Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has implicitly admitted he wants to learn from China’s WeChat. Marketing expert Ashley Dudarenok sees here a pivotal moment where a leading US platform starts to learn and copy from China’s success story, she explains in the South China Morning Post.
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.
From 2013 onwards, China’s digital universe ramped up.Mobile payments boomed and start-ups sprang up bringing convenient e-commerce, mobile payment systems that worked just as swiftly online and off, and on-demand services available with the click of a few buttons. Linking it all together was the super app WeChat, with its estimated 1 billion-plus active accounts.
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.
Within China, WeChat has been able to achieve this not by restricting access (with theexception of competitors such as Alibaba and sites already blocked by the Chinese government) but by creating more pathways. It hasn’t created a smaller internet, but a more connected one, available in one place, centred on personal needs and daily use…For many years, globalisation has meant the global adoption of Western ways. Now it’s obvious that China is taking a leading role and repositioning itself on the world stage. According to a McKinsey report, a large part of China’s outbound investment focuses on manufacturing, AI and the internet of things. In the past decade, China’s internet giants have built their own AI labs and invested aggressively in AI companies around the world.
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