Mark Zuckerberg made a new direction for Facebook this week, shifting the focus from a wide range of social applications to a one-time messaging service that combines everything the company has to offer. If it's an analog to what Facebook is trying to build, it exists in the form of Tencent's WeChat, the largest single-social network in China. There are a number of important differences between the two products, but the ultimate goals look odd: singular, all-purpose networks that can be used to serve users all kinds of other services, from mobile payments to gaming to direct contact lines to businesses.
WeChat is often considered "all app" for China's nearly 800 million smartphone owners: it's a game console, a bank, and even a gateway to Chinese equestrian giants, food delivery and thrift. It is available in other regions and gives WeChat a monthly active user base of over 1 billion.
Due to its ubiquity and dominance, WeChat has been a desirable, seemingly impossible, replication product for social media. As the do-all app, it replaces device manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi, and it works almost as a replacement for operating systems such as iOS and Android. Nothing, including Apple's iMessage or Facebook Messenger or even encryption-friendly WhatsApp, can compete with WeChat in China.
"What WeChat has done is to enter a constant stream of new services and features on the platform. the defacto messaging platform in China, says Willy Shih, Professor of Leadership Practice at Harvard Business School. By continuously adding services, WeChat is just becoming a more integral part of everyday life and it's more difficult to leave as a result. " everything: payments, get information, order things, "he adds. As Shih notes, even the homeless in China, WeChat-supported QR codes accept mobile payments when panhanded.
Facebook's ambition to build one does -all-app platform for a global audience goes back year, beginning with their acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp respectively for 2012 and 2014. Since then, as Instagram and WhatsApp spelled competition Consider from rivals, Messenger has had a great deal of responsibility for becoming Facebook's, would be, doing everything app platform.
In the following half-decade of Messenger's ongoing development, Facebook has tied to games, AI chatbots, magnified reality camera features, mobile payments and many other features designed to help you treat Messenger as its own distinct and chat-focused mini-Facebook. In 2014, the company David Marcus – a tremendously successful digital payment shareholder who monitors PayPal's strategic acquisition of Venmo's parent company Braintree – rented Messenger, which signals Facebook's ambition to make the platform a service provider.
Now, with plans to bring private messages to the front and center, Zuckerberg could finally make the version of WeChat that the world outside of China has so far lacked. It can be big and scarily time consuming, enticing users to get involved in the app for not only birthdays and group cats, but for style and products (Instagram) and news sharing (Facebook and WhatsApp). The Facebook mega app can extend itself to users' daily lives for entertainment, news and commerce.
But building that kind of sprawling, makes the all network a huge challenge, and even WeChat has not done without much help and good luck. In China, it has received state aid, and many of its rivals have been blocked from running: it includes Messenger since 2009, South Korea's line since 2015, and WhatsApp in 2017, significantly reducing the competitive landscape. The government has been happy to do so in exchange for retrieving deleted WeChat messages to help with police investigations. (Tencent denies that it stores chat stories.)
WeChat was heavily bombed in their attempts to find success beyond the Chinese market. It was slow to go international, and when it finally did in 2012, Facebook already took off in the markets WeChat was trying to get into. The international app was also a ghost of his Chinese self; The global version of WeChat was limited to sending people private messages.
Facebook has already grown well all over the world, which could help succeed where WeChat failed. International, Facebook and WhatsApp are the most commonly used social media apps, dwarfing like Snapchat, Twitter, Viber, and others, according to a report from the Pew Research Center yesterday.
The multi-year strategy of having the largest Facebook app, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram also means there is no problem if a country is gravitating to a Facebook product over another. And Facebook hasn't stopped there either. It has a number of internet connections in developing countries – including a gigabit Wi-Fi project called Terragraph and an app called Express Wi-Fi – designed to bring more people online and convert them to Facebook users of one kind or another.
Facebook will face other issues, though. Combining their apps is likely to worry about the European Commission, which is regularly worried by the behavior of tech giants. Similarly, the US Congress has asked Facebook whether it qualifies as a monopoly. Politically, the tide is against these types of mega tech companies. This morning Sen. suggested. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) breaking up technological giants, including Facebook as part of her presidential campaign.
Nor is it guaranteed that a messaging first approach will win over users. In China, the older generations prefer to use WeChat, and give the app a kind of dated reputation, not too unlike Facebook among teenagers. If both apps do not cut it, they may fall out of style as users grow older.
After Zuckerberg had posted his plans for Facebook, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect, thanks to WeChat. We can also anticipate the obstacles that a Facebook monster app would face: reducing user growth, a strong addiction to advertising revenue, and Western regulatory forces trying to clean it up again. It's the ultimate story of merging cultures, like two (or more) apps combining so many features that they become almost the same and risk losing what makes them so attractive in the first place. But Facebook has a chance to write its own story, if it can take lessons from where WeChat has stumbled.