ELON MUSK’s “project x” team has started intense work behind the scenes to make a copy of China’s WeChat app for the western world.
Top executives are filing out of Twitter HQ in San Francisco, leaving the company’s arriving leaders free to follow their plans – first, to increase free speech on the app, and then make a concrete strategy to use it as an “accelerant” to the billionaire’s plan to replicate the success of the Chinese “everything app”, using the address “x . com”.
Well-placed sources indicate that rival tech chief Mark Zuckerberg is almost certainly looking at doing something similar, using a different web address.
Apple Inc also has a team copying elements from Chinese “everything app”, some of which have already been launched.
Top Twitter executives, including Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, today left the company, CNBC reported. Legal policy chief Vijaya Gadde has also been fired, the Washington Post is reporting.
MUSK: ‘YOU LIVE ON WECHAT’
WeChat, owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, works as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and PayPal rolled into one. It already has more than a billion users in mainland China and Hong Kong, and many further afield. Users can swap messages with friends, order lunch, buy clothes, and pay their utility bills, all without leaving the app.
At a meeting earlier this year, Musk said: “You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so usable and helpful to daily life, and I think if we can achieve that, or even get close to that at Twitter, it would be an immense success.”
FACEBOOK, APPLE, COPYING
Last year, journalist Jessica Lessin posted an article on Facebook called “What Facebook Should Learn from WeChat,” reprising a theme she had been using for years.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a comment that showed his agreement with her: “If only I’d listened to your advice four years ago …” He is believed to have a team working on monitoring this, although his public announcements have tended to focus on his interest in augmented reality.
Meanwhile, Apple has integrated Apple Pay into its iMessage system, in a straight copy of WeChat’s digital payment in messages function. Apple has also copied WeChat’s “mini-app” design, in which you can be on your favorite app but use functions from other apps when needed.
While analysts say Musk’s task won’t be easy, several have identified his reputation for free speech as a plus point that will attract users – especially those who have been banned from other platforms, Donald Trump being the most famous.
But other analysts say the opposite. China’s moderation systems, which require users to use their real names, are the essential key to making the everything app work. Nobody wants to buy, sell or take purchase orders from angry anonymous people, which unfortunately constitute a significant portion of Twitter’s user base. (These over-politicized anonymous people are the problem. The “bots” were never the problem.)
China is often rightly criticized for having a level of moderation of internet discussions that sometimes infuriates users and provides examples for Western critics who like to paint the country as a giant dystopian gulag. But in reality, the vast majority of internet exchanges (99% plus) have no problematic elements, and the good side of the moderation system is that there is a high level of trust in “the system”.
ALL ABOUT TRUST
Business analyst Xiaofeng Wang, at US research firm Forrester, told CNN that their studies had shown deep-rooted differences in how Western and Chinese users viewed social media, making it harder for Western companies “to build the same level of trust”.
Image at the top: @tencentlive_helper