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Alibaba opens DingTalk collaboration tool to enterprises and developers

Teams-like application boasts 500 million users, but Microsoft has more active users

Alibaba Cloud has decided to make its DingTalk collaborative workplace platform more attractive to enterprise customers, in China and beyond.

DingTalk combines messaging, conferencing, task management and integrates with online personal productivity suites. Livestreamed video and real time translation are also features. In form, function and intention – providing a single app for most collaboration needs – DingTalk is not vastly different to Microsoft Teams.

The app is already popular among Chinese SMEs, who can use it at no cost. Now Alibaba plans to court third-party developers to make the app extensible, and has added three upgraded and paid versions of software for enterprise users. The company also said it will "foster relationships with hardware manufacturers."

"Digitalization should not be exclusive to a few; It should be accessible to all people, all organizations and enterprises"” said DingTalk president Ye Jun in a canned statement.

The app, known as Ding Ding in China, also has some less welcome features. It has been referred to by some as an "Orwellian version of Slack" thanks to its monitoring features – including an optional attendance system that can track employees' locations in real time.

While originally designed for small to medium-sized businesses, the app became attractive to large corporate clients when integrated with Alibaba's cloud computing platform in 2020 – just in time for the pandemic to really take hold.

During the plague years, more than 50 million Japanese students reportedly attended classes online through DingTalk. UNESCO placed the app on its list of recommended "distance learning" platforms.

Alibaba launched its first English version of the app in 2018, rolling it out in Malaysia for its first concerted push outside China. At that time, its open platform had 30,000 certified developers.

Last October Alibaba reported DingTalk as having 500 million users worldwide. The company also said one third of its active users are from companies with over 2,000 people, and there are more than 19 million organizations using the service.

Alibaba has shown it is willing to market the app outside China, and with Japanese schools, the push into Malaysia, and versions of the DingTalk client available in English, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese, it remains to be seen how far the product will go.

So far, Microsoft Teams is winning in terms of monthly active users (MAUs). In December 2021, DingTalk boasted 144 million MAUs, compared to Microsoft's January 2022 news that Teams had surpassed 270 million MAUs. Comparatively, Statista reports Tencent's QQmail – the Chinese company's collaboration suite – has around 70.4 million MAUs. ®

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