New WeChat platform attracts indie publishers, and censorship may be close behind

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 2:20pm

Tencent's continued ability to ignore Chinese government censorship protocol as it takes its highly successful WeChat app overseas remains something of a mystery.

However at a press conference in Hong Kong Wednesday, Tencent president Martin Lau revealed, Ming Pao reports, the company maintains different versions of the mobile messaging application for different markets, seemingly in the same manner Google abides by the laws of the different countries in which it operates products - in Tencent's case, bases WeChat servers.

Earlier this year, Tencent claimed it was just a glitch when WeChat was caught censoring messages sent by users outside mainland China, a feature it would seem Tencent built specifically for mainland WeChat users but forgot to disable for international users - and yet appears to keep off now for standard users inside China.

That aside, one upside for Chinese-reading WeChat users is the app's fancy back-end publishing platform which since its introduction last month has attracted a growing community of independent publishers. With a public account, WeChat users can now push a variety of types of content to all their subscribers, groups they create themselves, to 'followers' of one gender, or those in a specific part of China.

However while WeChat's public platform's perhaps biggest edge over Sina Weibo is a lack of zombies to scare off potential readers, there have already been complaints of censorship; the New York Times' WeChat account, for instance, exists but lies blank. One Southern Weekly account has reportedly disappeared altogether.

Earlier this week, Beijing Institute of Technology School of Law professor Xu Xin, who publishes almost daily through WeChat on various legal issues, republished a post from fellow WeChatter and China Procuratorial Press executive Zhao Zhigang.

In that post, Zhao recommends a list of eight individual and institutional WeChat accounts which have been successful in using the platform to spread understanding of how the law does (or doesn't) work in China, but prefaces that with his thoughts on how...

WeChat is guaranteed to become a portal to the mobile internet, that's my impression after more than a year's experience with the platform. In particular, the launch of the public platform is set to replace many small and medium-sized independent websites, particularly those with niche readerships or specialised or information-heavy content.

With the CMS for WeChat public accounts, users can push text, photos or audio, and target content delivery with precision using the user group and regional settings. Also with a public account, the audience can be divided into segments allowing for direct peer-to-peer, two-way interaction, and no longer requires being seated in front of a PC machine to engage or communicate.

Furthermore, WeChat's rapid growth means Android and iOS users no longer need an app for every little thing. Over the past 1-2 years, media and information-wise apps in particular have gradually begun the shift to focussing on the WeChat platform; naturally, this evolution brings more savings than in tech development costs alone.

And as far as mobile web users are concerned, managing public accounts through the WeChat interface is far more convenient than having to deal with a mobile desktop crammed full of apps of every colour.