone visiting or living in China, since Chrome or Google Maps will not work through normal Mainland Internet connections.

With such a giant mobile market and great variety of app stores, the world of China’s apps is like a mobile jungle if you are not familiar with it. What’s on Weibo has therefore selected a top 10 of useful and funny Chinese apps for you:

 

1. Weixin: the essential app for everyday life

weixin5.0

Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, is China’s most popular smartphone application. It was launched in 2011 by Tencent. The power of this app lies in its multifunctionality; Weixin is Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Paypal, Shazam, Viber and Uber, all combined into one app. It therefore is the essential app for everyday life.

Through Weixin’s chat functions, you can have individual conversations with your friend or make a group chat. There is a large variety of emoji’s to choose from to express your mood. The ‘moments’ function is comparable to Facebook’s timeline, where you can follow what your friends are doing and comment on their pictures.

Through ‘subscription accounts’ it is possible to follow your favorite companies or media sources, from CCTV to McDonalds. Except for a great social media platform, Weixin is also an important way for (Chinese) media and businesses to stay in touch with their audiences. For more information about Weixin, read our Short Guide to China’s Super App or China’s Weixin Revolution.

Weixin is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store, both in Chinese and English versions.

 

2. Sina Weibo: not dead yet

Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site

Sina Weibo (新浪微博) is China’s biggest social media platform, comparable to Twitter, launched in August 2009. Recently, many different media have stated that Weibo is dying as a consequence to new rules that required users to register with their real names. More people allegedly switched from Weibo to Weixin, media argued, and Weibo would soon be on the way out as online free speech becomes more and more limited.

Although Weibo is not the platform it used to be, it is still very much alive. The private dimension of Weibo (talking amongst friends) has made room for Weixin, where P2P is the most important form of interaction. Sina Weibo is now a public social media platform and China’s most dominant source of news content, where netizens discuss trending topics of the day. Weibo has 600 million users; around 175 million of them are monthly active users. 70% of Weibo daily traffic comes through its mobile app.

Weibo is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

3. Taobao: the ultimate mobile shop and more

taobao

Taobao Marketplace is one of China’s largest online shopping platforms, comparable to Ebay or Amazon. It was launched in 2003 by China’s Alibaba Group. Taobao is a place where small businesses and individuals can sell products to consumers – anything from clothes to medicine. For the most funny things for sale, check out our top list of unusual things for sale on Taobao. Taobao has 8.4 million annual active merchants, many of whom mainly run their stores through the Taobao app.

Taobao will have more functions in the future besides serving as a shopping platform. Alipay and Sina Weibo launched a new service last week where mobile users can log in through Taobao, Alipay or Weibo to arrange their public service issues, like scheduling marriage registration or paying a traffic fine.

Taobao is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

4. Pitu: drag queen for a day

pitu

Photoapp Pitu (天天P图) is all the rage this year. Never before did a free photo app come with so many possibilities. Like the Meitu app (美图), which is also pretty good, Pitu is a camera and retouch app that offers a myriad of different filters to make you look your prettiest.

But there is much more: Pitu also allows you to play dress up with different make-up styles that look so real that is easy to trick your friends into thinking you actually did your make-up like Lady Gaga or a Peking Opera star. Besides the pre-made make-up sets (under “cosplay”), you can also apply your own make-up and decide on colors of eye-shadow, hair and lips. The app has many different templates to create collages. The ‘cut-out’ section lets you use your face in different backgrounds. Trust us, this is the most entertaining photo app of 2015. You can also take a normal picture of your friends and later turn them into proper dragqueens (sorry!).

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天天P图 is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

5. MyIdol: you’ve never been this fabulous

MyIdol (小偶) is arguably one of the most fun apps around at this moment. The app allows users to take a picture of their face and then create their own 3D figure with a wide selection of different eye-colors, hairstyles, clothing and skin tones. You can then let your figure do several things, such as singing a popular song, wishing everybody a happy new year, playing the drums or falling asleep.

Although the app has been around for some time, it has been a rage lately – especially because the effects of the app are so well done. If you choose the right colors for skin, hair and eyes, combined with the right hair and outfit, it is almost as if you are standing there singing yourself.

myidol

MyIdol is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

6. DragonFly FM: discover China’s radio

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Dragonfly or Qingting FM (蜻蜓FM) is a top-ranking radio app that offers hundreds of channels from across China, from national to local levels. The app lets users choose from its most popular channels or by category: music, news, audiobooks, comedy, entertainment, opera, etc. A perfect app for anyone who wants to discover China’s most popular music or for those who want to practice their Chinese.

Qingting is free and is available for iOs and Android users, link to app here

 

7. DouPai: featured in a Chinese news broadcast

DouPai is an original video app where personal images can be placed in pre-made scenes. Always wanted to be featured on the Chinese news? This is your chance. The app, a product of 360 Mobile, has a wide range of different scenes. Different from the MyIdol app, this app also allows two users to be in the same scene together; like two tigers holding hands in the woods, for example. It’s the app you know you always wanted.

Doupai is free and is available for Android users, app link here.

 

8. Blued: the ultimate gay app

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Blued is a social network app for gays. It is a product of China’s gay website Danlan, that was launched eight years ago. Blued was added as a mobile app in 2012. It can be compared to gay dating app Grindr; users can look for other users based on their location and scan their profiles or hang out in a chatroom. Users can privately connect through chat and arrange a date if there is mutual interest.

The app has over 15 million users. In December 2014, the company received 30 million US dollars from American investors. 3 million of Blued’s users are located outside of China.

Blued is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from Google Play or any other app store.

 

9. Chef’s Table: play restaurant at home

image

The luxury of restaurant food in the comfort of one’s own home – this is what the new Chinese app ‘Good Chef’ (好厨师) offers. ‘Good Chef’ allows users to search for specialized cooks based on their location and food preference, and hire them to come and cook in their own home kitchen. As online services like Uber are rapidly gaining popularity all over China, the app’s home cooking service has become a hot business.

‘Good Chef’ was launched in September 2014 and operates in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Its formula is simple; users can indicate what kind of food they like (Hunan cuisine, Sichuan style, Shandong food, etc.) and browse the different chefs that can be hired to cook for them in their area. Afterwards, users can rate the chefs with one to five stars and leave a comment about their experience. The system generates a list of top-rated chefs.

As Chinese website Wabei reports, over 20,000 people ordered a chef to cook in their home during the Chinese New Year period. The company currently employs 320 chefs on full-time basis. Founder Xu Zhiyan (徐志岩) has revealed that the start-up company recently raised 5 million USD from investors. The money will be used to expand to more cities in China and invest in product development.

The app is available for both iPhone and Android: www.chushi007.com.

 

10. Expression Factory: be your own emoticon

PicMonkey Collage

The expression factory (表情工厂) has been on the market for quite some time but has remained relatively unknown. The app lets users take a picture of their face, and then use it to create hundreds of different emoticons – from Japanese sumo wrestlers to naughty nurse. The emoticons can be exported to QQ, Weibo or Weixin, where they will be saved to use every time you feel like sending someone your personalised kisses or farts.

表情工厂 is free and is available for iPhone and Android users. If you cannot directly download on iPhone it might be because you’re outside of China, you can try to download online and then transfer via iTunes. 

Enjoyed this article? Check out our Top 10 apps for studying Chinese!

– by Manya Koetse

 

– Appreciate this article and want to help us pay for the upkeep costs of What’s on Weibo? You can do so here! Every penny helps.

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Show-Inspired Journeys: Chinese Netizens Explore Next Travel Destination Through Favorite TV Series

The rising influence of Chinese TV dramas on tourism highlights the synergy between entertainment & social media in China, serving as a powerful tool for travel promotion.

Wendy Huang

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The Chinese TV series Meet Yourself has significantly boosted the popularity of Dali in Yunnan. The series’ success, coupled with the official funding behind it, not only underscores the impactful role of Chinese dramas in tourism but also illustrates how Chinese travel destination promotional strategies are being reshaped in a competitive post-Covid era.

On December 25th, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture’s Culture and Tourism Bureau in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, announced a proposed subsidy of 2 million yuan ($282k) for the Chinese TV series Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The news soon went trending on Weibo (#去有风的地方获200万元补助#). Many found it noteworthy, especially since the announcement clarified that this funding is part of the prefecture’s special fund for cultural and tourism industry development, and the TV series was the only project under consideration.

There are several reasons why Dali might consider this strategy.

Firstly, Dali plays a pivotal role in Meet Yourself. Launched in January 2023, the TV series quickly became an online sensation, achieving an impressive rating of 8.7 out of 10 on Douban—a platform in China similar to IMDb. Spanning 40 episodes, the series features actress Liu Yifei (刘亦菲), renowned for her role in Disney’s live-action Mulan, and Chinese actor Li Xian (李现).

Promotional image for Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The narrative follows a white-collar worker in her mid-30s who, following her best friend’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, embarks on a quest to understand the true meaning and purpose of life.

The TV series not only captivated audiences because of its soothing narrative about life and interpersonal relationships, but the show was also a hit because most of its scenes were filmed in Dali and showed picturesque rural landscapes and portrayed a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle.

The show accumulated more than 3 billion views on the streaming platform Mango TV by the time its final episode aired on February 2, 2023. It also sparked numerous trending topics on Weibo during that time. For instance, one snapshot from the drama, “Liu Yifei Holding Flowers” (刘亦菲捧花), also went viral, with many netizens even changing their profile pictures to this image. Captivated by Liu’s beauty and charm, they believed that the image possessed some sort of magical power, like the symbolic significance of koi fish in Chinese culture and how they’re believed to bring good luck.

The ‘lucky’ Liu Yifei holding flowers image.

The lucky Liu Yifei holding flowers meme spread across social media in various ways.

Benefiting directly from the popularity generated by the TV series, Yunnan experienced a surge in visitors during the 2023 Spring Festival holiday. This influx significantly boosted its tourism revenue to an impressive 38.4 billion yuan (approximately US$5.4 billion), surpassing all other provinces and regions in the country.

The primary filming location of the drama, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, welcomed over 4.2 million visitors, marking a significant year-on-year increase. Within the first six days of the holiday, Dali boasted the highest room occupancy rate nationwide, and became the fifth most visited tourist destination across the country.

 
TV Series Inspiring Real-Life Travel to Featured Destination
 

Dali is not the only city or travel destination that has become popular because of Chinese dramas or TV shows. The recent Chinese TV series There Will Be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙), in which Chengdu plays a major role, has also come to be seen as a promotion for the Sichuan Province capital city.

The series revolves around four women who grew up together, chose different paths in life, and then reconnect in Chengdu. The series showcases the city’s laid-back lifestyle, especially in contrast to the fast-paced metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai where the featured women return from.

Scene from There Will be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙).

Back in 2003, the TV series Lost Time (似水年华), which was filmed in the historic scenic town of Wuzhen, also became popular. Lost Time was written, directed, and starred by the renowned Chinese actor and director Huang Lei (黄磊). The series narrates a poignant love story of a couple in their thirties who meet in Wuzhen, only to be separated by the vast distance between Wuzhen and Taipei.

The TV series successfully showcased the timeless beauty of the Wuzhen water town to a broader Chinese audience and, indirectly, promoted the town’s unique artistic and cultural atmosphere. This later led to the establishment of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, a celebration of performing arts and a center for cultural exchange. The festival has since become one of the premier events in China and Asia. Each year, as the festival unfolds, there is a significant increase in business, with tourists flocking to the area.

On social media today, Lost Time is still seen as one of the major reasons why Wuzhen became so popular among Chinese travelers.

Wuzhen featured in Lost Time (似水年华).

But it’s not only the television series that portray a slower-paced and romantic lifestyle that motivate viewers to visit the showcased destinations. In 2020, the filming locations of the popular Chinese crime and suspense drama The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落) not only entertained its audience but also boosted tourism in the actual places where it was shot.

Much of the filming for the TV thriller took place in Chikan, an old township located in Zhanjiang in Guangdong. As a result, Zhanjiang’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrocketed by 261 percent in a single week.

Earlier in 2023, Jiangmen in Guangdong Province also gained popularity after it was featured in the popular crime TV drama The Knockout (狂飙). As a result, it became a sought-after destination during the May Day holiday, drawing numerous TV enthusiasts to the city. Jiangmen reportedly received over 765,200 visitors in the first two days of the May Day holiday alone, generating a revenue of approximately 439 million yuan (US$62.2 million).

Jiangmen’s popularity went beyond the May Day holiday. The Knockout caused a steady influx of visitors to the Guangdong city. From January to October of 2023, the city saw a total of 20,278,200 tourists, a reported year-on-year increase of 85.36%. This resulted in a tourism revenue of 19.649 billion yuan, representing an impressive increase of 133.77%.

 
Beyond the TV Screen: Social Media Creating Travel Hits
 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how there are always unpredictable factors that help Chinese destinations suddenly become a hit among travelers. For instance, in late 2021, a song titled “Mohe Ballroom” (漠河舞厅) gained popularity across various social media platforms in China. This song narrates the story of a man who, for thirty years, danced alone in the Mohe Ballroom following the death of his beloved wife.

Prior to the song’s release, many Chinese netizens were familiar with Mohe as it is the northernmost point of China, and it is extremely cold. As the song gained traction on social media, the local government seized the opportunity to promote the city’s ice and snow tourism. Now, Mohe has emerged as a new destination for tourists seeking a unique, chilly experience.

Another example is Zibo, an ancient industrial city, which treated students well during their Covid quarantine period. So, when China lifted all Covid restrictions in the spring of 2023, these students returned to express their gratitude and celebrate the city. Their contagious enthusiasm, coupled with their social media posts about the city, sparked nationwide interest and people soon flocked to Zibo to enjoy the vibe and the local BBQ (read more here).

During the summer of 2023, the city of Tianjin became online hit due to a group of energetic seniors who transformed a local bridge into a stage for their remarkable water acrobatics. Tianjin’s so-called “diving grandpas” attracted attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). Videos of their dives quickly went viral on China’s social media, drawing tourists, including many foreign residents in China, to witness the spectacle firsthand. Some people even joined to dive, including He Chong (何冲), the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 3m springboard.

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

In a playful twist, some visitors created their own scorecards, acting as judges and rating the divers’ performances. However, this spontaneous event eventually had to be toned down due to safety concerns. Despite this, the event kept Tianjin in the spotlight for quite a while as a tourist destination.

Social media has become a vital tool for cities and tourist destinations aiming to attract potential visitors. While some destinations organically become online sensations due to a combination of factors, other efforts are more deliberate and strategic. For instance, in spring of 2023, Chinese local government officials went all out to promote their hometowns via online channels, going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos about their hometowns with low to zero budget.

However, when an article by Xinhua News criticized this approach, suggesting that local officials should prioritize improving service quality in their hometowns rather than striving for internet fame, the online trend appeared to wane.

Over the last year, different regions and industries in China made significant efforts to boost their local economies through tourism to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The China Tourism Academy recently published a report that forecasts that the number of China’s domestic tourists in 2023 has hit 5.407 billion, and domestic tourism revenue will amount to 5.2 trillion yuan. This figure allegedly represents a recovery to 90% compared to pre-Covid year 2019.

The upcoming Chinese New Year’s holiday is expected to kick off a promising start for the Chinese tourism industry in 2024. According to Trip.com data, bookings for the 2024 New Year’s holiday have surged by over threefold compared to the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, Tongcheng Travel highlights skiing, hot springs, Northern Lights viewing, music events, outdoor activities, island retreats, cruises, staycations, and firework displays as the top domestic travel preferences during this holiday season.

As China has significantly relaxed several travel and visa policies for both Chinese and international travelers, the number of outbound travel bookings for the New Year’s holiday on Trip.com has also seen a nearly fivefold increase compared to the same period last year while inbound tourism is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the way in which the TV drama Meet Yourself (去有风的地方) has boosted the tourism industry of Dali, which already was a popular tourist destination, is generating ongoing discussions on Chinese social media as it is a good example of how the integration of destination themes can captivate viewers’ attention, inspiring them to visit and discover the real-life locations.

In this way, TV shows serve as powerful platforms for local tourism authorities across China. First, utilizing television series provides them with a higher level of control compared to other methods of online promotion, including more fleeting trends. The show’s narratives, vibe, and filming locations can precisely showcase a destination’s unique features, attractions, and local culture.

Second, featuring destinations in TV series effectively accomplishes two goals at once, as Chinese TV dramas and online communities have become strongly intertwined. This amplifies the influence and reach of such productions, as fans engage, share, discuss, and promote the series and associated destinations across various social media platforms. And so, a featured scene or image, such as the one with Liu Yifei, can transcend the series itself and become an entire trend of its own on Chinese social media channels.

For travelers, visiting a destination featured in a beloved TV drama is not just about exploring a new location—it’s about experiencing a feeling and and immersing oneself in a fantasy. This trend won’t end with Meet Yourself, as new dramas inspire viewers to visit new locations again. As fans are binge watching the TV series Love Me, Love My Voice (很想很想你), Guangxi’s Guilin is the next hotspot attracting attention online for its portrayal in the show. “I finished watching the show,” one viewer wrote, “Now I want to start traveling.”

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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