Zepeto, a social networking app that allows you to build a 3D avatar, has become the latest overnight sensation in China, rising from relative obscurity to the most-downloaded app in mobile stores as the country's millennials continue to explore new forms of online communication.

The app, made by South Korean game developer Snow Corp, has been top of the daily download charts on both the Apple and Android app stores in China in the three days since Sunday, according to App Annie.

Users log in to the app with their WeChat, Facebook or Twitter account, and can then create a 3D avatar of their own, with the ability to customise facial contours, cosmetics, hair style, outfits and set a virtual home in the background.

Zepeto includes social networking features such as connecting real-world friends, "meeting" strangers from its virtual town, sending self-made emojis and creating photo booth-style virtual snaps. It also supports chat rooms and an easy-to-play mini-game.


For those old enough to remember Tencent's Qzone, once the biggest social platform in China before WeChat came along, the design bears some resemblance. Qzone allowed people to create a 2D character, pay for costumes, leave messages and send virtual gifts to one another.

Zepeto follows hot on the heels of other hit apps that offer messaging, live-streaming, beautifying and customisation tools as China's restless youth seek to carve out their own individual identities and personal brands in a society once known for its general conformity. Consumer tastes can be fickle though as youngsters constantly search for what is new and cool.

For example, short video apps - where users film and watch seconds-long video clips - quickly caught the attention of young Chinese netizens and today about three in four internet users in China use short-video apps to entertain themselves, according to a September report from the China Internet Network Information Centre, a state agency.

Zepeto's popularity also comes at a time when a range of start-ups are taking advantage of emerging AI facial recognition applications. China is using the same computer vision technology to catch jaywalkers, grant access to residential compounds, to create bank accounts and even allow people to pay for their KFC.

Similar technology is also being deployed to help detect cancer and in navigation systems for self-driving vehicles in restricted areas.

- South China Morning Post