Meeting strangers online can be exhausting. It’s safe to say that since the advent of dating apps, countless hours have been spent by users trying to craft smooth pick-up lines, keep conversations alive, and analyzing responses (or the lack thereof) from matches.
One reason why all of that takes time is that everything is based on text. It’s slower than talking, and people can wait for hours or even days to respond. But what if rather than typing, you can just speak to each other in real time?
That’s possible with a number of social apps in China, based on voice rather than texting.
Users can take part in a variety of chat rooms. Some resemble amateur radio shows where the hosts play songs and tell jokes. Others are more like group dates. If there’s a match, the couple leaves the group and retires to a private one-on-one chat room to talk further.
One of them is is called YuWan (which means “voice play” in Chinese). It’s rated 4.3 stars and ranks among the top 100 social networking apps on Apple’s App Store in China.
When I entered one of these dating chat rooms on a weekday afternoon, one woman was proclaiming her love for a man she just met.
“Although your voice doesn’t sound that good, it’s exactly what I like,” she said, giggling.
The man, teasing her, responded, “Your voice sounds terrible.”
Another chat room felt a bit like Bumble, a dating app where only women can initiate contact with men. Here, a man comes in and reports his height, weight, age, hometown and profession. The women then probe him with questions.
When I was there, a young man from the eastern province of Shandong with a soft, timid voice announced that he’s 18 years old.
“Oh my god, 18. I’m 19 years old!” exclaimed one woman. “I’m older, do you mind?” (Answer: “No.”)
Another woman, 21, asked, “What if you found someone younger at school?”
“I won’t,” laughed the man, without elaborating.
Although apps like these can seem harmless enough, app developers are careful not to attract the attention of authorities. Just last week, Chinese media revealed that YuWan among others have teams dedicated to screening out pornographic content. Staff patrol public chat rooms by listening into conversations. They also review recordings of private chats if users file complaints.
We’ve reached out to YuWan by email but didn’t receive an immediate response. (Monday is a public holiday in China.)
The Chinese government periodically cracks down on content that they deem inappropriate. In June, the country’s anti-porn office told several platforms to remove video featuring ASMR -- sounds that trigger a certain type of tingling, relaxing sensations. Earlier this year, some platforms also banned video of moaning and other suggestive sounds and gestures.