Initially a messaging app, WeChat has evolved into a lifestyle platform which boasts over 850 million monthly active users (as of thee fourth quarter of fiscal 2016, an increase of 28% year over year) whom it offers a mind numbing number of services.
The WeChat Ecosystem then, is the app’s ever-growing monopoly of services which we in the West take for granted as separate: Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Venmo, Grubhub, Amazon, Uber, Apple Pay – WeChat encompasses all and more, capitalising on the increasing smartphone penetration in China and landing itself as the first Asian company to pass the coveted $500 billion market cap.
The now platform benefited greatly from the networks it built in the Chinese mobile first market. With an average user opening WeChat 10 times a day, and spending around 40 minutes in total on the app – it was bound to draw the attention of third party developers. String indirect effects come into play here, the more users on the platform, the more (and more) third party developers want to offer services on it, and vice versa.
The result? A platform which allows users to share things on social media, follow celebrities and brands, order food, book doctors appointments, play games, send money, pay bills, receive geo-targeted coupons, read magazines, and, of course, send messages to family, friends and even strangers – as well as a multitude of other things. Today, at least 20% WeChat users are using payment services on WeChat.All through a carefully curated list of service providers.
Anything so huge and successful is always destined to come under the spotlight of the State, – WeChat’s services are not only for the general consumer. Subsidised by the Chinese government since 2011 and aided by its ban of both Facebook (2009) and WhatsApp (2015), technology from Tencent has even been used by Chinese police to monitor crowds at public events, and today it is an accepted reality that officials censor and monitor the app’s users.
Now, as WeChat continues to grow into a huge part of Chinese life, it is poised to take on an even greater role: an initiative is underway to integrate WeChat with China’s electronic ID system. As of January this year, the platform has begun to issue virtual ID cards, which individuals would use in lieu of physical state-issued ID cards. The WeChat ID card can be used for purposes such as hotel registration, ticketing, bank services, and delivery services, where real-name authentication is required. Further, cementing WeChat as an integral part of Chinese society.
So what is the WeChat ecosystem? It is the growing all-round functionality and importance of a seven year old messaging app with a seemingly never ending selection of applications which dwarfs any other app on the planet.