Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chinese messaging app WeChat gains ground elsewhere

Chinese internet companies have long struggled to establish their products beyond the country's borders. In 2007, China's dominant search engine, Baidu, announced an ambitious plan to break into the Japanese search engine market; as of last year, the company said it had lost more than $108 million trying. 

WeChat, a mobile messaging application created by Tencent Holdings, China's largest internet company, is aggressively trying to buck the trend and establish itself in the expanding global market for smartphone apps. 
Based on some analysts' predictions, the company may actually have a shot. WeChat is most often likened to WhatsApp, a smartphone application popular in the United States that allows users to send text, image or audio messages for free to other subscribers. 

But WhatsApp's Chinese counterpart is quickly moving beyond simple multimedia instantmessaging. In the last few months, it has announced a steady stream of new features that many say surpass those offered by WhatsApp and Asian competitors like Kakao Talk and LINE. 

"I use WeChat for messaging and group chatting, but I've also started getting into its social network," said Kate Wan, a 29-year-old media professional in Beijing, referring to WeChat "Moments," a feature that allows users to post pictures and update their online status. "It's become a huge part of my daily life." 

Since the introduction of the application in January 2011, WeChat, known as Weixin in Chinese, has grown at a blistering pace. 

In September, Pony Ma, Tencent's chief executive, announced that its user base had doubled to 200 million from 100 million in six months. Tencent is vying to make WeChat the dominant global mobile messaging application. The app is available in eight languages, including Russian, Indonesian, Portuguese and Thai, and there are plans to expand into other languages. 

"The Chinese internet market is so set apart from other countries that we inside the industry refer to it as the Galapagos Island syndrome," said Kai Lukoff, the editor of TechRice, a China-focused technology blog based in Beijing. 

"Domestic internet products are extremely well adapted to the Chinese market, but they are way out of place for global users."

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