• A man with a smartphone stands beside an advertisement for Alipay in a Hong Kong store.

A man with a smartphone stands beside an advertisement for Alipay in a Hong Kong store. (Photo : Getty Images)

First, there was Laiwang, then DingTalk--now here's Quanzi, Alipay's latest and new social networking feature to take on WeChat, China's leading messaging app.

The new service would keep users updated on topics that interest them as well as connect with people who share the same interest online, according to China Daily.

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In a statement released on Monday, Nov. 28, Alipay said that Quanzi (or circle, in English) was designed to build online communities of real-name users and allow them to meet and be familiar with strangers using the company's big-data enabled credit rating system.

"Trust is the key issue in the social networking scene among strangers in China. Anyone in Quanzi is using their real name and their online credit scores can also be checked for reference, which provides icebreakers to make communication more easily," the statement said.

Analysts said that the latest move by Alipay, which has 450 million real-name users, is a direct challenge to Tencent's WeChat, a mobile messaging app with more than 800 million users.

However, according to Wang Xiaofeng, senior analyst with Forrester Research, it would not be easy for late players to gain a significant market share in the social networking market.

But, after years of trying out various kinds of messaging services such as Laiwang and Ding Talk, Alibaba remains optimistic about the new service this time.

"With WeChat growing bigger and bigger to include payment into its services, it makes sense for Alipay launch a counter attack to step up its effort in social networking," Wang said.

Lu Zhenwang, an internet expert based in Shanghai however, said that Alibaba's new effort with Quanzi still remains to be seen.

"WeChat is a social networking tool for close friends while Weibo is a social playground for complete strangers. Alipay is trying to build something in between, which requires hard work," according to Lu.