Dating apps like Momo represent generational shift in attitudes to love

Increasing numbers of mainlanders are using services such as Momo to find sexual partners, but websites seek ways to hook users for longer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 5:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 5:25am

Zhang Zhi is a veteran user of Momo, the mainland's "one-night stand app".

Most evenings the 26-year-old software engineer logs on to his account and checks out the women in his area of Beijing.

"Sexy pictures and a clear statement that she needs a boyfriend will easily catch people's eye. A girl like that could get hundreds of messages a day," Zhang said.

"It's difficult for men, though. We have to be not only good looking, but also intelligent and say something to impress girls and gain their trust."

Zhang reads books and plays video games at his flat while he waits for women to respond to his messages.

But he said despite the app's reputation as a way to find casual sex, the key was to woo women with romance.

"You'll be treated as a lunatic if you say: 'let's go find a hotel'," he said.

Zhang is one of hundreds of millions now using social networks and dating apps on the mainland.

About 400 million people are on social networks and the industry generates four billion yuan (HK$5 billion) a year, according to figures released by the iReseach Consulting Group.

Momo has 80 million users, while other social networks used for dating like WeChat claim to have 300 million subscribers.

Most users are aged between 20 to 40 and, according to Ke Qianting , an associate professor at Sun Yat-sen University, they are using the technology specifically to find sexual partners.

"The major change in the younger generations is they are comfortable with a temporary and open relationship," said Ke. "They feel less pressure from the moral side. The demand for these services is increasing among the generation born in the 80s and 90s, but we also see those born in the 1970s, or older people who have not got married, using them."

The rapid growth in dating sites was also due to the technology making it easy for users to showcase themselves and make contact with each other online, said Ke.

"The internet allows you to use an anonymous identity and to take bold actions, like having a fling or an affair," she said.

Lu Gang, founder of the technology blog TechNode, said the dating apps were trying to broaden their range of services to keep customers online.

The biggest problem for sites like Momo, WeChat and YY Voice, said Lu, was keeping users' business if they stopped dating.

"They can take advantage of users' basic demand for dating, but once they get enough subscribers they want to start doing something more serious," he said.

WeChat is developing online gaming, while YY Voice now sells educational products, said Lu.

"No one want to be labelled as the website for a fling," he said.

Meanwhile, Zhang Zhi in Beijing said he would continue to use Momo, but once he found somebody special he would drop the app.

"Momo is mainly for strangers to hook up," he said. "But who knows? Passion could turn into a serious relationship."