ByteDance is rapidly making its mark in the generative AI arena. Within just a few months, the company has rolled out an impressive array of products, creating a substantial product matrix. This includes their self-developed large-scale model, Skylark (Yun Que), as well as a suite of AI chatbots: Dou Bao, Cici, and ChitChop.
In August, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok and Douyin, launched the AI chatbot Dou Bao for its Chinese audience. Following this, in September, they introduced their self-developed large-scale model, Skylark (Yun Que), which serves as the foundational model for Dou Bao and Cici, a version of Dou Bao geared for overseas audiences. Then, in November, ByteDance expanded its AI portfolio with the release of ChitChop for the international market, offering a broader range of applications compared to Cici.
Most recently, last month, ByteDance further committed to its AI endeavors by establishing a new AI department named Flow. This department is technically led by Hong Dingkun, ByteDance’s Vice President of Technology, and on the business front by Zhu Wenjia, who heads ByteDance’s large-scale model team. This strategic move underscores ByteDance’s significant shift towards large-scale AI models, concurrently scaling back its investments in gaming and XR.
True to the pattern of most Chinese tech conglomerates, ByteDance is more inclined towards crafting innovative AI applications rather than pioneering foundational models in AI infrastructure. Its early-stage products, Dou Bao and Cici, offer a range of services including knowledge Q&A, story continuation, and content generation.
ChitChop, developed by the Singapore-based company POLIGON, is multimodal and more versatile than both Cici and Dou Bao. It boasts over 200 smart applications across six major domains: AI creation, AI drawing, leisure and entertainment, learning enhancement, work efficiency improvement, and life assistance, positioning itself as a tool to ‘provide creative inspiration and improve efficiency’.
Consequently, Singapore has emerged as a strategic hub for ByteDance’s AI initiatives. POLIGON, a key operational arm of ByteDance overseas, was established in Singapore in 2020, focusing primarily on software and application development, with computer game development as a secondary focus.
The strategic importance of Singapore is further underscored by the relocation of key personnel. In 2021, Zhu Wenjia, former CEO of the news portal Toutiao, moved to Singapore to lead the technical R&D for TikTok, fueling speculation about Singapore becoming TikTok’s new international headquarters. Furthermore, ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, is reportedly in Singapore, where he has been recruiting former OpenAI employees to build a team and explore new AI innovations.
All of these and future generative AI products are to be built on ByteDance’s in-house models. Currently, the company has its own Skylark (Yue Que) models that comes in with various sizes geared for different purposes. It also provide large-scale B2B model platform services through their Volcano Engine. In other words, ByteDance has both B2B and B2C models.
Its Volcano Ark platform claims to serve many Chinese commercial models, such as the commercial version of Zhipu AI’s ChatGLM, MiniMax’s MiniMax-ABAB 5.5, and ByteDance’s Skylark (Yue Que) model.
There are other AI products that are likely to be released soon. According to public reports, ByteDance will launch an ‘Open Platform for Robot Development’, allowing users to create their own chatbots. Additionally, Douyin plans to introduce multiple AI chatbots within its main app, with the recently launched ‘Douyin Xin Qing’ positioned as an emotional care robot.
ByteDance appears set to replicate its successful App era approach in the AI domain, acting as both the provider of products and the marketplace, through a wide-ranging array of AI initiatives. This strategy, however, faces significant challenges, including intense competition both within China and on the global stage, as well as a substantial gap in comparison to industry pioneers like ChatGPT.