Elon Musk has teased something called “X, the everything app”. It could look a lot like Chinese super-app WeChat.
Musk didn’t provide many details beyond a one-line tweet. But the Tesla Inc. impresario has openly admired the Tencent Holdings Ltd. app that’s grown from a messaging service to a mini-internet used daily by more than a billion Chinese.
He’s mused aloud about making Twitter more useful, indicating he wants it to be more like WeChat and TikTok, the video-sharing service owned by ByteDance Ltd. that’s taken off across the US. And he’s drawn parallels to so-called super apps common in parts of Asia, letting people use a single smartphone application for a range of services from communications to summoning a car.
Here’re five things about WeChat that could serve as a template for Musk: It’s much more than social media. A true super-app, hundreds of millions use WeChat daily to book rides, make dining reservations, order food. That’s possible through a vibrant network of “mini programs” or lite apps that connect directly to WeChat’s interface. WeChat is a fintech titan, one of China’s biggest payments and online finance networks. Users send each other money, pay for goods and services, and even borrow money. It’s one of the country’s most popular news and entertainment portals. As in the US, many younger users increasingly get much of their news through their social media feeds, just even more so in China. Businesses use it too. The WeChat mini-programs economy is worth roughly $240 billion and grew about 12.5% to 450 million users in 2021. In short, WeChat functions as an all-in-one service — combining the uses of apps like Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Instagram and Substack. At Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in August, Musk stressed that he uses Twitter a lot and that he has ideas on ways to make the platform “radically better.” He compared his ambitions for Twitter with the vision he had for X, a financial services company he co-founded in 1999.
There’s one thing though that Musk — an advocate for internet freedoms — is unlikely to take a page from. WeChat is heavily monitored and censored: armies of AI and human moderators help ensure it’s clean of content the ruling Communist Party deems undesirable. That’s everything from lewd posts to dissent and criticism of the government.
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