China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

A pair of men walk holding hands

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

On Oct. 8, Lesdo published an in-app announcement that it will terminate operations after the end of this month, saying all user data will be erased by May 1. The same announcement was published on the app's WeChat public account on Monday, prompting discussions and eulogies.

Political pressure aside, lesbian dating apps in China have always struggled to scale and make a profit, even though similar apps for gay men have grown much larger: Blued, a gay dating app launched in 2012, has gained over 60 million registered members and is among the biggest gay dating app in the world. Sandwiched between a hostile political environment and an indifferent audience, lesbian dating apps, which serve an estimated audience of 10 million people within China, have yet to find a path to success.

In an official statement to Protocol, BlueCity, the parent company of both Blued and Lesdo, said Lesdo's discontinuation was due to business realignment, and that "the Company will tighten its focus on the steady growth of its core business." BlueCity acquired Lesdo in August 2020.

While neither the announcement nor the official statement mentioned regulatory pressure, it immediately came to mind for some observers.

"My first reaction was, hadn't it already been closed down?" said Liu, a young lesbian woman living in Beijing, who used Lesdo until two years ago and gave just her surname. There have been too many news stories about queer apps or communities being censored in recent years, to the point that Liu says she can't tell one from another.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope. In theory, it is not illegal. But if such a product crosses any red line — if it becomes too high-profile, too political or too careless about inappropriate content — the result can be immediate termination. Zank, a gay dating app with over 10 million registered users at the time, was taken down by regulators in 2017 for hosting pornographic content. Rela, a lesbian dating app with over 12 million users, was removed from app stores twice before it rebranded to "The L," removed all mentions of "lesbian" in its app store description and just called itself "a diverse community for women."

Even though gay and lesbian dating apps are navigating the same heavily-censored environment, the former have outperformed the latter by a huge margin. Blued has grown into a Nasdaq-listed company and expanded into livestreaming and health services.

But lesbian dating apps like Lesdo haven't figured out a feasible business model that makes the regulatory trouble worthwhile. In March, one of Lesdo's founders told Chinese media that activism wasn't going to singlehandedly keep the app growing: "If you want to influence more people, finding a feasible business model will be the most important thing."

This phenomenon isn't specific to China. Around the world, lesbian dating apps are rarer and less prominent than their men-facing counterparts. A story in Mic outlined reasons that include insufficient financial backing, limited dating pools and the exclusion of nonbinary people.

There's also the fact that dating apps like Blued and Grindr offer the possibility of casual sex. Apps, especially those with location-based technologies, provide unprecedentedly convenient access to it.

Lesbian dating apps appear to serve a different set of needs. A Chinese ex-manager at a lesbian dating app told Protocol that a far smaller percentage of its users are coming to the app for immediate sex. They are looking for connections and community, but those don't have to come from lesbian-only platforms, as some of China's largest lesbian groups are actually sub-forums on mainstream sites like Douban and Baidu Tieba. And when relationships develop in real life, the need for the apps disappears.

The need for queer women to socialize and date will never go away. On Weibo, new apps serving lesbian users are already promoting themselves under the news of Lesdo's closure. Other lesbian groups on mainstream platforms will also continue to exist. But before someone figures out how to solve for both the political and profitability sides of the equation, the notion of a thriving lesbian dating app in China will remain just that.

Fintech

Binance CEO wrestles with the 'Chinese company' label

Changpeng "CZ" Zhao, who leads crypto’s largest marketplace, is pushing back on attempts to link Binance to Beijing.

Despite Binance having to abandon its country of origin shortly after its founding, critics have portrayed the exchange as a tool of the Chinese government.

Photo: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In crypto, he is known simply as CZ, head of one of the industry’s most dominant players.

It took only five years for Binance CEO and co-founder Changpeng Zhao to build his company, which launched in 2017, into the world’s biggest crypto exchange, with 90 million customers and roughly $76 billion in daily trading volume, outpacing the U.S. crypto powerhouse Coinbase.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

How I decided to leave the US and pursue a tech career in Europe

Melissa Di Donato moved to Europe to broaden her technology experience with a different market perspective. She planned to stay two years. Seventeen years later, she remains in London as CEO of Suse.

“It was a hard go for me in the beginning. I was entering inside of a company that had been very traditional in a sense.”

Photo: Suse

Click banner image for more How I decided seriesA native New Yorker, Melissa Di Donato made a life-changing decision back in 2005 when she packed up for Europe to further her career in technology. Then with IBM, she made London her new home base.

Today, Di Donato is CEO of Germany’s Suse, now a 30-year-old, open-source enterprise software company that specializes in Linux operating systems, container management, storage, and edge computing. As the company’s first female leader, she has led Suse through the coronavirus pandemic, a 2021 IPO on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the acquisitions of Kubernetes management startup Rancher Labs and container security company NeuVector.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Enterprise

UiPath had a rocky few years. Rob Enslin wants to turn it around.

Protocol caught up with Enslin, named earlier this year as UiPath’s co-CEO, to discuss why he left Google Cloud, the untapped potential of robotic-process automation, and how he plans to lead alongside founder Daniel Dines.

Rob Enslin, UiPath's co-CEO, chats with Protocol about the company's future.

Photo: UiPath

UiPath has had a shaky history.

The company, which helps companies automate business processes, went public in 2021 at a valuation of more than $30 billion, but now the company’s market capitalization is only around $7 billion. To add insult to injury, UiPath laid off 5% of its staff in June and then lowered its full-year guidance for fiscal year 2023 just months later, tanking its stock by 15%.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

Workplace

Figma CPO: We can do more with Adobe

Yuhki Yamashita thinks Figma might tackle video or 3D objects someday.

Figman CPO Yuhki Yamashita told Protocol about Adobe's acquisition of the company.

Photo: Figma

Figma CPO Yuhki Yamashita’s first design gig was at The Harvard Crimson, waiting for writers to file their stories so he could lay them out in Adobe InDesign. Given his interest in computer science, pursuing UX design became the clear move. He worked on Outlook at Microsoft, YouTube at Google, and user experience at Uber, where he was a very early user of Figma. In 2019, he became a VP of product at Figma; this past June, he became CPO.

“Design has been really near and dear to my heart, which is why when this opportunity came along to join Figma and rethink design, it was such an obvious opportunity,” Yamashita said.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins