Around 4 years ago, I downloaded a new app introduced to me by a Chinese friend. At the time, this app was called 微信, or Weixin. It was only for a chinese market and had less than 100 million users. It was a new player in a market already full of social media and messenger apps in China. Everyone was using QQ for messaging and posting pictures, and weibo for a twitter-type experience. There were certainly other apps that were available (renren etc.), but those two were far and away the most consistently used by the largest number of people.
Weixin was rebranded to WeChat in 2012 to introduce it in to international markets outside of China. The app has grown immensely in popularity throughout China, and all of southeast Asia. In march of 2015, WeChat said it had more than 500 million active users. Granted, this is nothing compared to facebook’s 1.44 billion active users per month in 2015, but you have to realize that this is an app that a vast majority of the western developed world has never even heard of! I’d like to try to give you some personal experience into just how prevalent the app is here in the world’s most populous country. In order to do so, I think it’s important to understand the features of the app first.
WeChat’s main function is for use as a messaging platform. It employ’s the same process as Facebook or Whatsapp. First you must find a person you would like to become contacts with. You invite them to be your friend, and after the invitation is accepted, you can start speaking. Chatting on the app is easy and flawless. Apart from standard typed messaging and recorded audio clips up to 60 seconds, WeChat’s chat function has many different options. Images and video clips are sent without any issue. There is a new function called a “sight”. This is a short 10 second video clip that can be taken straight through the WeChat app. WeChat messaging also allows for voice and video call functions. These can be quite expensive if the user is not on a Wi-fi connection. The transfer function is something that will be further explained in the WeChat Wallet section of this post. There is also a function of location services that allow a user to share their current real-time location with a friend, or send a map with a specific location selected. As a side note, on top of more the more functional aspects of the messaging, there is also a never-ending collection of emoticons and “stickers”. Stickers, of which you can see a few in the picture on the left, are small gifs that a user can save up to 150 to their personal account.
Group Chats are allowed to have up to 500 users. These group chats have become a hugely popular aspect of WeChat that allows like-minded people to get together and share thoughts. It reminds me of the chat-rooms of days past.
Moments are where a user can share content with the entirety of their contact list. This is how users share pictures, articles, and videos. Friends can like a post, and also post comments.
These are pages that are opened by companies and groups alike. They provide a page that will periodically send messages containing content that the company would like to send. Have a look at the picture to understand.
Discover is a way to find new friends and add new subscription accounts. Included is a function to search people within 5km that are also looking for new friends. Also, there is a shake your phone function that allows you to find new friends that are also shaking their phone. The most notable of discover functions is the option to Scan a QR code. These QR codes are now used everywhere in China. From the sides of busses, to peoples individual business cards. Individuals and businesses alike are adopting this technique that allows users of WeChat to have near instant access to their platform. The QR codes are what has allowed WeChat to really take off in its functionality, and improved many company’s ability to market within the app. The QR codes are also used in the WeChat Wallet, which will be explained later.
Finally, the newest functions of WeChat all come in the WeChat Wallet. WeChat Wallet is a function that allows users of WeChat to connect a bankcard to his or her account, and use WeChat to pay for almost all things in day-to-day living. You can take a look at the picture to see a list of the specific functions that are associated with the wallet. These are just the surface though. Because everyone uses the app, and everyone is connected to the wallet, it is making cash more and more irrelevant. A user can go into a store, buy X$ of goods. The shopkeeper just needs to open up the quick pay and a user can transfer the money. You can make direct transfers of money to any of your contacts. For taxi-drivers, it seems that cash is becoming more and more of an inconvenience to them. The WeChat Wallet is just starting to evolve into what I believe will become the most significant tool in Chinese consumerism.
As you can see, this app has become a huge part of everyday life here in China. If you meet someone new, the first thing you do, is add them on WeChat. Telephone numbers are becoming irrelevant, and so is cash. WeChat is taking over. I realize I have written what seems to be an advertisement for this app, and honestly, it is. This is an outstanding app with great functionality and benefit to everyday life. I think if it had come out of any country other than China, it would have already caught on in the western world. There are many things that can still be said about the safety of a user’s information on this app. But, I believe that to be true with every social media application available. That is a topic for another Blog post.