Why Exactly Did Zhihu Choose Tencent Among BAT?

摘要: Beijing-based Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer platform similar to Quora, has reportedly completed 50 million USD in series C round of financing led by Tencent Holdings Limited. But why Tencent?

(Chinese Version)

“Luckily, it’s Tencent.” This piece of news came as a great relief to both me and some of my friends, though we had almost foreseen the result long before. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think the piece of news was just another rumor and speculation. After all, BAT, three Chinese Internet giants namely Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, have long been eyeing on Zhihu (In Classical Chinese, “Zhihu” means “Do you know?”), and it is probable that Zhihu would choose one of them. But why Tencent?

I signed up on Zhihu near the end of 2011 and have witnessed the rapid development of Zhihu in the past four years, from a little-known website to a popular Chinese question-and-answer platform and then to a favorite among BAT. Although Zhihu seems not to have any profitable business, the latest funding round values the five-year-old start-up at over 300 million USD. What exactly is Zhihu like?

The interesting thing in the Chinese Internet startup circle is that at least two or three companies will be fighting against each other before monopoly occurs in every segment market of the Internet industry, such as Didi and Kuaidi in the online car-hailing market, Ctrip and Qunar in the online travel market, Dianping and MeiTuan in the online group-buying service market, etc. This rule, however, doesn’t apply to Zhihu. Zhihu has no rival in the Chinese question-and-answer service market. Baidu Knows, Baidu Tieba, QQ Zone, Baike, Tianya, Douban… none of them can be regarded as a rival of Zhihu. Although Zhihu “copied” some elements from Quora at the beginning, it gradually developed and evolved into something quite distinct from Quora.

How could Zhihu have no rival? As a matter of fact, although lots of people have been trying to develop something similar to Zhihu, all of them failed to win enough public recognition. Some others had attempted to establish a question-and-answer platform in a specified area, though they also failed at last (Personally, I had been invited to such platforms focusing on finance knowledge).

How so? I believe Zhihu succeeded by set its positioning as “the management of knowledge”. Wikipedia’s positioning is also “the management of knowledge”, but it is more like a majestic natural museum of knowledge maintained by a bunch of serious and conscientious scientists hidden behind the stage. Zhihu, however, is more like a crowded, diversified and dynamic plaza of different thoughts and ideas from people of all walks of life. Zhihu’s users get to share their own knowledges and understanding with others and acquire knowledge from other users at the same time. The discussion and even heated debate will be kept under different questions, so that latecomers get to weigh the merits of different responds and make their own judgments. Take myself as an example, when I shared my knowledge and thoughts in finance on Zhihu, I also acquired knowledge in natural science, cooking and travelling. The disadvantage of many question-and-answer platforms in a specific area is that knowledge is bounded in a specific area among experts and insiders of similar fields, so users might find no sense of achievement by exchanging their thoughts with people specializing in other fields and learning from them.

Therefore, although the value of a piece of knowledge varies from person to person, Zhihu’s users are always able to feel a sense of achievement by sharing their own knowledge and more importantly learning from others in the vast sea of knowledge on Zhihu. Although there are also a good number of experts on Tianya and Douban, these two platforms still can’t compete with Zhihu. How come, again?

Zhou Yuan, the founder & CEO of Zhihu

Zhou Yuan, the founder & CEO of Zhihu

As a matter of fact, a wide user base and a vast sea of knowledge are still not enough. Without an appropriate filtering and spotting system, users will ultimately be drowned in the sea of knowledge. Although Zhihu’s system remains to be improved, one has to admit that it’s the best platform when compared to the other junk systems adopted by major Chinese websites. This is also why I don’t think Zhihu will accept Baidu’s investment: the values upheld by Baidu are the direct opposite side of Zhihu’s. Although improving its search service is the most urgent task for Zhihu currently, it won’t ally with search giant Baidu, who is making the best use of its search service and ranking search results to its own benefits.

At the same time, it is unlikely that Zhihu will collaborate with Alibaba and its finance arm Ant Financial, since Alibaba already owns Sina Weibo, commonly referred to Chinese Twitter. More importantly, it could be really hard for Alibaba, a quasi-financial group, to make profit out of Zhihu, in other words, knowledge. Alibaba had attempted to do so by adding “reward” function to Sina Weibo and encouraging users to “reward” posts they appreciated. However, it turned out that fake posts containing fraud information tended to be receiving most rewards. In this sense, I strongly advise Zhihu to give up the thought of adding similar functions on Zhihu.

Then how about Tencent? Zhihu chose Tencent not because it had no choice, but because Zhihu and Tencent shared some basic values. For example, while the majority of Tencent’s products are centered on social networking, Zhihu also attaches great importance to social networking. In addition, Tencent is in dire need of knowledge management business and is capable of supporting Zhihu’s unprofitable business and bearing the huge positive externality every year. In contrast, Quora seems not to appreciate Facebook’s value system at all, since as a question-and-answer platform in the English Internet world, it values accuracy more and the sense of fun less.

I predict that Tencent will still rely on WeChat Official Account to make profit. For me, WeChat OA is more like a gateway towards information. Coincidentally, much information collected by WeChat OA editors is from Zhihu. After investing in Zhihu, we can’t rule out the possibility that WeChat OA and Zhihu would further integrate their respective resources, so that other social media might find themselves increasingly constrained by Tencent’s ecosystem. For sure, Tencent has made the right decision. Zhihu would certainly help Tencent maintain its supremacy as both a social networking service provider and an information gateway.

Over the past few years, Zhihu has accumulated a sea of knowledge on diverse topics and subjects. Today, the most urgent need for Zhihu is to enhance its ability to manage knowledge. This task can be further divided into two aspects: classifying and reorganizing knowledge, as well as limiting noisy users, attracting competent ones and maintaining users’ willingness and enthusiasm to share their knowledge with an adequate legal protection system. To be more specific:

Although many people will regard knowledge and information on Zhihu fragmented, it is far from the truth. As a matter of fact, the large number of answers have already exhausted some questions, so Zhihu’s users are absolutely able to have a full command of some topics after reading several most-favored answers. However, the current search service on Zhihu remains far from satisfactory. Classifying and reorganizing knowledge a quite demanding task but is after all extremely essential at last.

In addition, Zhihu can make use of Tencent’s large user base and invite large number of Tencent’s users to participate, make comments and evaluate the merits of different answers, which could save much of Zhihu’s own effort.

Moreover, it is high time that Zhihu should establish an adequate legal protection system. Although it had aided some startup teams in providing legal protection for Zhihu users’ answers, it is well-known that such protection remains limited. At present, Zhihu is lacking in adequate resources and is still fighting alone. In this case, I can totally understand why Zhihu seems to attach less importance to this sector. However, things are gradually changing now. After this round of investment, Zhihu might collaborate with Tencent and better protect copyrights of Zhihu users’ answers.

At last, I want to say that Zhihu can also be a great platform to make friends. By reading a Zhihu user’s answers, you can easily get to know the manners, hobbies and even political stance of them. As a matter of fact, I am one of the beneficiary of Zhihu. It is through Zhihu that I came to know many experts in their specific fields and ask them for help anytime I needed professional guidance. More broadly, an adequate amount of interaction, communication and even criticism can in turn enhance user stickiness in Zhihu’s community.

In a word, Tencent and Zhihu are highly complementary on a strategic level. While Tencent wishes to invest in Zhihu most, Zhihu is also willing to accept Tencent’s investment. So congratulations, Tencent. Wish Zhihu the best of luck as the dominant question-and-answer platform in the Chinese Internet world.


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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @zhishuiinfo, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at ECHO), working for TMTpost.




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