Friday, January 18, 2013

That Parallel Universe - s01e01 - something about WeChat, Facebook video call, morphing clones and all that

I was reading this article about how Facebook is trying out video calls in their messenger app (WIRED: Facebook Could Bury Video Calling Partner Skype...) I can’t help thinking : the social media in that parallel universe (aka China) is actually one-up on this one. Traditionally more known for its “cloning” ability rather than one-up-ness, where each newborn Social Media killer-app would generate similar clone(s) in the parallel universe, the social media giants of China seem to be finding their own feet.

For months, I’ve actually been happily been using video calls (and also video calls without the video) from within my social media hangout/ecosystem on the phone, without thinking much about it. It’s just there without much fanfare. Done it on wifi, done it on 3G as well - the audio call qualities were certainly good enough for business discussions too (not the choppy “hello hello do you hear me” kind in the early days of VOIP).

It’s WeChat (Weixin as it is more commonly known in China). So what is this WeChat?

Well it was born more like Whatsapp, once it’s installed, it reads your mobile phone book and tells you everyone in it that also has WeChat installed, after which you can message each other... very much like Whatsapp. Then it developed further.

Added “Moments”, a facebook/instagram like feature where you can make posts (with up to 9 photos per post) and friends could “Like” and/or comment. That morphed the Whatsapp-clone into Facebook/Twitter type of ecosystems of social hangouts. Like any ecosystems, it could have been embarrassing quiet with little activity. No worries here, partly helped by the fact the its parent is Tencent (the company’s other product is QQ, the ICQ-clone which morphed into hands down still the largest social media ecosystem in China. I’ll write more about that in another post)

Within 14 months of WeChat launch, it hit the 100 million users benchmark in March 2012. Impressive, isn’t it? Now what do you think of this... the next 100 million came within a mere 6 months! Yes, by Sep 2012, WeChat had 200 million users. And as I write this, the Jan 2013 figures shows it has gone past 300 million users (that’s a 100 million in a little over 3 months) While that’s still a farcry from Facebook’s Billion, it’s not hard to gasp at 300 million users in 24 months. And mind you, it’s not just numbers - as a user it is VERY noticeable too how many more friends are on there now and how much more bustling it has become.

So back to the video calling function, I do look forward to Facebook rolling out the feature to everyone (instead of iOS-USA only as it is now), so I speak with friends in this world (WeChat’s footprint in this world is as close to zero as you could get, zero, nought, nihil).

And then back the topic of that parallel world - over there these days it’s not just about cloning where the copy is a lesser product anymore you know. That was one era ago. It’s on to the next era now where the born-clones has a very vibrant and enormous environment, full of nutrients and resources, to grow in its own way such that it exceeds its origin. Ahhh how sweet, isn’t that what every parent wants of their offspring? Would the clone’s origins feel the same of their clones too : ) Or would we all start running around clutching our hair screaming “end of the world - end of the world - clones that think - clones are taking over the world”

Whatever your perspective is - positive or negative, engage or barricade - that parallel universe is there, not going away, alive and kicking, breathing and growing. And quite often than not, surprisingly different from your mental image and can be refreshingly new.

[note: Please don’t take this blog tooo seriously. It’s written light-heartedly, time off from all the serious thinking, always from my perspective with a dash of my oddball humor. I do invite you to a conversation if something I wrote interests you and you’ve got something to say - positive or negative, serious or light-hearted - conversations are always welcome]