Source: Reuters

A Look at Toutiao: China’s Artificial Intelligence Powered News Platform

Wei Chun Chew
Dec 1, 2018 · 4 min read

Commonly known as Jinri Toutiao (Toutiao), the mobile app have became a staple among many Chinese users. Translated as ‘headline’, Toutiao is the core product of Beijing ByteDance Technology Co with an average 120 million daily user. With a daily read of 1.3 billion articles and an average consumption of 73 minutes a day, it has double the daily views that BBC Online has globally.

In August 2018, ByteDance is reportedly raising $2.5 to $3 billion in a fundraising round to further its international expansion as well as pave the way for a rumoured 2019 initial public offering (IPO) at Hong Kong. The fundraising round will place the company at a valuation of $70 to $75 billion.

The Magic of Toutiao

Toutiao uses artificial technology (AI) to source and curate daily news and articles for users via its 4000 partner sites. Through the app’s machine-learning algorithm, Toutiao is able to understand its user and personalize content for each user, creating a unique user experience. Through the use of eye-catching and latest content, Toutiao has been able to capture the younger generation who are more interested in entertainment news.

Toutiao also provide short video content via ‘Xigua Shipin’ (Xigua). Xigua allows users to post short video content on the Toutiao platform. Tiktok (also known as Douyin) is another short-video platform under Toutiao that became a huge success both in China and overseas. According to app analytics service SensorTower, Tiktok’s overseas version was the world’s most downloaded non-game app in iOS App store.

Users can register and share content on other social media giants such as Weibo and WeChat, allowing Toutiao to harness other platforms to increase its reach.

With a large user base, Toutiao have became a advertising platform for many enterprises while creating internet celebrities via its video-sharing platforms. According to Dragonsocialnet, over 85% of the users are young millennials concentrated in first and second tier cities. With 41.3% of the user holding a bachelor degree and above, Toutiao users are mostly tech-savvy millennials with a relatively high purchasing power in the country, thus providing a huge advertising platform for Chinese enterprises.

Criticisms over Inappropriate Content

With the success of Toutiao, it has also attracted several criticisms and clampdowns by the government. For instance, Toutiao does not hire editors or writers to edit content and this has led to problems of clickbait articles as well as republishing of content from rival platforms.

In January 2018, Toutiao was shut down for 24 hours by the central government over alleged breaches of regulations for posting and spreading ‘pornographic and vulgar content’. The week after, ByteDance announced a hiring of 2,000 censors to oversee content published on the platform. To date, Toutiao has a legion of over 4,000 censors to ensure that its content conform to the internet guideline set forth by the Communist Party.

On April 2018, Toutiao founder Zhang Yiming issued an open apology for allowing the proliferation of vulgar content on Toutiao’s joke app Neihan Duanzi. In the letter, Zhang said “Jinri Toutiao will permanently shut down the Neihan Duanzi and the app’s official account. The product took the wrong turn. The content that appears [on Neihan Duanzi] go against core socialist values and we did not do a thorough job in guiding public opinion. Therefore, we accept the penalty and I take full responsibility for it.”

As seen, social media platforms have been under huge scrutiny by the state government and despite the use of AI to optimize its platform, Toutiao have faced serious backlash and contravention of the Communist Party internet guidelines.

Acquisitions to Power Global Expansion

On November 2017, Bytedance acquired Musical.ly with a valuation of $1 billion as part of its expansion plan to acquire new users and offer more content. Musical.ly allows users to post video content of them with their favourite songs. The acquisition will increase Bytedance global reach while allowing Musical.ly to harness the AI technology behind Toutiao to better its platform.

US-based video creation app Flipagram was also acquired by Toutiao on February 2017. After the acquisition, Flipagram remained as a independent entity. Once dubbed as a strong rival to Instagram, Flipagram allows users to create music video via the shooting, combining and editing of video content.

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Hi all! I’m a freelance tech writer based in Singapore. I write about the latest tech happenings in the various industries as well as commentary on technologies such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. I also welcome any job opportunities that arises!

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