A chat about WeChat – with Bamor in Beijing

von LEA BAUER am 13.10.2015

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Bamor is 31, born and raised in Beijing. She has a background in art and lives in a stunning apartment to the North-East of the center of the Chinese capital, on one of the many subway stations that is not to be found on any map older than 6 months. The city and it’s public transport system is trying to keep up with the lightening speed of growth and development in the area.

When I first met Bamor, I had just arrived in China by train and was lost. None of my “vital” apps that I use while travelling was working. No Google Maps, no Uber, no Gmail. And thanks to the Chinese Firewall, I had no way of accessing Google Play or iTunes to download local alternatives.

“No worries,” said Bamor, “I’ll ask a friend who downloads apps all the time.” She started exchanging voice messages with a friend, who promptly helped out with a couple of links. Voice messages, I learned during my stay with Bamor, is THE way to communicate. You record a message, your friend sends one back, you listen to it like you would listen to any voicemail message - by putting the phone to your ear. Basically, it’s a really drawn out phone conversation.

Why would you do that? “It’s really convenient. You don’t have to type, you can convey more than in a text message. It’s really quick.” I commented that nobody uses WhatsApp that way in Europe. “Oh, we don’t use WhatsApp. It’s all via WeChat. It’s like a mix of Facebook and WhatsApp” And Sina Weibo, the site that every tech article seems to reference as the go-to Chinese social platform? “No, we don’t really use that any more. WeChat is way better, because you can control privacy settings easily and make sure that your business contacts don’t see your private moments. Also I use it for news and stuff I’m interested in. See this?” She showed me a feed of posts on what seemed to be fashion and art topics. She clicked through to a gallery of items, and tapped on a hand bag. “I can buy it with a click”. “So you shop via WeChat?” I asked. “Yes, of course! I buy everything with it. It has a really great payment function, also for groups, when you want to send money to friends. It’s tied to your credit card. That’s why everyone uses it. Companies even send benefits to their employees through WeChat. And tonight for example, I ordered and paid my taxi with WeChat”. I was incredulous. “So WeChat is basically a combination of Snapchat, Facebook, RSSReader, Amazon, Uber and PayPal? And other useful stuff?”. “Yes. Didn’t you know that?”
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I didn’t. I had heard of WeChat before, but more as a side note - I guess I had never paid enough attention to understand what an impact this app has in a country of 1.4 billion people. I checked, and WeChat, which was released in 2011, has 1.1 billion registered accounts and 600 million monthly active users, 83% of which are from inside China (For more stats, click here). That’s insane! Bamor told me that people really started using it in the last two years, since the payment function was released. Basically, WeChat seems to cater to every smartphone user’s essential needs. Communication, Networking, Transport, Shopping, Entertainment and all sorts of other things a credit card could pay for. I’m wondering which app could claim that space outside of China. Apps we use only traditionally cater to a specific niche - and even though a lot of them try to broaden the service, none has managed to combine all of the use cases WeChat covers. The payment function certainly is key, and most difficult to replicate with regulation stifling banking innovation in the West. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see whether WeChat will catch on in the rest of the world, of whether an entirely new player will dominate our phones.

Lea Bauer ist als InnoLab-Korrespondentin auf der Suche nach spannenden Geschichten zur Mediennutzung, unterschiedlichen Kommunikationsformen und Tech-Trends rund um den Erdball. Ist WhatsApp eigentlich auch in China angesagt? Wie sieht es mit der Digitalisierung in der Mongolei aus? Und was ist die heißeste Innovation aus dem Silicon Valley? Lea berichtet in ihrer Kolumne von den Menschen, denen sie auf ihrer Reise begegnet und gibt wertvolle Einblicke in die Medienwelt außerhalb Deutschlands. Lea ist Absolventin des MBA Medienmanagement 2009 und hat danach vier Jahre bei Google gearbeitet. Weitere Infos zu ihrer Unternehmung könnt ihr auf Leas Blog nachlesen.