Take Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Skype, Paypal, Uber, eBay, your emails. Now imagine a single app that could fulfil all of these functions at once; it exists and it’s called WeChat. First released in China in January 2011, WeChat is a cross-platform messaging service developed by Tencent, incorporating aspects of successful existing apps such as Facebook and Snapchat, without contravening China’s stringent censorship laws.
This shrewd business model has made WeChat an immense success in China. Business is conducted using the app, rather than traditional email platforms and business cards have been replaced by WeChat QR codes, which can be scanned using a phone camera. Not only is it possible to shop online within the app, you can also use WeChat to pay at most physical stores and restaurants, as well as ordering and paying for taxis, booking theatre tickets and even holidays abroad. In 2015, HSBC estimated the app’s worth at over $80 billion, with 806 million active users documented by the second quarter of 2016.
One might ask, having accrued such success across mainland China and the surrounding areas, why hasn’t WeChat been embraced with the same enthusiasm by the rest of the world? The Chinese government’s fear of subversive propaganda being disseminated via Western sites such as Facebook and Youtube has led to the majority of these platforms being banned or blocked, depriving Chinese users of their benefits. WeChat was created to overcome this cultural insulation and provide the Chinese market with the same level of connectivity as its Western counterparts, whilst still operating independently and thus without incurring the government’s paranoia.
However, whilst the app continues to grow in popularity across China, it has failed to get a foothold in the West due to the dominance of the original platforms, Google, Facebook, Youtube, etcetera. Without the constraints of censorship, these sites have had the freedom to grow and proliferate, constantly gaining new, loyal customers, and becoming increasingly entrenched within our culture. To convince users to drop these familiar faces in exchange for something completely new is a hard sell. Despite the Internet’s reputation for innovation, we are creatures of habit and it’s very difficult to teach a dog new tricks. Although, that stupid dog filter on Snapchat has grown on me.