Alibaba unveils new app for college students, picking up social dream shattered by WeChat

Real Ruwo is now available to only a small group of people.

China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has quietly gone live a social network app called Real Ruwo targeted to university students, Chinese media outlet LatePost reported on Tuesday.

With the slogan “Real Life, Real You”, the new Alibaba’s app collects its users’ facial and location information and allows university students to chat with each other by sending text, messages, photos and videos, among other functions. It is now available on marketplaces such as the app store embedded in Xiaomi’s smartphones but it is now only available to a small group of people through an invitation code, KrASIA found on Tuesday.

According to LatePost, Real Ruwo seeks to fill the void left by Renren, the once very popular China’s answer to Facebook that featured real-name registration of students, but later lost brilliance amid the rise of social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat.

Real Ruwo is developed by Alibaba’s Dingtalk team, which was once in charge of developing Laiwang, a social messaging app released after Wechat but with similar functionalities. Laiwang was finally kicked out of the market by WeChat although Alibaba’s executives, including founder Jack Ma, all advocated for it by also setting a RMB 1 billion (USD 140 million) exclusive promotion budget.

Although Laiwang failed, it provided a corporate foundation for later incubating Dingtalk, a communication and collaboration platform.

Dingtalk’s CEO Chen Hang revealed on a forum that 200 million users from more than 10 million companies have been using this tool by the end of June since it went online in January 2015, 36Kr reported in August, a much larger user base compared with rival Tencent’s WeChat Work.

Other e-commerce players, such as JD.com, through its fintech arm JD Digits, rebranded from JD Finance, are also stepping in the game, by testing a social app called LiwowoKrASIA reported early this month.