If you ever wondered why US Internet companies such as eBay, Yahoo, and Google have struggled to make headway in China, then you need look no further than Baidu’s Instagram clone, PhotoWonder.
While Instagram offers filters, PhotoWonder offers reality distortion. Users can edit their photos in the app, add “prank” effects, build collages, and add beautifying effects. Think of it as Instagram on botox.
And my, what beautifying effects they are. PhotoWonder offers users the chance to remove acne, whiten their skin, improve their skin tone, slim down their face or body, and enlarge their eyes. If that doesn’t tell you something about a difference in cultural values between China and America, what does?
In China, as in much of Asia, skin whitening and slimming products are advertised abundantly and loudly, and sales for eye-widening contact lenses are rampant, along with operations to reshape eyelids. In the Western world, being such totems of aesthetic morality, we tend to focus more on Photoshop.
Search leader Baidu acquired PhotoWonder in November last year and then relaunched the app last month with new branding. In China it is called MoTu and it competes against Tencent’s Q Pai. Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s head of international communications, recently told me the app has already been downloaded about 14 million times, which, actually, is peanuts in China, but not bad for a couple weeks’ work.
So, I finally got around to giving it a whirl. It’s a lot of fun and – if you care more about garish special effects than simplicity and having friends who use the app – it might actually be better than Instagram. Once you’ve edited your photo, you can send it to Facebook, Twitter, or Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo. There is not, however, an Instagram-like photostream, which makes this more of an image editor than a social network.
In the interests of science, I went ahead and gave myself a complete digital makeover using PhotoWonder. The photo you see at right is me in a completely natural state, only with larger eyes, a slimmer jawline, no skin blemishes, whiter skin, more even color, a wig, a delightful necklace, a funky frame, and a statement of my core value. Just like the Internet intended for me to be.
The app has a 4.3 rating from 58,478 reviews in the Android app store.
For more lessons on the cultural differences between China and America, check out Buzzfeed’s informative 42 Things You’ll Only See In China.