In China, Weibo and WeChat dominate people’s social lives online. Over the years, many companies have attempted to wrestle away some of the market share from these two, but none have found much success so far.

That’s part of what makes a new social networking app from Weibo so interesting. But the ideas behind the app aren’t really all that new.

Named Oasis, Weibo’s new app has been the subject of wide discussion since it launched last week. Much of that discussion has centered around its similarities to two other apps: Instagram, which is blocked in China, and Xiaohongshu, China’s social ecommerce darling.

(Even the app’s logo isn’t new -- users discovered that the logo looked very similar to a South Korean firm’s design. As a result, Oasis was temporarily pulled from Chinese app stores. It’s now back on China’s iOS app store with a slightly different app logo, but it hasn’t relaunched on Android yet.)

When you first open Oasis, the first page you see is a feed of pictures and videos posted by people you follow, similar to Instagram. The five tabs at the bottom of the app also all have designs and functions similar to the ones on Facebook’s popular photo-sharing app.

The interface of Oasis (left) and Instagram (right). (Picture: Oasis and Instagram)

Even the design for individual posts resembles Instagram’s post design, with three icons at the bottom that allow you to like, comment and share each post. Oasis also displays several comments under the post and lets you see more by tapping “view all comments.”

The comment section of Oasis posts even displays suggested emojis, just like Instagram. But Oasis offers one additional perk: It has suggested text responses. Tap on the “Wow!” icon at the bottom to fill up the comment box with playful responses, much like comments seen in China’s once-hot social media praise groups.

So if you’re having trouble coming up with the perfect response for a post, you’re only a few taps away from offering up comments like, “You unified the universe with your face,” or “We’re all successors of socialism, how come you are so excellent?”

The comment section of posts on Oasis (left) and Instagram (right). (Picture: Oasis and Instagram)

In the discovery page of Oasis, though, you’ll find something that looks much more similar to Chinese social ecommerce platform Xiaohongshu.

Xiaohongshu is a 6-year-old platform that now has a large community of users in China posting shopping tips and in-depth product reviews (along with occasional travel tips and plastic surgery experiences). Average users can all tag products in their posts, helping drive more product sales. In addition to ecommerce revenue, the company also makes money from display ads and from taking a cut of what brands pay influencers. 

It’s early for Oasis, but it hasn’t seemed to have gained a lot of traction yet. So far, many posts on Oasis seem to be pulled directly from Weibo influencers -- many recommended posts can be found on the users’ Weibo timelines, just with a different layout.  

Meanwhile, Xiaohongshu reportedly had more than 85 million monthly active users in June, quadruple the number it had last year. It was also reportedly seeking to raise more money, even though capital investments in the tech sector continue to slide in China. 

The company’s rapid expansion has recently hit some roadblocks, though. Multiple media reports this year repeatedly claim that Xiaohongshu is riddled with fake reviews written by people paid to promote certain products. Last month, the app was even pulled from Chinese app stores, which the company said was to rectify its content. 

Today, Xiaohongshu remains unavailable in iOS and Android app stores in China. That made it a convenient time for Weibo to launch its own social shopping service until the logo snafu resulted in growing pains for the new app.

The discovery page in Oasis (left) and the recommended content feed in Xiaohongshu (right). (Picture: Oasis and Xiaohongshu)

While Instagram limits product tagging to users who are approved to set up their own shops, Oasis took the Xiaohongshu approach by letting all users tag brands. But the tags on Oasis don’t lead anywhere yet, which is perhaps understandable given that the app hasn’t been live for very long.

While apps like Xiaohongshu and Pinduoduo have popularized social ecommerce in China, it hasn’t found the same wide success in the US.

Instagram introduced its own version of social shopping in March. But it’s apparently a clumsy experience, as buy buttons will open up a mobile webpage within Instagram. 

It’s not entirely clear how much users are actually shopping “natively” on Western social networks. Studies on shopping on Instagram showed that less than 11% of respondents reported having used it.

There is no comparable data on Chinese social ecommerce sites, but the success of platforms that use social shopping as a model suggests it’s popular. Social ecommerce in China includes a variety of models, including Pinduoduo’s group purchasing. The market is expected to reach US$180 billion by 2021.

Xiaohongshu, which both sells from small third-party merchants and ships directly to consumers, reportedly processed 4 billion yuan (US$562 million) in online sales in 2018. The company aims to double that in 2019.

Xiaohongshu’s store page looks like an ecommerce app itself. (Picture: Xiaohongshu)

Of course, none of that guarantees success for Oasis.

Just ask Instagram.