By Paul Carsten
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd <BABA.N>, the world's biggest e-commerce company, is piloting a mobile messaging app aimed at marrying social networking with business, an Alibaba spokeswoman said on Friday, as the company expands its enterprise services.
The app, called DingTalk, was quietly made available in December and is still in beta testing, according to its website.
Capable of carrying conference calls and group messaging, DingTalk targets small- and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are already Alibaba's customers. The company has 8.5 million active sellers on its various e-commerce platforms, according to Alibaba's initial public offering prospectus.
It is not Alibaba's first stab at a mobile messaging app and others have become hot property in the tech sector. The company's arch-rival, Tencent Holdings Ltd <0700.HK>, operates WeChat, known as Weixin in China, which has 468 million monthly active users and was estimated to be worth as much as $64 billion by brokerage CLSA.
Underscoring the appeal of such apps, Facebook Inc <FB.O> in October completed its $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.
But Alibaba's previous attempt at a mobile messaging app, Laiwang, is seen by many analysts and industry observers as a dud, with the Chinese market dominated by Tencent's WeChat.
By going for smaller companies, DingTalk is chasing a target audience that already includes many Alibaba clients. This fits with its broader enterprise strategy, including the Alibaba Cloud Computing business, which also serves Alibaba's merchants as well as other companies.
"DingTalk is a versatile mobile communications app that fills a gap in the market for corporate mobile messaging," the Alibaba spokeswoman said.
Since 2009 Alibaba's cloud unit, also known as Aliyun, has accumulated more than 1.4 million customers, according to Alibaba's IPO prospectus.
Alibaba declined comment on when DingTalk will be fully launched or how it will generate revenue.
(Editing by David Holmes)