As Facebook looks to WeChat, China’s digital world is wowing the West, and globalisation is no longer a one-way street
- With even Silicon Valley giants like Facebook learning from the hyperconnected WeChat universe, the investment in data and AI by the Chinese state and companies is paying off
This is not only a new direction for an internet giant that influences social media and the wider culture, it’s the first time that a Silicon Valley tech tycoon is indicating that a Chinese digital ecosystem is worth learning from and emulating.
There are key moments when an invention or product revolutionises society: the telephone; the automobile; television; the aeroplane; personal computers; smartphones.
Now, it’s the digital ecosystem. Facebook is one such ecosystem – a platform with multiple functions that people return to use again and again. For some, it functions as a mini-internet, to such a degree that they don’t realise that Facebook operates through the internet. People can send private messages to friends, post photos that anyone who has a Facebook account can see, find out about local events, promote their business and more without leaving the site.
Facebook also has live streaming, Facebook Watch for TV series and Facebook Marketplace for buying and selling. It owns WhatsApp and Instagram, so those are also part of its ecosystem, and it has emulated popular functions from Snapchat and others.
Facebook is the dominant digital ecosystem in the West. WeChat is the dominant digital ecosystem in China.
Called Weixin in China, it dominates the country’s social media. Its interface is in Chinese and it can only be downloaded from within the country with a China-based phone number. It has far more functions and abilities than the international version. It can be used to shop, request a taxi, order food, buy air tickets, check in for your flight, book a medical appointment, pay utility bills and even file an application for a divorce in some cities. No one ever needs to leave the app.
When one looks at statements that Zuckerberg has made and the initiatives the company has championed, it seems that one goal he’s had for Facebook is for it to be a smaller, more manageable version of the internet that people don’t leave … just like WeChat is now in China.
In some ways, Facebook has succeeded. However, there’s been pushback over the years, especially against its Free Basics initiative, which offered free internet access in developing countries but only to a few sites, Facebook being one of them.
China’s relentless focus and investment in data has paid off. With more people than anywhere else in the world and a gigantic trove of data, it has enormous advantages in this area and is using them to supercharge research and development, as well as industrial and medical solutions.
Born in China but going global – is this the next trend?
Ashley Galina Dudarenok is a China marketing expert, entrepreneur and vlogger. She is the founder of social media agency Alarice and marketing training company ChoZan