Facebook is the king of the social media world in the West. Since its appearance in 2004, he transformed the way we interact and communicate on the Internet. But what about China, where it is not welcome. Who rules in the Middle Kingdom? Do its story and role are similar?
Good Ideas Are Contagious
In the West, we often take large Chinese sites and applications as mere rip-offs of our own. Weibo is described as Chinese Twitter, Tmall as Amazon, etc. There is a story behind those comments, Chinese tech companies have indeed “inspired” (understand copy) themselves from what was big at home. Then only did they start tweaking and developing upon it to develop their own versions of those services.
WeChat is no exception to that rule. They are since the beginning called the “Chinese WhatsApp” because they initially fulfill the same purpose: allow people to chat. Today, however, it has become a much more complete and powerful tool than the original app it was inspired from. So much so that it is now unfair to compare them to one another.
Read as well: WeChat Guide for Foreign (Cosmetics) Companies in China
Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are two apps I’m using to communicate with my contact in France. But to be honest they feel sluggish and antiquated compared to their Chinese counterpart.
Perhaps it is time for our Western tech industry giants to learn a thing or two from China. But let’s first talk about how WeChat came to be in the first place.
WeChat, the new Emperor
WeChat (or WeiXin) at the time I’m writing this article (July 2016) is China’s most popular social network with over 706 million active users. It has developed a wide range of features to integrate with an increasing number of aspects of everyday life:
- Text chat agremented with emoticons and stickers
- Voice messages
- Voice Calls
- Video calls
- Photos and Videos sharing
- Possibility to publish content in the form of Microblogging
- Geolocation: location sharing on demand to guide a friend toward you
- Mobile Payment (e-wallet)
- Play QR code
And what is probably the most impressive for an application having such a broad range of capabilities: It is very simple to use and with one of the most intuitive interfaces I have ever seen.
The other day, for instance, I needed to pay my rent for my new apartment through the application. Something I had never done before. Even for tech-savvy persons, everything related to banking can be a pain to set up. Result? Only took me a few minutes to understand get it working.
Using Facebook Messenger or Snapchat to pay bills is something that would never occur to us, even if it was made available it would be looked upon with suspicion. Yet millions of Chinese are doing something similar every day and don’t seem to mind.
The reason is that the structure of the Chinese market is different. The majority of Internet users accessed the web here for the first time through mobile devices and continues to use them as their primary device. Unlike us or despite the progression of mobiles, continue to use the computer as the primary access point.
What Future for WeChat?
WeChat has become so massive that it seems unlikely today for a competitor to emerge. It is a social network that not only allows us to discuss with our contacts, share photos, etc. But it is also an extension of ourselves in the digital world, allowing us to pay via mobile, etc.
But as strong as the influence of WeChat seems nothing is ever indestructible. Tencent, the creator of WeChat, has two serious competitors, the two other giants of the Chinese web: Baidu and Alibaba. This rivalry is healthy because it prevents a single company from having a monopoly over cyberspace.
It is difficult to say with any certainty what future awaits WeChat, and by extending the world of social networks in general. Facebook overtook Microsoft’s MSN, which had yet all users.
Habits created over the years die hard. The attempt at social networking by Google has not been of any threat to Facebook. Why? Because it offered no real novelty. But with an environment increasingly focused on mobility today the question arises: will we see WeChat try to conquer the West?
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