Musk’s designs for social media platform X may be inspired by the Chinese super app WeChat.
Musk has expressed a desire to transform X, formerly known as Twitter, into a “everything app.”
Musk stated in a blog post last week that the rebranded platform would offer “comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world” as an explanation for his decision to drop the Twitter name and avian logo.
Musk’s designs appear to be influenced by the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
WeChat, which combines social media, digital payments, internet browsing, and other features into a singular app, has become an integral part of daily life in China since its 2011 debut.
How did WeChat become so popular?
WeChat was effective in China for a number of reasons, but the launch timing was crucial.
Due to limited infrastructure and a sizable rural population, China had only 485 million internet consumers in 2011 out of a total population of 1.3 billion. Additionally, the country had a low credit card penetration, with most people relying on currency. At the time, the greatest denomination was 100 renminbi, or approximately $13.
WeChat and competing applications of a similar nature permitted users to access payment services and other features on their mobile devices. According to Kendra Schaeffer, head of tech policy research for Trivium China, Chinese consumers could “leapfrog” the era of desktop broadband and immediately transition to smartphones and apps.
“[WeChat] satisfies a social and economic context need. Schaeffer told Al Jazeera that the odds of a “everything app” succeeding in the United States, given the country’s vastly different internet landscape, are low if the concept is simply imported and replicated.
China’s internet ecosystem in 2011 was much smaller and more fragmented than that of the United States in 2023.
Additionally, the market is much more competitive. After the COVID-19 contagion, Musk’s super app will have to compete with TikTok, which plans to launch an e-commerce business in the United States, and the pervasiveness of Google Pay and Apple Pay.
Schaeffer stated that Musk must integrate a payment infrastructure into his super app – the “secret sauce for success” – if he wants his app to be successful. This would liberate users from clicking on third-party links, but US developers have yet to implement it.
“Chinese apps as a whole had figured something out and have executed on one particular thing that no US apps have ever done. None of the big US platforms have managed it, which is containing payment and shopping features in a social platform. We just haven’t succeeded at that,” Schaeffer said.
How did the Chinese government contribute to the success of WeChat?
WeChat’s success can be attributed in part to the support of the Chinese government, a force that is difficult to replicate in a US or Western context.
Beijing has banned foreign platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, while endorsing domestic applications such as WeChat that are conducive to social control and government censorship.
The majority of Chinese government departments and local governments use WeChat to disseminate information, including a recent appeal for citizens to join anti-espionage efforts and report suspicious activity.
What additional obstacles does Musk face?
Musk’s possession of the once-named Twitter social media platform has been turbulent.
Musk fired more than three-quarters of the company’s employees and introduced changes to moderation that have been blamed for an increase in hate speech on the platform and an exodus of advertisers after acquiring Twitter for $44 billion last year. The company’s subscription-based Twitter Blue service has struggled to attract users, and the rebranding to X has received widespread criticism.
The billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX acknowledged last month that the company’s advertising revenue had dropped approximately 50 percent and cash flow was negative, contrary to earlier predictions that the company would break even this year.
As Musk attempts to take X to the next level, he must also consider technical obstacles.
Liao stated that Musk will need to figure out how a presumably US-based super app would function on the back end, including handling issues such as currency selection, consumer data protection, and privacy – particularly if the app were to operate globally like Twitter.
It is unknown whether Musk’s “everything app” would launch only in the United States or in numerous regions simultaneously. WeChat has limited use outside of China and the benefit of only having to account to the Beijing government.
“It has not been made abundantly clear that this is a viable or promising model for the more liberal and consumer-rights-oriented Western markets,” Liao said.
The “super app” or “everything app” is viable, in my opinion. Some may question why we need to copy from China. Technically speaking, it’s just a concept. And if successful, it would generate enormous profits. Why not attempt to implement it then?
As with any enterprise, one may require time, competent labour, and capital. Money is obviously not an issue for Elon Musk. Therefore, it is only a matter of skill and vision for all the future programmers that Elon will hire to make the app a reality.
Elon Musk and other visionary programmers and intellectuals share the same vision as WeChat. Elon Musk and his team are only a matter of time away from implementing it. Additionally, Elon can hire directly from global competitors if he so chooses. This will reduce the amount of time required to implement best practises in the newly rebranded Twitter, specifically the X company. While you are reading this article, Elon Musk may be recruiting all the expert programmers from companies like WeChat.
By acquiring Twitter, Elon has already gained a competitive advantage among the multitudes, which number approximately 400 million users globally. Therefore, there is no need to delay in acquiring the company. Now, the obstacle is to make it profitable.
By renaming the company X, I believe Elon Musk is signalling to all consumers and stakeholders that something significant is on the horizon. A new vision and direction for the business.
What is that objective? To evolve into a “super-app” with relevance for the present and the future.