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English>>China Society

A new 'Wei' to relate

By Xu Lin  (China Daily)

09:28, September 22, 2012

Yu Rong was at a loss after becoming separated from her friends on the streets of Paris in September.

The 26-year-old took out her mobile, logged into a free wifi in a cafe and sent a voice message to her friends via Weixin, an instant messaging application that is booming in popularity.

"Thanks to Weixin, I found my friends. Moreover, it's very expensive to send text messages or make phone calls when abroad," said Yu, who works in a magazine in Beijing.

Developed by Tencent, the company behind QQ, China's most popular instant messaging service, Weixin is a new social networking application for mobile users. It allows people to send texts, images, videos and voice messages, and also automatically puts people in touch with anyone else who has a Weixin application open within 1 km.

Since its introduction in January last year, Weixin has been receiving mixed reviews. Like many applications Tencent has developed, it started as a copycat — a clone of Talkbox, an instant voice messaging startup from Hong Kong — and has since grown into "an integration of voice-chatting Kik messenger, image-sharing Instagram, random friend finder Four Square and Facebook Lite", as Internet observer Cheng Lingfeng calls it.

But its sweeping popularity is undeniable.

In March, 13 months after its introduction, it reached 100 million users, a record for a smartphone app. In the following six months, the number continued to snowball.

On Sept 12, Ma Huateng, Tencent's CEO, predicted the user population would double within days. Five days later, the prediction became reality.

"Weixin, 200 million users already," Ma announced on Sept 17.

That's more than half of the 368 million users of Sina Weibo, China's most popular micro-blogging service, or two-thirds of the US population.

This makes Tencent the biggest player in the country's sweltering mobile Internet market — China registered 388 million mobile web users as of July, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Insiders attribute much of Weixin's success to the 700 million registered users of QQ, as a QQ account is a way to log in. It also helps new users build a new network via their phone books.

Xu Xuezuo, 54, from Hubei province, used to rack up a big bill calling his daughter in Beijing each day, but since his daughter taught him how to use Weixin in February, his mobile fees have decreased.

He also uses Weixin to communicate with his young colleagues, who think he's really cool as people of his age rarely uses such applications.

"I prefer short audio messages to text messages because my eyesight is not as good as when I was young and I type slowly with my mobile. I also want to learn Weixin's video chat function so that I can see my daughter," Xu said. "Just like my father left me a message at home when he went to do farmwork, now I leave text and voice messages for my daughter online. It bonds us."

For Yu, Weixin means more than a way to locate friends when she gets lost abroad.

She uses it to share her photos, chat with friends and even discuss work with colleagues.

"It is now part of my life," she said.

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