Alibaba reveals new social network 'in testing'

Alibaba Group has confirmed that their mysterious new project, Laiwang, will be a social networking website that is now open for beta testing.

Alibaba has confirmed that they're building a new social-networking product dubbed 'Laiwang'.

The group is being coy on the details, but a spokeswoman revealed to that: "it is a social networking product and is currently under beta testing. Other than that, we don't really have more details to share now". remains minimilistic in design. While smartphone apps are available, both only show a sign-in page with no details or options to register. This mysterious approach has already garnered a lot of speculation of what exactly Laiwang is.

Screenshots were leaked yesterday, which caused many to suggest a Google+ style social network.

(Source: CIW)

Laiwang means 'in contact' in Chinese, which definitely suggests a social network. But some are speculating if there is a specific angle that Alibaba is working on. There are already several successful social networks dominating the market in Japan such as Sina Weibo, Qzone and Renren.

Although it would be a little late to try and compete in that market, most of the networks are based around gaming and advertising.

With its service available on both Android and iPhone, some are suggesting it is a mobile orientated social network.

Others cite Alibaba's existing e-commerce dominance, speculating that Laiwang might be a social commerce network.

At this point it is too early to know if any of these speculations will be on the money, but it seems likely that Alibaba could be looking to integrate social networking into e-commerce.

It wouldn't be the Alibaba group's first foray into social commerce. Taobao, an online shopping website founded by Alibaba, launched a social networking site Taojianghu in 2009. The site had hoped to integrate e-commerce and networking, by allowing users to reinforce connections between customers and shops.

Taojianghu unfortunately did not meet the market expectations and only accounted for 1.6 percent of Taobao's total traffic.

Perhaps this new venture Laiwang might be a more successful attempt at pioneering a social commerce website in China, but we will have to wait and see what further details emerge over the next few months.