Starting 50 years ago as a worldwide factory for everything, China has become a global factory for the IT industry.
One of the features of the technology industry is that everything changes so quickly in it that it is sometimes impossible to predict the future even for five to seven years ahead. Just seven years ago, in 2011, the main event in the industry was the loss of Steve Jobs. It was the time of the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. And this was the peak of Apple’s influence on the mobile technology market. Every year is a revolution. Every year is a breakthrough product. Every year is a newly formed market. But this year, January 21, Tencent introduced a service that will be used by 980,000,000 people in China and beyond in seven years.
But first, let’s get back to basics. China is not just a huge country, sharply different from the rest of the world. Local uniqueness, its special path here is underlined and promoted as the right one.
Starting 50 years ago as a worldwide factory for everything, China has become a worldwide factory for the IT industry.
The Chinese government, despite the reforms and the construction of such a seemingly strange design, like socialism with capitalist stuffing, is still obsessed with the idea of control. This is – almost the main driving force of reforms in the information industry. The Golden Shield Project (unofficial name – “Great Firewall”) was the first information project, which was talked about at the international level.
In just five years of development, since 2003, there has been a system that effectively separated the Chinese Internet from the rest of the world. So the Chinese built another Great Wall. Only now on the Internet. The wall itself included a variety of subsystems, such as a security management system, an infraction reporting system, an exit and entry control system, an information monitoring system, and a traffic management system.
While other countries have been discussing the need for an e-government, China has implemented the “Golden Bridges” (for general economic information), “Golden Customs” (for foreign trades), “Golden Card” (for electronic currencies), “Golden Finances” (for financial management) , “Golden agriculture” (for agricultural information), “Golden taxation” (for taxation), “Golden water” (for information on water resources), “Golden quality” (for quality control). All this has reached an incredible size, in the best traditions of developed socialism.
It turned out that the Chinese are learning very fast. And copy, copy, copy, until they get the desired result for themselves. After the landmark period of 2001-2003, against the backdrop of the events of September 11, when the US introduced copyright protection and Internet control, in 2007 a Chinese firewall was launched. In this Year, the iPhone forever changed the process of content consumption, communication, the entire mobile industry in general. Not at once, of course. But after a few years, it turned out that the future is for mobile traffic.
In 2011, there were only three countries in the world that had “their own Internet”. This can be understood as providing the local market with its services. Only the United States, Russia, and China had their own search engine, their social networks, their Internet sites for trade, their own mail services. But China still continued to produce mobile equipment and electronics, which was used by local companies that began to grow the local smartphone market. For example, “Chinese Apple” appeared on April 6, 2010, and in the first few years successfully copied both Samsung and Apple. And in mobile electronics, it turned out that local players such as Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and then Huawei took up the vast majority of the market. With a minimum markup, sometimes at a loss, hoping to fight back on services, companies began to sell cheap smartphones in giant print runs.
But at the same time for 800 million users there is no access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagrams, there is not even Google and Amazon. But there are unique QQ, Baidu, and AliExpress. The question of the appearance of their own messenger was only a matter of time. By 2011, there was an infrastructure, the number of mobile Internet users grew and it was quite possible to start the messenger.
It is important that the IT market develops undulating. Ideas arise constantly, seize the market. A new idea for 2011 was that social networks will not completely absorb the market, including search, as it seemed at the time. It was supposed that a completely new kind of communication would appear. One of the main factors of WeChat’s success was that the company decided to take the best from other services and combine everything under one platform.
WeChat – a Unique Mixture of technologies
At first glance, WeChat is a regular messenger, but in fact, it is a portal, a platform, and even a mobile operating system. At the very start, the project positioned itself as an instant messenger. But there are so many services in this messenger that most of them are not even visible outside of China. WeChat was not created as a website and later adapted for mobile platforms. Geolocation has become available on any smartphone. Along with the usual messenger functions, Chinese users of WeChat could order a taxi or food delivery, buy movie tickets, play games, send money to friends, check information from the fitness tracker, make an appointment for a doctor, get bank statements, pay a bill for water supply , find discount coupons, follow news, read magazines and much more. All with one application. The speed of development and implementation of new services was even faster than in the state Chinese firewall.
At the same time, the architecture of the service is completely different than in American social networks. WeChat is more like a browser for mobile websites or even a mobile operating system with its own application store. WeChat created an advanced model of “applications within the application”. Millions of small applications live inside WeChat, exactly how web pages live on the Internet.
Small applications in WeChat are called “official accounts”. From celebrities, banks, media corporations and fashion brands to hospitals, pharmacies, automakers, Internet start-ups, blogs and so on. It is important that the “official” scheme does not work the way it does in social networks that we are used to. In WeChat, official accounts have the right to access exclusive APIs for payments, messages, location, user ID and much more.
For users, adding an official account is as easy as adding friends. Moreover, if the user has agreed to a subscription, from now on he will always be connected to this account. This is especially effective for infrequent, but important services, for example, managing bank statements or paying utility bills. Such applications are ideally suited to the model of “small”, thereby eliminating the need for users to download separately full applications.
And the main cornerstone of this system is money operations. Mobile life requires speed. The opportunity to buy this or that service or product instantly spread across China. And by 2018 actually replaced cash.
All this, of course, great, but in 2011, the Chinese before WeChat had a project Sina Weibo, where there were already several hundred million communicating users. Why then did WeChat win? Because the word Chat in the title does not reflect what the project really is. The company decided to go beyond the content and create its own system, which was based on practicality and functionality. So it turned out that on the basis of the world’s giants, China has created an entirely new model of interaction. And yes, starting from 2018, the account in WeChat is equated by the Chinese government to the usual passport ID.
If you enjoyed this piece then take a look at Imperia News.