Soul and Momo declined to comment. Tantan, which is owned by Momo, did not respond to a request for comment.
The apps themselves have changed. Tantan and Momo had long matched users based on their physical appearance, leading to accusations that the platforms cultivated a hookup culture. More recently, these apps have started using people’s interests, hobbies and personalities as the basis for new social encounters.
Douyin, which is owned by ByteDance and is China’s version of TikTok, and Little Red Book, an app with similarities to Instagram, have built “social discovery” features that use their knowledge of people’s preferences to match them. Soul has become especially popular in the past few years for its avatar profiles and its practice of linking users based on personality tests. Last year, the app surpassed Tantan and Momo as the most downloaded dating app on the Chinese iOS store.
“What I like most about Soul is that it doesn’t force you to look at a photo and swipe left and right,” said Yang Zhongluo, 23, a masters student in Beijing who met some of her close friends on the platform. “It lets you post, share ideas and then everyone can like and comment.”
In July, Soul filed for an initial public offering in Hong Kong after tripling its monthly active users to 31 million between 2019 and 2021. Three-quarters of its users were born between 1990 and 2009, according to its prospectus. (It filed to go public in the United States in 2021, but stepped back from such an offering.)
Many users of these dating apps appear less interested in romance than in meeting friends. In an October survey conducted by a Chinese research institute, 89 percent of respondents said they had used a dating app before, with a majority saying they wanted primarily to expand their social circles, not find a partner.
Vladimir Peters, a Shanghai-based developer who is working on his own dating app, said many younger Chinese now want the apps to provide a more holistic experience that blends entertainment and hobby exploration — not just a love match.