Facebook’s Colorful Balloons app isn’t lighting up the Chinese market
Facebook has finally found a way to get a foothold in the world’s most popular country that has blocked it from re-entering since 2009. The simple answer is to secretly launch an app. The secret weapon is to launch it under a different name and unleash it upon the Chinese iOS App Store. Facebook released its photo-sharing app Colorful Balloons back in May.
The app has none of its own branding attached and Facebook has done nothing to promote the app. The only clue given is that it has the same icon as Facebook’s Moments app and similar features. The developer is not Facebook but Youge Internet Technology and has a women executive director by the name of Zhang Jingmei.
“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways,” Facebook said in a statement. It’s been three months since but no one seemingly wants to have that app on their phone. The response was muted. This suggests that Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be facing an uphill battle if they are to crack one of the strictest countries in terms of censorship.
The app basically collates your photos from the albums on your smartphone’s and then lets you share them, with the use of a QR code. It is not available on the Google Play Store.
The company did its bit in adapting to a local audience. While Moments connects through Facebook, Colorful Balloons links through the popular social media mobile application WeChat.
Screenshot via New York Times
Media buzz equals to slight bump
A Quartz report points out that the highest-ever ranking achieved by the app “was when it was the 313th most-download app in the Photo and Video category”. It has never cracked the Overall category in China.
New York Times was the first to break the news and since then, it has moved as high as 40th position in the Photo and Video category. It went was at 758th in the Overall category on Sunday, 13 August. It also has just 52 reviews but they’ve all been positive. The app enjoys a 4.5/5 rating currently.
The app was covered in China but no one read the app, it seems. In fact, the trending story of the week was another ‘sharing economy’ article. It was about a folding seat service. Colorful Balloons was nowhere to be seen.
Screenshot via New York Times
What is Facebook’s goal?
Facebook’s short-term goal is learning about how apps become successful in China. The app gives Facebook an insight into how Chinese users share information with friends on the internet and how they interact with various social media platforms. China has more than 700 million internet users and they mostly use apps like Tencent’s WeChat. Zuckerberg himself has made repeated attempts to get Chinese authorities on their side.
Zuckerberg has learnt Mandarin and even posted a photo of himself jogging right past Tiananmen Square. Facebook even went the full mile and developed a censorship tool that stops these ‘sensitive posts’ from appearing on news feeds in certain geographical locations in the hopes of entering China.
The secret approach to entering the China market may backfire for Facebook as the Chinese government increases its oversight of foreign tech companies.
The problem with any app launching in China it is always compared to Weibo, one of the most popular microblogging websites in China. This time around, users said that they prefer Weibo’s interface and that Facebook’s is dull and that there is a distinct lack of features.
Whether or not any of this will matter is yet to be seen. Facebook’s other app, WhatsApp, has recently been partially blocked. The 19th Party Congress – a meeting in which top national leadership positions are decided – is around the corner and that will determine just how far foreign companies can go in the Chinese market.
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