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WeChat is setting a blueprint for the world’s social networks

微信正在为全世界的社交网络勾画蓝图

For many people in China, WeChat is the internet.

对于许多中国人来说,微信就是互联网。

The all-encompassing app is the flagship product of Tencent, China’s $450-billion market cap gaming and social giant founded two decades ago. Since its launch in 2011, WeChat—known in China as Weixin—has evolved from a messaging app to a service platform. Its more than 1 billion users, mainly in China, find it hard to live without it.

这款无所不包的应用是腾讯的旗舰产品,腾讯是中国市值4500亿美元的游戏和社交巨头,成立于20年前。
自2011年推出以来,WeChat ( 在中国被称为微信 ) 已经从一款即时通讯应用发展成为一个服务平台,它超过10亿的用户主要在中国,在中国你会发现没有它很难生活。

The story of WeChat is the story of the emergence of China’s internet in the mobile and social era.

微信的故事是中国互联网在移动和社会时代崛起的故事。

In the 1990s, at the dawn of the internet age, websites for news and games were the go-to place on the internet for information in China—much like they were around the globe. Then in the 2000s, three new local companies—Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba—quickly harnessed the power of the Chinese internet, dominating the search, communication, and e-commerce industries, respectively. From 2010, smartphone sales in China took off, paving the way for the emergence of a unified platform where people can accomplish a mind-boggling number of tasks with just a few taps.

上世纪90年代,互联网时代刚刚兴起,新闻和游戏网站是中国人在互联网上获取信息的首选场所——就像全球各地一样。
然后在2000年代,三家新的本土公司——百度、腾讯和阿里巴巴——迅速驾驭了中国互联网,分别主导了搜索、通信和电子商务行业。
从2010年开始,智能手机在中国的销售开始腾飞,为一个统一平台的出现铺平了道路,在这个平台上,人们只需点击几下,就可以完成数量惊人的任务。



When WeChat launched in January 2011, around two months after the product team started building the software, it received lukewarm reactions. To the early users—primarily people working in the internet industry—the chat function alone wasn’t very attractive, Zhang recalled in the company’s official history, Tencent Biography: 1998-2016, because SMS messages had become more affordable by that point. It was the “push to talk” function that helped WeChat survive at first. Another WeChat product team member later recalled that without that feature, WeChat could have been dead (lix in Chinese) before October that year.

当微信在2011年1月推出时,也就是产品团队开始开发这款软件的两个月后,反响平平。
在腾讯的官方历史《 腾讯传记: 1998-2016》中,张回忆说,对于早期用户(主要是在互联网行业工作的人) 来说,单独的聊天功能并不是很有吸引力,因为当时的短信已经变得很普遍。
起初,正是“推动对话”功能帮助微信生存下来,另一位微信产品团队成员后来回忆说,如果没有这个功能,微信可能在当年10月之前就死了。

WeChat really became popular because of its ability to connect strangers. In 2011, WeChat rolled out its “shake” feature, which allowed users to shake their phones and connect with other users who were doing the same at that moment. That’s an inspiration from QQ’s “drift bottle,” a hookup feature allowing users to “throw” bottles containing either a text or voice message into a virtual ocean or “pick up” floating ones on QQ’s email service.

微信之所以受欢迎,是因为它可以连接陌生人。
2011年,微信推出了“摇一摇”功能,允许用户抖动手机,并与当时正在摇一摇手机的其他用户建立联系。
这个灵感来自 QQ 的“漂流瓶” ,这个勾搭功能允许用户将装有文字或语音信息的瓶子“扔”到虚拟的海洋中,或者在 QQ 的电子邮件服务中“捡起”漂浮的瓶子。

Before WeChat took off, Zhang created a free email service (tweet in Chinese) that Tencent acquired in 2005. Zhang was known within Tencent for two things—he liked smoking cigarettes (lix in Chinese) from the American brand Kent, and he was a good tennis player (lix in Chinese).

在微信起步之前,张创建了一个免费的电子邮件服务,腾讯在2005年收购了这个服务。
在腾讯内部,张因两件事而闻名:他喜欢抽美国牌子 Kent 的香烟 ; 他是一名优秀的网球运动员。

And yet, in 2012, a little over a year after it launched, WeChat had reached 100 million users. It took Facebook four years, and Twitter five years, to get to similar figures.

2012年,微信上线仅仅一年多一点,就已经拥有了1亿用户,脸书花了四年时间,推特花了五年时间才达到类似的数量级。



The three battles that shaped WeChat

塑造微信的三场战役

It was a small team, seemingly out of nowhere, that helped Shenzhen-based Tencent leapfrog its competitors. Three crucial battles shaped the Tencent—and Chinese internet—we know today.

帮助总部位于深圳的腾讯超越竞争对手的,似乎是一个不知从何而来的小团队。三场关键的战役造就了今天的腾讯和中国互联网。

The first one, known as “the 3Q big battle,” was between WeChat’s computer-based predecessor, QQ, and the anti-virus service Qihoo 360. QQ was Tencent’s first popular instant messaging product with a key function of connecting virtual strangers—vital at a time when millions of young people were leaving their homes to work in cities where they knew no one.

第一次被称为“3Q 大战” ,是微信的前身 QQ 和反病毒服务奇虎360之间的较量。
QQ 是腾讯第一款受欢迎的即时通讯产品,其关键功能是连接虚拟陌生人---- 在数百万年轻人离家到陌生城市工作的时候,这一功能至关重要。

In 2010, Qihoo360 accused QQ of scanning users’ private data. Tencent responded by stopping services to those among the 600 million QQ users—nearly half of China’s population at the time—who had installed Qihoo’s software on their computers. One enterprising firm came up with a patch to allow people to keep using both.

2010年,奇虎360指责 QQ 扫描用户私人数据,腾讯的回应是,停止向那些在自己电脑上安装了奇虎360软件的6亿 QQ 用户(占当时中国人口的近一半) 提供服务, 一家有创业精神的公司设法开发了一个补丁,让人们可以继续使用这两种产品。

That tussle was instrumental in moving China’s internet giants beyond looking only at personal computers for building their user bases, according to Tencent Biography. QQ was able to gain hundreds of millions of users at a time when computers were still rare—there were only around 5.7 computers per 100 people in China in 2006. QQ offered a blueprint for “stickiness” and revenue via gaming and top-up services that WeChat could build on in the mobile era.

根据腾讯传记,这场争斗促使中国的互联网巨头不再仅仅依靠个人电脑来建立用户基础。
在电脑还很少见的时候,QQ 就能获得数亿用户,2006年,中国每100人只有5.7台电脑,QQ通过游戏和充值服务为微信在移动时代提供了“粘性”和收入的蓝图。



The next major battle for Tencent was with Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging site run by Sina, one of the three major news portals, around 2010 (lix in Chinese). Tencent had tried building its own microblog, Tencent Weibo, but it was losing out to Weibo as China’s preferred public sphere.

腾讯的下一场大战是在2010年左右与新浪微博 ( Weibo ) 的较量。
新浪微博是三大新闻门户网站之一,与 Twitter 类似,腾讯曾试图建立自己的微博——腾讯微博,但是它正在输给微博,微博成为中国首选的公共话题广场。



The third battle, still ongoing, is between payment giant Ant Financial’s Alipay and WeChat.

第三场战斗仍在继续,那就是支付巨头蚂蚁金服的支付宝和微信之间的战斗。

In 2013, WeChat launched a feature that allowed users to put money into a “digital wallet” (lix in Chinese). Now Alipay—developed under e-commerce giant Alibaba, with whom Tencent has fought a fierce, cash-burning battle for years—and WeChat are in a kind of duopoly (Quartz member exclusive) in China’s digital currency market. WeChat Wallet is “the Trojan horse that allows WeChat to quickly onboard user payment credentials that then unlock new monetization opportunities for the entire ecosystem,” wrote Connie Chan, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, in 2015. WeChat Wallet has meant that merchants with WeChat accounts are able to sell products and services easily.

2013年,微信推出了一项功能,允许用户将钱存入“数字钱包”,现在,在电子商务巨头阿里巴巴旗下开发的支付宝和微信在中国数字货币市场处于双寡头垄断地位。
多年来,腾讯与阿里巴巴一直在进行激烈的烧钱战,2015年,硅谷风险投资公司硅谷风险投资公司Andreessen Horowitz 的合伙人 Connie Chan 写道:
微信钱包是一个“微信支付工具,允许微信快速搭载用户支付凭证,然后为整个生态系统开启新的盈利机会。”微信钱包意味着拥有微信账号的商家可以轻松地销售产品和服务。

In February 2018, WeChat reached 1 billion registered users (lix in Chinese). It also recorded 1.2 billion daily transactions (lix in Chinese) by the end of last year. At Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in 2018, Warren Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger noted the threat WeChat posed to credit cards and other payment handlers, saying: “We have a big position in American Express, and there is one tiny cloud on the horizon of the payments processors and that is the system of WeChat in China.” Big financial companies seem to both respect and fear (Quartz member exclusive) China’s online payment systems.

2018年2月,微信的注册用户达到了10亿,截至去年年底,该应用每天的交易量也达到了12亿次。
2018年的伯克希尔·哈撒韦年会上,Warren Buffett 的商业伙伴 Charlie Munger 指出了微信对信用卡和其他支付处理者造成的威胁,他说: “ 我们在American Express占有很大的份额,在支付处理者的视野中有一小片云彩,那就是中国的微信系统。” 大型金融公司似乎对中国的在线支付系统既敬畏又害怕。



“One man’s meat is another man’s poison”

”一个人的美食,是另一个人的毒药 ”

It’s simply hard to imagine a world without WeChat.

很难想象一个没有微信的世界。

“You can hardly get by without a smartphone or WeChat these days in China,” said Ruan, the Citizen Lab researcher. “WeChat’s monopoly over the Chinese internet also makes it nearly impossible for average users to negotiate their rights with the platform… However, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

“ 如今在中国,没有智能手机或微信很难生活,”公民实验室研究 Ruan 说
“微信对中国互联网的垄断也使得普通用户几乎不可能与平台协商自己的权利...... 然而,一个人的美食,是另一个人的毒药 。”



Will WeChat lead the next phase of the internet?
WeChat has been able to stave off any serious competition over the last eight years—but products from ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup, may finally be making Tencent nervous.

微信会引领互联网的下一个阶段吗?
在过去的八年里,微信一直能够避开任何激烈的竞争——但是字节跳动,这个世界上最有价值的创业公司的产品,可能最终会让腾讯感到紧张。

China’s obsession with short videos has made ByteDance’s Douyin massively popular, especially among younger users. (Douyin had 500 million monthly active users (lix in Chinese) as of 2018). Because people are spending more time live-streaming, users’ time on WeChat dropped by 3.6% between 2017 and 2018. Douyin’s overseas version, TikTok, appears to have achieved liftoff outside China more quickly than WeChat did, with the app gaining more than 200 million users (paywall) in India alone since its global debut two years ago. Compare that to WeChat’s overseas users, which reached 70 million in 2013 (lix in Chinese); the company told Quartz it doesn’t break out those figures anymore.

中国对短视频的痴迷使得字节跳动的抖音大受欢迎,尤其是在年轻用户中。 ( 2018年,抖音每月有5亿活跃用户)。
由于人们花在直播上的时间越来越多,从2017年到2018年,用户在微信上的时间下降了3.6% 。
抖音的海外版本“ TikTok”在中国以外的发展似乎比微信更快,自两年前在全球推出以来仅在印度就获得了超过2亿用户 ,相比之下,微信的海外用户在2013年才7000万,该公司告诉 Quartz 不再提供这些数据。

“WeChat is more functional, Douyin is more entertainment-driven,” noted Wilfred Wang, a media researcher at Australia’s Monash University, who said he’s “a bit skeptical about these platforms such as Douyin—can they last, how well can they last? The longevity will be shorter than something like WeChat.”

“微信更实用,抖音更娱乐化,”澳大利亚蒙纳士大学大学媒体研究员 Wilfred Wang 指出,他说他“ 对抖音这样的平台持怀疑态度——它们能持续多久? 它们的寿命会比微信短。”

Still, WeChat’s latest moves clearly target Douyin. Late last year, it rolled out a video-streaming feature. WeChat has also blocked access to TikTok using WeChat accounts. Users were unable to log into TikTok using WeChat at one point. And Tencent forbids direct video shares from Douyin to WeChat, a reprise of Tencent’s tactics against Qihoo nearly a decade ago. In a four-hour-long speech (lix in Chinese) in January, WeChat’s creator Zhang talked about the platform’s plans for the next eight years and insisted that WeChat doesn’t have any competitors. “If there’s a competitor, it’s ourselves… WeChat has no anxiety,” he said.

不过,微信的最新举动显然是针对抖音的。
去年年底,它推出了一个视频流媒体功能,微信也封锁了使用微信账号访问抖音的途径,用户一度无法使用微信登录抖音。
此外,腾讯禁止从抖音分享视频到微信,这是腾讯近10年前对奇虎采取的战术的翻版。
今年1月,在长达4小时的演讲中,微信创始人张小龙谈到了该平台未来8年的计划,并坚称微信没有任何竞争对手。
“如果有竞争对手,那就是我们自己...... 微信没有焦虑 ”他说。