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WeChat for the Workplace: The Rising Popularity of Enterprise App Ding Ding

A nightmare or handy work tool? Alibaba’s Ding Ding is gaining popularity across China.

Manya Koetse

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While some call it a wonder tool, others say it’s a nightmare for employees. Ding Ding, Alibaba’s mobile and desktop app for companies, is gaining popularity across China. With its GPS-based features and other nifty functions, companies can now monitor the whereabouts of their employees.

It has been over 2,5 years since Alibaba launched its ‘enterprise app’ Ding Ding (钉钉). In February of 2015, websites such as TechCrunch and TechinAsia described the app as a new mobile and desktop program for businesses that aimed to compete with Tencent’s WeChat – China’s top messaging app.

At the time, Ding Ding (also known as DingTalk) was only available in Chinese. But the app, now updated to the 3.5.3 version, has become readily available in English on Chinese app stores, Google Play, and Apple stores.

Its use by companies across China is picking up. The app has now been downloaded 50.5 million times on the Huawei store, 27 million times on the Tencent app store, 20+ million times on the Oppo app store, 12 million times on the Baidu app store, and 8.5 million times on the 360 Mobile Assistant app store.

Smart mobile office

More companies across China are now using the app as a ‘smart mobile office’: it functions as a messaging app among colleagues, a tool for making conference calls, but more importantly, as a program that makes it easy for employees to clock in and out of work and for employers to check their whereabouts.

“Our company just started implementing it. Nobody gave us any warning,” an employee named Bryan Lee (alias) of a middle-sized Beijing educational company told What’s on Weibo this week: “I’ve spoken to many people of other companies here who also started to use it recently.”

Ding Ding has many functions, and in some ways is meant to replace WeChat as a work tool. The app allows users to create team groups, and also functions as an address book that shows the organizational structure of the company. Users can directly contact the HR group or other colleagues through Ding Ding.

According to Alibaba, ‘DingTalk’ is a “multi-sided platform” that “empowers small and medium-sized business to communicate effectively.” The app’s functions include, amongst others, the following features:

– Ding Ding is a global address book that allows users to view the organization’s structure in a glance and contact everyone, but also shows contacts outside of the company (suppliers, business partners, etc.) and functions as a customer information management system.
– The program is also a calendar for creating tasks and meetings.
– Ding Ding is an instant messaging app designed for office use, supporting both private and group chats and supporting file transfers. To improve communication efficiency, all types of messaging display read/unread statuses.
– The app’s ‘Ding It’ function makes sure recipients never miss a message by alerting them through phone, SMS, or in-app notification. Companies can also send out a voice message or hold a conference call to make sure their message is heard.
– The Secret Chat function works like SnapChat, making messages traceless and self-deleting for ultimate privacy and protection.
– Through its Smart Attendance System companies can keep track of employee’s attendance and overtime records; employees can clock-in and out of work in an instant. The software also automatically generates attendance reports.
– Ding Ding can process approvals by electronically dealing with request for leaves, business trips or reimbursements. Approvals for business trips and leave are automatically linked with attendance records.
– DingTalk is also a high-definition video conferencing system and allows users to also start free individual calls.
– Ding Ding has its own business cloud (or “Ding drive”) feature, making file saving and sharing a quick and easy task, also between PC and mobile.
– DingTalk’s email inbox also makes it possible to receive email notifications in chats.

Despite the myriad of functions, or actually because of them, some employees call the app a ‘catastrophe’ for office staff.

Big boss is watching you

“Since Ding Ding is GPS-activated, I will be signed in when I get to work. And when I leave work, it will clock me out,” Lee says.

The app’s clocking system is one of its most used functions and allows companies to track whether their employees arrive late at work or whether they are working overtime.

“Clock out successful. Got off work 18:04.”

There is a positive side to it for employees since there is much less paperwork to fill out when, for example, asking compensation for overtime work. Lee notes that people can also electronically apply for a leave of absence through Ding Ding.

But the downside is that there is no room for white lies anymore. Because of the app’s geotagging function, the employer can actually check if you really are seeing the doctor (as you said you were going to).

“Through Ding Ding you can report where you are for your company. If you requested a leave of absence to go to the hospital, for example, you can bookmark the location so that your company knows you really are at the location where you are supposed to be. Same goes for business-related appointments – if your company requires it, you tag the location so they can see that you are where you said you were going, so they won’t deduct your salary for that.”

“People have a lot of different views on it,” Lee says: “I am always at work when I need to be and I never cheat the system. So I think it is very convenient that I no longer need to take my phone and scan a QR code every day to log in to work, which used to be mafan [trouble] – this is much easier. But a lot of people think it is somewhat Orwellian. They do not monitor your everyday moves but if you actually go drinking with your friends instead of going to a doctor as you told your boss, then that might get you in trouble.”

Apart from the location-tagging function, which may or may not be required/activated by the company, there are also other functions that many people do not like. Ding Ding, unlike WeChat, automatically shows that your message has been delivered and read. It also allows a company to send out a ‘Ding alert’ (which notifies recipients through phone call/SMS/In-App alerts) to make sure everybody gets the message.

On Q&A platform Zhihu.com, user ‘Aurora’, who works at a HR company, tells how this has made life more troublesome for office staff:

“The rapid growth of Ding Ding lies in the fact that it meets the requirements of its user – the boss. Just imagine: you’re in the midst of finishing a proposal when the boss sends you a message saying you need to come over to bring them a certain file.

    Before using Ding Ding:

1. You see the message. You finish the last part of your proposal before bringing over the file to your boss a bit later.
2. You don’t see the message. You finish your task and take a break. You then see the message and take care of it.
3. No matter if you see did or did not see the message, the boss notices you did not respond and gives you a call.

    Since using Ding Ding:

1. You see the message. Your boss gets a ‘message read’ (已读) confirmation and you have no other option than to break off your work and immediately take care of it.
2. You haven’t seen it. So your boss sends you a ‘ding alert’ and you have no other option but to read it, break off your work, and immediately take care of it.”

Aurora also writes that Ding Ding is completely made to comply with the demands of the company’s managers rather than their staff. For office staff, it is not convenient to have to respond to the boss’s wishes immediately – it can disturb their everyday tasks and adds stress to their job. For the manager, on the other hand, it has become very easy to reach the staff: they do not even need to pick up the phone anymore, and can reach whoever they want right away.

Unhappy Dingers

On Weibo, many people share Aurora’s views and are not too happy with Ding Ding. “I’ve had enough with this app! It reminds me every single morning to clock in to work!”

“You have to be at work in 12 minutes, don’t forget to clock in!”

Others also complain that the app only adds to the time they spend looking at their phone: “If it’s not my QQ group, then it’s my WeChat group or my Ding Ding group – it seems I am looking at my phone screen all day,” one Weibo user says.

There are also people who note that they are hardly ever really free from work anymore. As one Xiamen worker writes: “I had the morning off. But I had hundreds of WeChat messages, dozens of Ding Ding messages, and three missed phone calls. This is ruining me.”

“With this Ding Ding app it seems like no matter what time it is or where you are, you’re just always at work,” another complaint said.

“It looks like they are going to implement Ding Ding at my office. I just want to punch the person who invented this app.”

But despite all the backlash and complaints, Ding Ding’s popularity as an office solution for immediate workplace communication and registering employee’s working hours is on the rise.

On the app’s review page on the Huawei store, some call it “the best office application.” Others also note that the app is not just convenient, but also free: “It is very practical, and it has saved me the costs for other office management software.”

Other reviewers also seem much more enthusiastic than the complaining netizens on Weibo: “In our office, it’s become an essential tool – and its functions just keep getting better and better.”

By Manya Koetse


Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Luo Tianyi and the Booming Virtual Idol Market in China

The virtual entertainment market is exploding in China.

Manya Koetse

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They are featured on China’s biggest TV shows and on the covers of fashion magazines: they’re virtual idols yet their success is very real.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

At the Spring Festival Gala of 2021, the Chinese state media’s annual televised event that only invites the country’s top-notch performers, the virtual idol Luo Tianyi (洛天依) made a guest appearance.

It was a big media moment that showed the growing importance of virtual superstars in Chinese pop culture. Luo’s performance was even announced on the show’s promo posters, making this the first time ever for a virtual star to be on the show like this.

Virtual celebrities such as Luo Tianyi are also called ‘vsingers’ and often have an enormous fanbase. What is the story behind Luo Tianyi and the boom of virtual superstars in China, leading to the remarkable appearance of a non-human celebrity in the country’s biggest mainstream TV show?

 
Luo Tianyi: The First Chinese Vsinger
 

Although it was the first time for Luo Tianyi to appear at the Spring Festival Gala, it was not her first big performance. The superstar previously showed up as holograph live at big events such as the Bilibili night, and in 2019 she shared a stage with renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Promotional poster for the Luo Tianyi and Lang Lang concert.

Such a performance does not come easy. It takes months to design the looks and the moves. The holographic appearance of Luo Tianyi and the spectacular two-hour show took around six months of preparation by around 200 professionals involved in the production of Luo Tianyi.

Luo Tianyi is a so-called ‘vocaloid’ singer – a Mandarin Chinese language virtual character that was originally featured in the voice synthesizer software called VOCALOID developed by Yamaha, using third parties to create the characters. Vocaloid is a commercial product (released in 2004) with the purpose of enabling users to get a singer for lyrics and melodies without needing to hire an actual human singer.

The Shanghai Henian company collaborated with Tokyo-based Bplats in developing Luo Tianyi. The character was based on the winner of a contest that was organized in support of creating the first Chinese Vocaloid. The real-life singer whose voice was used for the creation of Tianyi is Chinese singer Shan Xin (山新).

Luo Tianyi was officially launched in 2012 as a 15-year-old entertainer and vsinger. By now, she has around five million followers on her Weibo account (@Vsinger_洛天依) where she posts about her performances, with thousands of people liking and sharing these posts.

 
Virtual Idol Boom: From Japan to China
 

According to Chinese state media outlet Global Times, 2020 was the year that virtual idols really took off in China, going hand in hand with the growing popularity of livestreaming.

Chinese video-sharing site Bilibili has contributed to the growing success of virtual idols in China. Bilibili is a homebase for many fan communities in China, since it is mainly themed around animation, comic, and games (ACG). It is one of the earliest platforms in China to broadcast virtual idol concerts, and in 2020 it held China’s first concert consisting solely of virtual performers under the title ‘BML-VR 2020’ (link).

The Bilibili concert featured a performance by various virtual entertainers, including the popular Hiseki Erio. Hiseki Erio is not Chinese, but Japanese. So is Hatsune Miki, one of the most famous virtual idols ever.

You could say Japan is the birthplace of virtual idols – a history that goes back to 1996 when Kyoko Date, also known as DK-96 or ‘Digital Kid 1996,’ made her debut as the first virtual talent.

Virtual idols come in various shapes, forms, and subgenres, and they all have their different background stories. Hatsune Miki was released in 2007 as the embodiment of the Vocolaid software developed by Crypton Future, and then there are the popular virtual Youtubers, ‘vtubers’, with virtual talent agencies such as Hololive also thriving in Japan.

The term ‘virtual Youtuber’ came with the arrival of Kizuna AI, who posted her first introduction Youtube video in late 2016. Kizuna, who later became a cultural ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organization, is still considered one of the most popular vtubers on earth.

With the great popularity of Japanese manga and anime on the Chinese market, Japanese virtual idols also gained a strong foothold in the People’s Republic since around 2017. Hatsune Miki alone already has over 3,4 million fans on Weibo (@初音未来CryptonFutureMedia).

Virtual idols are increasingly popular in China, where Chinese virtual stars are springing up (Luo Tianyi, Ling, Xing Tong, Yousa).

The virtual entertainment market is now exploding in China, where the online ACG culture is flourishing on Bilibili and beyond.

Since Japanese popular culture products began to gain popularity in China in the early 1990s, there have been various developments that have shown the government’s dislike of the ‘Japanese cultural invasion’ in the country. As a counter-reaction, there has been stronger promotion of the production of made-in-China animations and other ACG products.

While China is seeing a steady release of domestic animated films and series, there is now also a wave of new China-born virtual stars, such as the Bilibili idol Yousa (冷鸢), or Xing Tong (星瞳), a virtual idol from Tencent. Chinese gaming company Papergames made the virtual character Nuan Nuan (暖暖) to also live outside of the gaming world; she is now a singer, a stylist, and a popular fashion ambassador.

Ling (right) featured on the cover of Vogue Me.

There is also Ling (翎), the Chinese virtual influencer who loves Peking opera, tea culture, and calligraphy. Ling, who was created by Next Generation studio and Shanghai AI startup Xmov, appeared on the CCTV show Bravo Youngsters (上线吧华彩少年) and was featured on the cover of Vogue Me in February 2021 alongside actual real-life celebrities.

Chinese virtual influencer Ling.

The number of Chinese virtual celebrities is expected to grow along with the growing market. In October of 2020, the Chinese variety show Dimension Nova (跨次元新星) first aired as a talent show scouting new virtual talent.

 
Virtual Commercials and Controversies
 

The growing influence of the virtual entertainment economy and culture in China is becoming more and more noticeable in pop music, commercial culture, and even in the sphere of politics.

Virtual celebrities are so popular that brands are also jumping in on this craze by hiring them as brand ambassadors or by creating their own cyber stars. Tencent’s Xing Tong, for example, modeled for Levi’s and sportswear brand Li Ning. Nuan Nuan, among others, was featured in a commercial for hair care brand LUX. Luo Tianyi appeared in campaigns for Huawei, Pizza Hut and KFC.

In January of 2021, McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador. They are not the only one: there are over thirty companies in China now using a virtual brand ambassador. The new McDonald’s idol was welcomed by Weibo users, where the news of her launch received 200 million views.

McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador.

The virtual idol influence also became apparent when Japanese ‘Hololive’ virtual celebrities Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco recently got caught up in a diplomatic row because they referred to Taiwan as a “country” when discussing their YouTube channel analytics during a livestream, leading to controversy among their Chinese fanbase.

In a statement published on Bilibili by Cover (the Japanese company behind the Hololive talent agency that the virtual celebrities in question were under), the agency apologized for what had happened. Nevertheless, both virtual stars involved in the controversy were banned from Bilibili and eventually the entire Chinese Hololive branch was shut down.

This example shows that although virtual idols are generally regarded as a safe option for brands and companies because, unlike real celebrities, they are not likely to get caught up in scandals, it is still possible for them to spark controversy.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright for virtual stars in China with still an enormous market for Luo Tianyi and others to conquer, with plenty of room for growth. From concerts to fashion shows to live streaming channels, from Weibo to Bilibili and beyond, we are bound to see virtual stars increasingly become a part of everyday life in China.

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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China Digital

From Red Packet to Virtual Hongbao: Lucky Envelopes in China’s Digital Era

Raising virtual cows, shaking with phones – this is the Chinese New Year tradition of giving red envelopes in the digital era.

Things That Talk

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The custom of giving out red paper envelopes has evolved into a world of virtual lucky money and online games. This is the transformation of a Chinese New Year’s tradition, reported by Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

Ever wanted to raise a digital cow? This year, you can raise your own lucky cow (福牛) for Chinese New Year on Weibo. Through maintaining and raising their virtual cow (or ox), users can participate in this online game to win red envelopes, a well-known and beloved tradition linked to Chinese New Year.

The hashtag “Lucky Cow’s New Year’s Travelogue” (#福牛新春旅行记#) is linked to Weibo’s celebration of Chinese Spring Festival and the Year of the Ox. Users are expected to be active on Weibo daily to raise their cow/ox, similar to the once so popular Tamagotchi. Whilst leveling up their cow, users get the possibility to earn digital red envelopes.

The online game is another development in the story of the red envelopes, known in China as hongbao (红包). Often given during Chinese New Year, the envelopes can also be given at other joyous occasions like weddings. These red envelopes are given to each other by friends and family members to wish each other a happy new year and are always filled with an amount of money.

Red envelopes for sale via Taobao.

The practice of giving money during Chinese New Year goes far back in Chinese history. The earliest form of the red envelope is said to be yasuiqian (压祟钱). In order to keep evil spirits away, called sui (祟), people put money underneath children’s pillow since the evil spirits were said to be warded off by coins.1 These coins were woven together using a string.

Yasuiqian

As time went by and paper money and envelopes became more widespread, string and coins were replaced and the red envelope was created.

Red envelopes are used by Chinese all over the world nowadays. The amount of money inside depends on many factors. Recently, the tradition has left behind its tangible form and entered the digital era.

 

“Adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes”

 

In 2014, the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat (微信) launched a new function that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes. Users could send an amount of money directly to another user, or an amount of red envelopes could be sent into a groupchat. When the function launched, users worldwide could shake their phones in order to receive free red envelopes. The amount of money that was given to users surpassed 500 million yuan ($77.5 million).

WeChat’s inventive idea put digital red envelopes on the map in China. During the peak of the event, 800 million shakes were recorded per minute. There were two types of envelopes introduced in 2014 by Tencent, the company that owns WeChat:

1. A regular red envelope that could be sent directly from one user to another.
2. A ‘group’ red envelope, with a limited number to be grabbed and a limited sum of money which can be grabbed by all users in a group if they are fast enough. The sum inside this envelope is randomized, adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes.

Other companies also wanted a piece of the digital red envelope cake: Weibo and AliPay combined their strengths a year after WeChat introduced its digital hongbao in order to promote their version of the digital red envelope.

A ‘war’ then broke out between the two companies. AliPay handed out 600 million renminbi ($93 million) worth of red envelopes as a response to WeChat’s 120 million envelopes sent out during the televised celebration of Chinese New Year.2

 

“Digital red envelopes can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact”

 

In the years after, the digital red envelope became more and more popular. Weibo and Alipay also came with their version of sending red envelopes online. The companies organized large-scale actions to make users make use of their form of digital red envelopes.

WeChat, for instance, gives users the option to make the red envelopes very personal through adding stickers and personal messages, making the digital red envelope an even more enjoyable experience.

Does this new development of the traditional red envelope make the tangible envelope obsolete?

When asked by the digital newspaper The Paper (澎湃新闻) about whether the digital red envelope might replace its tangible brother, scholar Tian Zhaoyuan (田兆元) of East China Normal University said that the digital red envelope can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact. Though friends and family may send one another digital red envelopes, it does not mean that it replaces the tangible red envelopes.3

The tradition of sending red envelopes is and will be inherently linked to Chinese New Year. Though both the paper and digital forms of the tradition remain incredibly popular, the virtual hongbao will definitely win territory once more this year as travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Especially in these times, the digital red envelope is the best digital way of wishing family and friends a happy new year.

Why are ‘lucky envelopes’ not just red, but sometimes also green or purple? Read more via Things That Talk here.

 
By Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

Xiaojun Zhang (China Studies, BA) is an MA student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on contemporary Chinese culture, symbolism and food. For Things That Talk, she currently works on a project about Chinese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. Check out the story “Hongbao: from paper envelope to digital gift” on Things That Talk here!

 
Footnotes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Kin Wai Michael Siu. 2001. “Red Packet: a Traditional Object in the Modern World.” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (3), 103.
2 Chen, Liyan. 2015. “Red Envelope War: How Alibaba and Tencent Fight Over Chinese New Year.” Forbes, Feb 19 https://www.forbes.com/sites/liyanchen/2015/02/19/red-envelope-war-how-alibaba-and-tencent-fight-over-chinese-new-year/?sh=1b88bccccddd.
3 The Paper, Zuowei yi zhong “xinnian su”, weixin hongbao hui qudai zhizhi hongbao ma? 作为一种“新年俗”,微信红包会取代纸质红包吗?, https://cul.qq.com/a/20160208/012888.htm.

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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