While political scrutiny continues to intensify on the widely popular short video app TikTok in the US and across the world, another owned by the same Chinese company, ByteDance Ltd., is going viral. As downloads of Lemon8 surge in the US, here’s what you need to know about it:
What is Lemon8?
Marketing itself as a “content sharing platform with a youthful community,” the app lets users make longer blog-like posts about topics such as fashion, fitness, travel and cooking, accompanied by relevant pictures and videos. Users can also access a customized feed of posts based on what they like and other creators they follow. Unlike TikTok, which features a rolling scroll of short videos, the app is more akin to a mishmash of Instagram and Pinterest. Its downloads have surged in the US, with the app jumping past Pinterest, dating service Tinder and real estate platform Zillow to become the top lifestyle app downloaded by iPhone users.
Who owns it and what’s its relationship with TikTok?
Information about the app is murky, though regulatory filings and various media reports suggest it is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. Apple’s App Store lists Singapore-based Heliophilia Pte as Lemon8’s owner. Singapore’s company registry shows Heliophilia is located at the same address as TikTok’s local headquarters and lists Zhou Qin, a Singapore citizen, as its director. Reuters reported last year that the app is overseen by Alex Zhu, senior vice president of product and strategy at ByteDance and former CEO of TikTok. Lemon8 and ByteDance didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
What’s the big deal over the app?
Lemon8’s ties with ByteDance may expose it to similar scrutiny faced by TikTok, which has been barred from government devices across the world over data security fears, and whose CEO, Shou Chew, just endured a bruising congressional hearing in the US. The publicity push may stem in part from concern the US might force ByteDance to divest from the app or even impose a total ban.
How long has Lemon8 been around?
Despite its links to TikTok, Lemon8 has more similarities with Xiaohongshu, literally translated as Little Red Book. The Chinese app, which calls itself RED — and stresses its name bears no relation to the seminal book of Mao Zedong’s quotations — was founded in 2013 as an online community that recommended overseas e-commerce sites for users in China. It later entered e-commerce and then evolved into a social media platform where users share their daily life moments through videos and pictures on topics including skincare, food and travel. It’s widely popular among young women. Lemon8 itself was launched in Japan in April 2020, according to the New York Times. It topped five million monthly active users worldwide last year, and has been launched in multiple territories including Singapore and Indonesia, the newspaper reported.
Why is Lemon8 gaining popularity in the US?
The app’s rise may have to do with a push by ByteDance to promote it in markets like the US and UK. The Business Insider reported that the company has been paying creators in the UK to post on Lemon8, while the New York Times similarly described its effort to lure US influencers. It’s too early to judge whether its push will translate to sustained popularity. Besides TikTok, Chinese-owned apps like Shein and e-commerce giant PDD Holdings Inc.’s Temu have gained users in the US, helped by ultra-low prices and promotions.