James - What do you see WeChat as a replacement for? Texting? IM?
Is it technologically superior to tools that we're using now in the US?
Often social media takes off for reasons having nothing to do with which is the better technology.
I remember when MySpace came out I was discussing it with someone who was, then and now, one of the most popular bloggers in the world. Neither one of us really got it. You could blog, and share photos, and send messages to each other. You could do all those things before social media -- so what was so great about MySpace?
What we did not understand is that it wasn't about the technology. Or maybe it was, partly -- it was about having the tools to do those things all in one place. Techies underestimate how much normal people prefer suites to piecing together their own sets of tools.
I tried some translation apps, but didn't have much success with them, because I often got gobblygook on either side. I had more success with WeChat for translation -- I'd ask friends to text me the Chinese characters for a place I was going, for example, or as I mentioned, say some words I needed to convey in Chinese via the voice messaging system.
Ah, well, you're not alone! Additionally, what about a translator app? I think that will definitely come in handy. About the air quality app: I LOLed at first, before I realized that you had a valid point. And as your title says, it definitely does say a lot about China.
I think there's a very good chance WeChat could become huge in the US. As I said, it's a very well-localized product, Plus TenCent is spending a lot of money marketing it in non-Chinese sectors, and it's becoming popular in places outside of China -- wider Asia, Brazil, parts of Europe, etc. That'll help create a networking effect that brings more Americans into using it; they are starting to directly promote it in the US, too. Not to mention Chinese-Americans using it to connect with relatives and friends in China, and who also introduce it to their US friends and family.
As a social media experience, WeChat is kind of a cross between Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (since a lot of users share pictures shot on their phone). Also, the popular What's App (which WeChat just eclisped in userbase, I believe.) I actually like Weixin better than Twitter and Facebook, because it gives you more privacy and control over your network, while also being much more feature robust.
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