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WeChat Timeline – History and Evolution of China’s Biggest App

arunrafi
WeChat Timeline - Evolution of China's biggest app.
WeChat App

If you are remotely related to tech then you have heard the name WeChat. I created this WeChat timeline for a quick understanding of its history and evolution.


2011, Jan, WeChat Launch

Weixin, micro letters.

Pain-point: The trouble of texting long messages. It came out with the outstanding function of sending a voice message.

At that time, three telecoms owned online messaging apps. Messaging was becoming very popular. That’s when Tencent bought the barrier down to make it interoperable by making it handset independent.

Whatsapp and Kik did the same in 2010.

2011, May, Voice Messaging

Typing in Mandarin is not the easiest thing to do. The voice messaging feature enabled a user’s phone to work like a walkie-talkie.

⭐ Daily user growth spurted from 10,000 to up to 60,000

Voice messaging was strategic because:

However, not everyone was on WeChat.

WeChat, like most social networks, realized that they need to solve for the issue of having zero friends on day one.

2011, July, People Nearby

WeChat launched the ‘People Nearby’ feature to solve for the no-friends problem. It allowed users to connect with the people around them.

The feature tapped into the voyeuristic behaviour of people to know what and who is around them. The location-enabled feature was a hit amongst young Chinese and also created a group feeling on the app.

⭐ This was a “game-changer” and pushed daily user growth to 100,000.

2011, Oct, Shake & Message in a Bottle

WeChat continued its transition towards a social media app with the launch of ‘Shake.’

Shake, as the name suggests, connected users who were shaking their phone at the same time.

‘Message in a Bottle’, enabled messages to be sent to random users.

Weixin becomes WeChat with hints of global aspirations.

2012, May, Moments

Moments was the first move towards a hybrid social platform in the WeChat timeline. This introduced the concept of social feed of your friends’ updates. This was tied to their contacts book which ensured that only the friends on the contact book are able to view contents and comments.

Moments was an important milestone in the WeChat timeline. The news feed-like feature made connecting with friends and contacts very easy.

Brands, soon, invade WeChat and there are QR codes everywhere!

2012, July, Calls

Voice and Video calls are now possible with WeChat. An underlying shift happened as China shifted from 2G to 3G networks.

2012, WeChat Official Accounts

WeChat Official Accounts or OAs as they are called are public accounts that could be used for gathering followers and broadcasting messages to them.

Akin to Instagram and Twitter, OAs seamlessly allowed the “one-way follow” which were important in celebrities coming to WeChat and getting subscribed to.

2013, August, Gaming and Payments

Social gaming introduced into WeChat. Users could play these games solo or with their friends. They could even use the shake feature to play with people nearby.

WeChat Wallet enabled users to pay through any Chinese-issued CC or DC, right from their mobile phone.

2014, January, Taxi

Taxi booking and payments connected with WeChat. Consumers could hail a taxi through the association with Didi Dache, without using cash. Customers and drivers were both incentivised to use WeChat Payments.

2014, February, Red Packets

Red Packets tapped into the Chinese tradition where the money is given to friends and family during special celebrations.

WeChat Red Packets enabled friends and family to send out and accept virtual credits which would be linked to the WeChat Pay account. This concept was soon gamified in multiple ways within the WeChat ecosystem.

Alibaba coined this as the ‘Pearl Harbor‘ moment.

2014, May, WeChat Stores

With OAs gaining traction, WeChat opened up their accounts to brands who could set up shops inside the WeChat ecosystem. WeChat Wallet powered the payments infrastructure.

2014, June, P2P Transfer

People could now send money to their friends and family right from their WeChat accounts. Slowly, WeChat was becoming the everyday app that you use to chat, play games, hail a cab, make payments, and transfer money to friends and family.

2014, Sep, In-store

Bonus on top of money transfers, now people could interact via WeChat instore too. The red packets boosted WeChat usage for payments. The in-store pay feature further enabled them to be China’s everyday app.

2015, Jan, Ads

Big brands buy ads in WeChat Moments feed. Allowed people to ‘like’ and ‘comment.’

2016, April, WeChat for Work

WeChat made an aggressive move into workspaces with WeChat Work. This would mean that they capture a larger portion of the day – at work and at home – for WeChat.

The Work version included the basic chat functions and work-features like clocking-in and out of your workspace and managing leave requests.

2017, Mini-programs

These were the sub-applications within the WeChat ecosystem. McDonald’s launched with coupon codes on mini-program reveal. This was seen as an evolution of its brand accounts. Mini-programs were seen as everything customers need from an app, without the fluff and could be setup easily.

This was the same time when Google also announced its focus on Progressive Web Apps. Mini-programs would go on to become an important moment in the WeChat timeline.

2017, Search

This allowed WeChat users to trawl through brand accounts, articles, and more. With a high amount of content, this became the equivalent of a search engine for WeChat.

2017, Instant Games

This was the same as mini-programs but for games. These mini-games fired up the awareness around mini-programmes. Tiao Yi Tiao – a simple jumping challenge – immediately goes viral within WeChat.

2019, August, Frog Pro

WeChat Pay in August announced “Frog Pro” system that allows users to make payments by simply scanning their faces — without the use of their mobile phones. A step towards seamless mobile payments.


User Growth

⭐ 2012 March – 100 million users

⭐ 2012 September – 200 million users

⭐ 2013 January – 300 million users

⭐ 2013 May – 190 million MAU

⭐ 2014 – 300 million MAU

⭐ 2015 March – 500 million MAU

⭐ 2016 March – 700 million MAU

⭐ 2017 Nov – 980 million MAU

⭐ 2018 Feb – 1000 million MAU

⭐ 2019 Dec – 1150 million MAU

Source: Statista WeChat Monthly Active Users

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