Jack Ma looks up to Facebook, turning its Alipay into a social network with payments

Alibaba’s Alipay is developing beyond a mere online payment tool, and has been enhancing its power in the world of online socializing.

However, what recently brought Alipay to public attention is some revealing selfies posted by young women in one of the app’s columns called “Shenghuo Quan”, or “Life Circle”. This column is a platform where users socialize with strangers based on gender, location, interests, and so on.

Alipay’s “Life Circle” circles

Life Circle, as Alipay’s socializing service, was moved to the app’s front page three months ago. It encourages users with shared features and similar interests to gather in different groups, forming an online community with multiple divisions.

Among the various groups are two that currently top the list of popularity, with over four million followers in total: Xiaoyuan Riji, or “Journal of Campus Life”, where only student users can post; and Bailing Riji, or “Journal of White Collar Life”.

One thing these two groups have in common is that most posts are published by female users; and there are a large number of photos and selfies, some of which are quite revealing. Their posts can be viewed by all Alipay users, and liked with a “thumbs-up” and even with money tips of varying amounts.

In fact, some groups, such as the “Journal of Campus Life”, only allow female users to post. Male users can view, like, and tip posts, but to make a comment they must have a Sesame Credit of over 750, something which is not an easy feat.

Sesame Credit is a social credit scoring system created by Ant Financial. The basis of its calculations include user characteristics, connections, and transaction history. Only “super good” users have more than 700 credits, and maintaining over 750 is even harder.

The social element: a competition with WeChat?

In short, Alipay believes that it must have an element socializing if it is to maintain and improve its user adhesiveness – yet the story goes beyond that.

Talking about online socializing in China, Tencent’s WeChat has become the top player. The app currently has more than 800 million monthly active users. Though it was originally built for online communication, WeChat today is also widely known for its online payment service, WeChat Pay. According to the 2016 Internet Trends Report by KPCB analyst Mary Meeker, WeChat users make payments via WeChat Pay an average of 50 times per month – five times the usage rate of Alipay.

Incorporating a social element, Alipay may hope to retain its power and position in online finance, a position which is no longer dominant.

Be it acquiring stakes of Weibo in 2013, introducing its own chat program Ding Ding in 2015, or joining the buyout group of dating app Momo this April, Alibaba knows that online socializing is something that it cannot do without.

Equipped for socializing: Alipay’s advantages and a fresh angle

Different from WeChat, which is based on social networks that already exist, Alipay is attempting to create new social networks among strangers, according to analysis by Chinese media Huxiu. Alipay may become a platform where users build connections with strangers, and although the bonds may not be tight, the web can stretch wide.

Alipay, with 450 million users with verified real-identification, knows who and where the user is, as well as what the user likes, based upon his or her previous shopping or searching history. The abundant user data gives Alipay a great advantage in recommending interest groups in Life Circle to the tastes of different users.

In addition, interest groups in Life Circle can be jointly run by Alipay and third-parties, who may use the socializing platform to make profits and collect consumer feedback.

The “life circles” at Alipay have not been put to the app’s front page, yet we may expect it to be there soon.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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