Weixin, the Chinese social network that seeks to go beyond its borders
Every half hour or so, Jenny Zhao, young and up, unlocked the screen of his iPhone 5 to contact friends via Weixin, an app to send messages very popular in China. “I’m probably six hours a day connected to Weixin”, said Zhao, 24-year-old cosmetics saleswoman Shanghai. “Much of what I do is focused on this”.
Weixin (pronounced wei-yin) is the most successful application of this country, a highly addictive social networking tool that allows smartphone users to send messages and share news, photos, videos and web links, very similar to WhatsApp in the United States, or Line, the Japanese pair. In the United States, there is a similar version known as WeChat.
Only three years have been launched in China, Weixin has with around 300 million users – a rate of spread faster than Facebook and Twitter-made that places it in a dominant position in what is today the world’s largest market for smartphones. Already slowed growth messaging service company leading mobile country and prompted the major Internet companies to create competitive services.
Weixin is the creation of Tencent, the Chinese Internet powerhouse, known for its QQ instant messaging service and famous online games. Tencent, which is publicly traded and its value exceeds 100,000 million dollars in the stock market of Hong Kong, seeks to strengthen that hook on social networks and expand into new areas, such as online payment and e-commerce. Alibaba, the Goliath of Chinese e-commerce, announced plans to fight back in its land, with its own application for newly developed messaging services, known as Liawang.
Tencent, meanwhile, feels so safe with its application for messages Weixin began promoting overseas, especially in Southeast Asia, where tens of millions of users are recorded. The company also plans a marketing blitz in Europe and Latin America, named WeChat. However, its spokesmen refused to confirm whether the service would promote in the United States and, if so, when would be.
Weixin could help change the overall perception of Chinese companies. Although Internet companies there are still considered imitations of Google, Facebook, Twitter and eBay, analysts say are rapidly transforming themselves into dynamic and innovative companies with unique business models technology.
Weixin, for example, is not a mere copy of an existing service, but an amalgam of various social networking tools: Facebook has some, another Instagram and even a little walkie-talkie. Instead of having to type Chinese characters to post a brief telephone message, that might take some time, users simply press a button to record a voice message.
“Chinese Internet companies not far behind”, says William Bao Bean, a former technology analyst and current CEO of venture capital firm SingTel Innov8. “Today, in some areas, go ahead”.
The disruptive power of service is unquestionable. Weixin hindered the growth of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging service in China, and eroded the profits of a service offered by major telecom operators administered by the Chinese state: the short message service cell phone known as SMS.
At China Mobile, the service provider of the country’s largest mobile phone service revenues short message reached a peak in 2009 of about 9000 million. Three years later, it fell almost 20%, and fell last year, according to recent estimates again in a similar way.
In August, a technology analyst at Barclays predicted Weixin could reach 400 million users and revenues of nearly $ 500 million this year. Before the advance of such growth by investors, the value of the shares of Tencent rose 94% last year.
Some Tencent executives still see Weixin as a saving company. Last year, its CEO and co-founding partner, Ma Huateng-known in the English-speaking world as Pony Ma, said in a speech that the power lay in Weixin be mobile, as a “portable device” which, unlike the PC I was always with the user.
If Weixin had been created by another company, continued Ma, Tencent could have gone into decline. “If you look back”, he said, “those two months were crucial, a matter of life and death” for the company.
There are challenges, of course. One, analysts say, is that young Chinese skilled in technology are fickle, and can quickly lean toward other services. Another challenge could come from rival Tencent, Alibaba, the company’s e-commerce of Chinese origin, who declared war on Weixin.
In August, Alibaba sellers forbade its shopping site Taobao.com Weixin uses to market its products. Alibaba then introduced its service to compete, Laiwang, and announced plans to introduce a mobile gaming platform.
The expansion plans outside Tencent could also be hampered by concerns over the fact that a Chinese company handling such personal information, and then be forced to offer it to the authorities of that country, exercising strict controls Internet services. Tencent executives insist that the risks of espionage are small because the company does not store messages on its servers.