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Let’s talk about WeChat

WeChat is the most popular — by far — instant messaging app* in China. Everybody and their grandma has it. Got a smartphone? Got WeChat. Don’t got a smartphone? Still got WeChat. Yeah, I had WeChat before I even got my iPhone. It currently has 500 million monthly active users, most of them in — you guessed it — mainland China. For reference, WhatsApp has 700 million MAUs, while Facebook Messenger has 600 million. I don’t use the former, and the latter is blocked in China.

Obviously, then, I can’t compare these apps, so I can’t say which is better or worse. My understanding, though, is that WeChat is sort of like WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Vine, Tinder, Venmo, everything, all rolled into one and has far and away the most features. You can play games and buy things straight from the app, transfer money and documents to friends, and all that jazz. It is the little messaging app that could.

But as I’m hardly the social technology type, I am a bit confused about all the functions of WeChat. I just know that when I do use it, I have to go looking for all the functions because the app is really counter-intuitive. Maybe I am not thinking like a Chinese. I don’t know! But please, why?

  • Why is it so easy to add a contact and yet so hard to delete one? I can add contacts from both the main page (“WeChat”) and the contacts page, and there are, like, 50 gazillion ways to find them. But I can’t delete a contact straight from the chat page or my contacts list. I have to hunt them down in my contacts list, click on their profile, tap the “…” at the top of the page — WTF is “…”? It could be anything! But it turns out it’s “Settings” — and only then can I find the big red “Delete” button at the bottom of the page. This is a lot of search-and-finding work. Right? Am I crazy? Is this where you would expect a Delete Contact button? As opposed to, I don’t know, for example, just swiping right from the contact list page.
  • While we’re on the topic of contacts, why aren’t all my “Official Account” contacts grouped under Subscriptions? How does an official account get grouped under Subscriptions? Why can’t I just put them there myself? Now I just have some random businesses hanging out amid all my chats with friends, and it’s freaking out my OCD.
  • Another thing that freaks out my OCD: Why are posts called “Moments” on the “Moments” page, but when I go to the “Me” page to see what are ostensibly my own moments, they are simply called “My Posts”? But I can post picture moments from both pages.
  • However, I can post text-only moments only from the Moments page. And even then it’s a challenge: to post a moment, you just tap the camera icon in the top right corner, and then a menu pops up for you to select from your photos or take a picture. There’s even an option called “Sight,” which, without clicking on it, do you have any idea what it could be? It’s six-second video. Why is it called sight, other than because it’s Chinese? Anyway, back to text moments. You have to tap and hold the camera icon until it pops up with the Text box. What a way to bury this function.
  • Why can’t I add more than nine photos to a single “Moments” post? Is it because none of my friends would want to see more than nine pictures (probably, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share more than nine pictures with them!)? And why can’t I add separate captions to each photo in a single moment? I suppose if I think like a Chinese for a moment, I can kind of see why. On Chinese news sites, if you find an article with a bunch of photos, you’ll see that photos are on their own individual pages but usually have the same caption. And each photo is kind of the same anyway.
  • I figured out where to see all notifications of friends who have liked or commented on my moments/posts (via “…” again). But where can I find all my comments and likes of my friends’ moments?
  • Why doesn’t the location feature work? WeChat only finds locations near my current physical location. What if I am posting a picture from an earlier time? (I always forget to post pictures in the moment!) My photos are geotagged. Can’t WeChat just read that?
  • Why can’t I share my friends’ moments? For a social networking app, this seems really weird to me. Sharing is caring. Caring is popularity. Popularity is power. Am I missing something, or is this non-feature something deliberate to prevent the spread of rumors?**

Anyway, I obviously have quite different usage requirements than many other WeChat users. The wonders of WeChat have not failed to impress many breathless users, even those in the West. I can definitely see how WeChat’s multiple features are all useful, but so far I haven’t needed to use most of them. Right now, I just want to share my friends’ moments!

* Did you know? Chinese people also use the word “app” for apps, except they write it as “APP” and say A-P-P, instead of, you know, just “app.” Kind of like how they call spas “SPA.”

** One of WeChat’s best features is the privacy. Not from the CCP censors, obviously, but from other users. Not only are your posts automatically visible to only your contacts (unlike on Facebook, where you have to go to your privacy settings to select this option), comments and likes are also visible to only you (as well as any friends you may have in common with the commenter/liker). This removes a lot of social pressure and prevents the Moments page from becoming a popularity contest. Really, it gives users that much more privacy. Obviously, this feature would naturally prevent your contacts from being able to share your posts with their own contacts. Most of the time, you probably wouldn’t want them to. But sometimes — for example, in a recent case where I wanted to share an event posted by Boyfriend — sharing would be a good thing as it would help to generate buzz. If each person separately posts about the event, with their separate circles seeing one post in isolation, it would seem like a rather lame event. It’s possible to share content from Official Accounts, which keeps track of page views and likes, but what if the organizer does not have an official account? I’m just saying, it would be nice to at least have the option to enable a moment to be shared by others.

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