THERE are many chat programs that we use. For many of my friends, it’s either WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, while some, it’s viber. For most Koreans, it’s KakaoTalk. For Japanese, it’s Line. But there is one application that is making great inroads – the WeChat of China.
As you may know, you cannot access Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Youtube in China. There is a Great FireWall, something that all incoming data from foreign countries has to pass which allows the Chinese authorities to screen and censor. This is the reason that there are many other applications that are almost knockoffs that the Chinese use.
Instead of using Google Search, they use Baidu. Instead of Youtube, they have Youku. And for Twitter, they have Weibo. But WeChat is on a different league. Lest you think that China can only copy, on WeChat they are actually innovating and leading the way.
WeChat is a superApp that has no counterpart in the western world. It is basically a chat software, but there is something more. One thing that is nice about WeChat is that, it creates a platform where people can create mini-apps. The first app you may want to use is called Moments.
Think about Facebook. So you post your feeds, and share news, and the first thing you want is to have private messaging with selected friends. So they put in Facebook Messenger. WeChat is the other way around. They put the feeds on top of the chat.
So you can go to Moments, and you can share pictures, or music, or news, and you can even specify who to share it with. If you say you want to share it with “all”, then that means all your friends in your chat will be able to see it. You can also choose to share it with just one friend or select friends. But what is even nicer is that the friends can like or comment. But everybody can see only the likes and comments of the people in their chat group.
So, let us say George is my friend. So when he comments, I see it. But another friend who is not a friend of George can see my post, but cannot see George’s comments. For me, that’s a granular control and is cool.
But there is more. You can use it to call or send voice messages. You can use it to shop. You can use it to book hotels or cars. You can use it to order food or pay for it. You can use it to book movie and concert tickets.
Essentially, WeChat is almost like it’s a Facebook, Uber, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Amazon, Paypal, electronic money, Tinder, Instagram, AirBnB, Tripadvisor, and many more rolled into one app. You can even use it to book appointments or hospital clinics.
One of its most used features is modelled after the Chinese traditional way of giving red envelopes or Hung Pao. The user can actually send money to a contact or groups as a gift. This feature was launched in 2014, and in 2016, over 3.2 billion hung paos were given out.
In many TV programs, viewers are just asked to shake their phones at a specific time, and if they are lucky, a cash prize will be transferred to their WeChat account. Imagine millions of viewers shaking their phones and thousands winning prizes, all in a single minute.
Because it does almost anything, almost everybody in China now has it. WeChat reportedly has over 900 millIon users and that more than half of all users spend over 90 minutes a day on the app.
It will be interesting to see how the world will respond – but this time, it’s China that’s leading the way. Almost everybody now buys drinks, shops, and dine not using physical money, but WeChat.
Just think, instead of downloading games or apps into your Android or iPhone, you actually can download it to WeChat and use it there.