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Yu Wang, CEO of Chinese dating app Tantan. Photo: Handout

China’s Tinder embraces AI as it eyes growth from the country’s singles

Artificial intelligence (AI) is finding many applications in everyday life in China – from police identifying criminals on the run to helping doctors diagnose skin diseases. Now there’s one more: making sure potential dates do not excessively touch up their profile pictures before posting them on China’s Tinder-like dating app.

In fact, AI will be a key focus for Tantan this year, chief executive Yu Wang said in an interview on the sidelines of RISE Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The technology will be used to help the company accurately identify new users, boost the accuracy of advertising, as well as contributing to growth in terms of user numbers and revenues, he said.

“[By using] artificial intelligence and algorithms, there is huge room for improvement to a point where as our users swipe more, they see pictures more suitable to their tastes. They can then quickly match and start an engaging conversation,” Wang said.

Tantan, one of the most popular smartphone-only dating apps in China, shares a strong resemblance to Tinder in terms of looks and operation.

Both use location based technology to match people in the vicinity who have similar hobbies and interests. In both, users swipe the screen right to “like” the match and swipe left to “pass”. Mutual likes between users enable them to connect and set up a face to face meeting. The major difference is that Tantan requires a mobile number for the sign up process, whereas Tinder requires users to log in via Facebook, which is banned by the Chinese government.

“Foreign apps, whether banned or allowed in China, usually do not perform well in the Chinese market as they fail to adapt to the local situation. But we know the market well,” Wang said.

Seeking dates through mobile phones is a popular trend in China where the number of smartphones in use has even outstripped the country’s 1.4 billion population. Even WeChat, the country’s most popular messaging app owned by Tencent, whose active monthly users have topped nearly 1 billion, offers apps such as Shake and Drifting Bottle that give its users more opportunities to get in touch with potential dates.

Momo, another popular location-based hook-up app in China, acquired Tantan in February for US$760 million – US$600.9 million in cash and 5.3 million as shares in Momo, pinning its hopes on Tantan becoming a new growth engine give both their user bases are complementary.

Wang, born in Beijing and raised in Sweden, met his wife Sophia Pan the old-school way, and together they founded Tantan in 2014. It is now China’s biggest dating platform with 90 million registered users and six million daily active users, according to Chinese tech news site 36kr.

Unlike Momo and Tantan, which are mostly favoured by younger users who are more inclined to have casual dates, a number of Chinese apps, such as Jiayuan and Baihe, specifically target those looking for a life-long partner.

Revenue generated by China’s online dating industry reached 4 billion yuan (US$603 million) in 2017, according to a report issued in March by iResearch. It said there were almost 20 million monthly active dating app users in China last year, with most of them aged between 25 and 34 years old.

A separate report by YouGov in late 2017 found that as many as 43 per cent of Chinese nationals have used internet and online dating apps, yet nearly two-thirds of those polled said they would be embarrassed to admit they had met their partner that way.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Dating platform pins hopes on A.I.