A game changer in mobile messaging: Ma Huateng’s WeChat

Congruent to China’s rapid growth in mobile Internet, the country has undergone a radical change in the way social interaction is experienced. The pursuit for cutting-edge phone applications has shifted the nation away from embracing foreign technologies, and towards the development of their own unique formats of online interaction. This is largely exemplified in the creation of WeChat, which heralded a new epoch in the way the Chinese populace communicate.

Developed by Ma Huateng, WeChat has become the lead communication tool for more than 600 million Chinese people (Harwit 2016). Huateng is a founder of Tencent Holdings Ltd, one of the largest Internet firms in the world. His products, such as QQ, reflect the ongoing pursuit to wield technological advancements with social functions.

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A timeline of WeChat’s development and success (The Economist 2016)

So, how did Huateng advance WeChat to surpass its rivals?

The answer lies in the way Huateng maximises the peculiarities and societal values within the Chinese market. Since Internet came late in China, email never kicked off the way it did around the world. This ultimately opened a gap for social messaging apps, with WeChat offering users a practical way to conduct business rather than with email. Unlike Westerners, most Chinese people possess numerous mobile devices. It became easiest to jump on-board the app that was most efficient in integrating all devices into one digital identity. Similarly, since text messaging in China was costly, netizens were eager to embrace an app that offered free messaging. It becomes interesting to see how technological trends within China offer opportunities for innovation. The way WeChat adapts its services to reflect societal needs ultimately becomes paramount to its success.

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WeChat amongst other iPhone applications (Millward 2015)

It also becomes crucial to consider how the country utilises Internet. In China, more people reach Internet through their phones than those in America, Indonesia and Brazil combined (The Economist 2016). Many jumped from the pre-web period straight to mobile Internet, completely skipping the computer altogether. WeChat’s development ultimately reflected this trend, offering business models and technologies built around phones. How quickly people jumped on board WeChat’s services demonstrates the eagerness of younger and older generations towards new technologies. Their enthusiasm fuels Huateng’s desire to develop more innovative features for his netizens to explore.

WeChat’s features, such as Moments, location finding, and voice messaging, have also become a bellwether for new and future experiences in mobile messaging. Its services offer netizens an exciting and useful communication tool that reflects the Chinese culture. This is exemplified in the “red packet” campaign for Chinese New Year.

To further understand how WeChat’s services reflect the mentalities of older and younger generations, I asked my mother and grandfather to jot down their views of the application. I found it interesting to note how successful Huateng’s application was in luring 50% of my grandfather’s generation of friends into using WeChat. How the app develops continues to thrive on its use and popularity, ultimately reflecting China’s growing technological fervour.

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Views on WeChat from two generations: Laura Mao, mother (left) and Deliang Mao, grandfather (right)

References:

Bhagat, R. 2016, 5 WeChat features that Whatsapp should really use, Forbes, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.forbes.com/sites/rahilbhagat/2016/09/29/5-wechat-features-that-whatsapp-should-really-use/#7c62da0218bb&gt;.

Cao, J. 2015, WeChat’s growth shows why messaging apps attract big valuations, Bloomberg Technology, viewed 8 November 2016, <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-13/wechat-s-growth-shows-why-messaging-apps-attract-big-valuations&gt;.

Choudhury, S. 2016, Tencent overtakes Alibaba as China’s most valuable tech company, CNBC, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/17/tencent-overtakes-alibaba-as-chinas-most-valuable-tech-company-as-wechat-owner-posts-strong-results.html&gt;.

Creemers, R. 2016, ‘Cyber China: upgrading propaganda, public opinion work and social management for the twenty-first century’, Journal of Contemporary China, vol. n.a., no. n.a., pp. 1-16.

Forbes 2016, #48 Tencent Holdings, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.forbes.com/companies/tencent-holdings/&gt;.

Harwit, E. 2016, ‘WeChat: social and political development of China’s dominant messaging app’, Chinese Journal of Communication, vol. n.a, no. n.a, pp. 1-16.

The Economist 2016, WeChat’s world, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.economist.com/news/business/21703428-chinas-wechat-shows-way-social-medias-future-wechats-world&gt;.

Williams, R. 2016, Billions of WeChat red packet payments predicted to mark Chinese New Year, The Telegraph, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/02/07/billions-of-wechat-red-packet-payments-predicted-to-mark-chinese/&gt;.

Images:

The Economist 2016, WeChat’s world, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.economist.com/news/business/21703428-chinas-wechat-shows-way-social-medias-future-wechats-world&gt;.

Millward, S. 2015, WeChat valued at $83.6 billion, half of Tencent’s market cap: HSBC, TechinAsia, viewed 8 November 2016, <https://www.techinasia.com/talk/wechat-valued-at-83-6-billion-half-of-tencents-market-cap&gt;.

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Posted in D: Chinese Contemporary Culture, Uncategorized

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