Unicorns 13/229 – Toutiao
Founder: Zhang Yiming
Owner: Beijing ByteDance Technology Co., Ltd.
Number of employees: ~1000
Toutiao (Chinese: 头条; pinyin: tǒu tíao; literally: “Headlines”), known officially as Jinri Toutiao (Chinese: 今日头条; pinyin: jīn rì tǒu tíao; literally: “Today’s Headlines”) is a news and information mobile application that recommends personalized information to individual users based on artificial intelligence technology. By analyzing the features of content, users and users’ interaction with content, the algorithm models of Toutiao generates a tailored news feed for users.
As of January 2017, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total and 175 million monthly active users. Over 78 million people use Toutiao for an average time of 76 minutes on a daily basis, resulting in 1.3 billion articles read every day. Toutiao has been China’s largest mobile platform of content creation, aggregation and distribution underpinned by machine learning techniques.
In August 2012, Beijing ByteDance Technology Co., Ltd. launched the first version of its main product Toutiao.
The content on Toutiao platform comes from different sources. At first, a large portion of content was crawled from the Internet. As Toutiao expands, more than 2000 media organizations in China work in cooperation with Toutiao, publishing their content on Toutiao’s platform. So far, more than 70% of content consumed on Toutiao is created on Toutiao’s platform.
Toutiao acquired popular video app Flipagram, a start-up based in Los Angeles, for an undisclosed amount in February 2017. The company is expected to expand overseas through its new United States office in the coming months.
Toutiao has had two earlier rounds of funding by SIG Asia Investment and Yuri Milner, the founder of Digital SkyTechnologies(DST). In 2014, Sequoia Capital led its Series C funding of 100 million USD at a valuation of 500 million USD, followed by Weibo, a NASDAQ-listed company that provides social networking services in China. As of 2017, Toutiao is said to seek a new round funding at a 10 billion dollar valuation.
- Recommendation Technology
Toutiao uses algorithms to select different quality content for individual users. It has created intelligent machines that understand information (text, images, videos, comments, etc.) in depth, and developed large-scale machine learning systems for personalized recommendation.
- Toutiao app
The recommendation process contains five basic steps: information crawling, social analysis, user profiling, information modeling, interests matching.
- Toutiaohao account
In 2013, Toutiao provided a self-publishing platform to media organizations. The platform later evolved into Toutiaohao Account , a self-publishing media platform for individual and organizations within Toutiao app.
As of 2016, more than 350,000 individuals and organizations have started their Toutiaohao Accounts, including administration departments, media organizations, companies and individual writers. They publish 150,000 articles and videos on Toutiao everyday.
- Toutiao Video
Toutiao launched its video channel in May 2015. Creators with Toutiaohao accounts can upload their short videos, and the algorithm of Toutiao will recommend videos to users which they are interested in.
In 2016, videos on Toutiao are played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform.
- Toutiao Q&A
In July 2016, Toutiao launched a new channel called Q&A, an open discussion community. Registered users can share their experiences and opinions in specific fields under questions and interact with other users. Quality answers will be recommended to users in news feed and Q&A channel.
Unlike other Q&A communities, Toutiao Q&A matches questions with interested users’ expertise, finding the best respondents to the questions. The machine automatically invites appropriate users to answer certain questions by natural language processing and user profiling technology.
- Toutiao Alert for Missing Persons
Using location-based notification-pushing techniques, Toutiao initiated a corporate social responsibility project called “ Toutiao Alert for Missing persons ”. People can send detailed information of the missing person, including last known location and time. After a verification process, Toutiao will push notification messages of missing persons to its users within the possible range of their whereabouts.
As of 2016, 700 missing persons have been recovered as a result of Toutiao’s users offering clues and notifying authority.
Zhang Yiming is the founder and CEO of Toutiao, which he founded in 2012. He is responsible for setting the overall direction of the company. He has received numerous distinctions such as Forbes China “30 Under 30”, Fortune China “40 business elite under the age of 40” and “50 business pioneers in China”.
An entrepreneur early on, Yiming founded 99fang, a real estate search portal. Previously, he led the technology team of Kuxun and held an engineering position at Fanfou.
He received a Bachelor degree in software engineering from Nankai University.