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As TikTok continues to dominate the app store charts, its creator ByteDance (the world’s most valuable startup) has launched a new, community-focused app in competition with Facebook and Reddit. Flipchat, or Feiliao (飞聊) in Chinese, brings users together around interest groups, offering up relevant content and conversations on anything from their favourite hobbies to the TV shows they love. The app is currently only available in China, but if successful, could follow TikTok with a global launch and marketing campaign.
Flipchat was initially compared to WeChat, the hugely popular messaging app from ByteDance competitors Tencent, but its focus on interest groups makes it a different proposition. ByteDance’s decision to take this approach mirrors Facebook’s promotion of its Groups feature. At last month’s F8 conference, Facebook revealed a major redesign of their app, putting Groups front and centre. This move follows an increase in popularity of the Groups feature, which has been around since the social network’s early days, but gained a new lease of life thanks to trends such as meme groups, and the growth of communities around local towns, political views and fandoms.
The way people have recently been using Facebook Groups is similar to Reddit, which more closely resembles the internet forums of the ‘90s and ‘00s than a modern social media platform. There are pages, known as subreddits, for every topic and theme you might want to discuss. The anonymity of Reddit, where profiles aren’t tied to your identity, encourages people to use it to meet new people, in contrast to Facebook, which has traditionally been used to connect with your ‘real life’ friends and family. Of course, it also makes Reddit more of a ‘wild west,’ where people share content and views that they wouldn’t want to be traced back to them. This has made the platform near-impossible to moderate, and an easy target for criticism, associated with radical politics and hate groups.
Facebook and ByteDance are likely to face the same challenges as Reddit in moderating discussion groups, and mitigating the risk of uniting people with malicious intentions. Facebook has already been criticised for a proliferation of far-right groups, despite banning influencers such as Alex Jones. However, on the positive side, Groups has brought together communities, and created friendships and support networks in a time when social media users report feeling increasingly isolated. Hopefully Flipchat can do the same for people in China, and perhaps beyond.
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