The charm of Jike: From search engine to popular social network

A user's creation from "Draw for Jike" discussion group ©Jike

App’s success shows enthusiasm for a personalized, community-based content and search platform, emulated even by Tencent

Less than a year ago, a few users of the popular Chinese social networking app Jike got together to compose and record a video rap, paying tribute to the content-focused platform. Titled "Some good stuff," it was a direct reference to Jike's slogan then of "Ten minutes a day, let's see some good stuff." Part of the rap went:

Every day when I open my eyes, I check Jike for the weather and my horoscope 

I’ve got an idea, which is probably not right, but if I post on Jike's "Wait for an answer online" someone else might

You could write down your stories, sad or funny, and we’ll not judge – we’ll respond with a smiley...

One hour after the video was posted on Jike, the app's CEO and founder, Ye Xidong (username: Wa Nen), responded: "I’m moved," before sharing it with his followers.

Such is a typical day on Jike.

For those who don't know it, the Jike app is hard to define. A combination of RSS, Google Alerts and Reddit, Jike has gained quick popularity since its launch in 2015. Today it has millions of active daily users. The rap about Jike epitomized what its users expect from the social community app: interesting content and friendly interactions with other users.

The future of search engines?

Ye actually first created Jike as a search engine. He was working in the US in 2014 as a computer engineer at Google after graduating from the University of Michigan. Ye wanted to book a discount plane ticket, but he didn’t have time to check the airline's website again and again.

For three years in a row, he had failed to buy the promotion-price tickets and finally decided that he wanted to create an app that would help people to get information more easily. Search engines are meant to help users sort through the overwhelming quantity of information available, but often, Ye realized, the volume of search results can be huge, undifferentiated and difficult to navigate. 

The Jike app combines push notifications with specific subjects that could eliminate irrelevant information. This way, users would get the information they needed in the fastest way and without having to search for it.

Thus, Jike's first discussion topic or group was about airline discounts, created to tackle Ye’s problem. If a user subscribed to this topic, he or she would get a notification alert whenever discounts were available. The content of that subject was a combination of web scraping and human editing.

Other topics could include: “New Chinese startup goes public,” or, “New movie receives a good rating at Douban” (China's version of a Rotten Tomato rating).

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It's a search engine solution that looks to the future, allowing users to set search terms and parameters in advance so that the information comes to them.

Chinese internet influencer Chunyin wrote about Jike: “I didn't know that having small, specialized topics picked by editors, combined with push mechanisms, could generate such strong engagement."

UGC evolution

The app's notifications can be easily turned on or off. Users can choose to receive updates instantly, or browse through the app at leisure.

It's an elegant, yet revolutionary, system. Not only does Jike create a high signal-to-noise ratio, to borrow a term from engineering, it also creates a rich information environment for its avid readers. No surprise then that the early version of Jike quickly gained fans among China's tech-savvy elite – in fact, many of its early adopters were those working in the Internet industry

But the Jike model also has some serious flaws.

In 2015 and 2016, Jike advertised itself as a “personal information officer,” but today it's branded as a community for young people. The transition has been both organic and motivated by business needs.

With the Jike team being solely responsible for sifting content, the list of subjects grew slowly in the early period – just four to five a day. The limited topics meant that the user base remained small.

Also, in order to continue pushing information to users instantly as the subject grew, the content operation group wasn't big enough to cope with having many topics.

In 2017, Jike solved this issue by allowing users to set up their own subjects with RSS (limited to 10) and a simple keyword sifting function. Users were also permitted to provide content for certain subjects.

Power of community

However, being solely an RSS provider limited Jike’s evolution into a great business. Moreover, its access to content – the core of its existence – is always at risk, as original content providers often see aggregators like Jike as a source of competition for traffic.

Jike achieved its true business breakthrough with the launch of a user-generated content option, inviting users to exchange ideas and information through the comments section. Its many elite users represented growth potential in a good discussion community based on common interests.

Jike launched version 3.5 of its app in September 2017 and began adding social functions, encouraging users to share their thoughts in the community. Besides subjects that focused on information, Jike also allowed users to post about their lives and to add to social subjects such as, “I have an idea that which probably is not right,” “I just want to post a selfie,” or “Good places I have been.”

The Jike community is warm and encourages sharing. This is partly due to the friendly atmosphere set in place by its early users, and to various measures taken by the Jike team.

For example, a user can have an effective blacklist function. If one Jike user is added to the blacklist by another, his or her post, comment or interactions with others will all be blocked. Jike also replaces expletives with "Meow Meow Meow" to boost kindness in the community.

Challenges and changes

The social function has gradually become the most important feature in Jike. In February 2018, five months after the launch of version 3.5, its number of users tripled to 30m.

Some feared that the influx of new users could change the atmosphere, but it is a community that prompts people to feel a sense of belonging ... and even to compose a rap about it.

For a long time, Jike has had no competitor, but recently some have started to copy its model.

Tencent launched a similar app in 2018 but quickly scrapped it after accusations of plagiarism. Weibo launched a similar app called Xianzhi that gently pushes Weibo content in the form of subjects.

The good news for Jike is that it has received many rounds of fundings. Its latest funding was in February 2018, with investors including even Tencent itself. This funding would help it to bring in more users and further test its model.

Edited by Matt Stanley , Bernice Tang

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