Caixin
Jan 10, 2020 08:04 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

WeChat Creator’s Annual Speech Gives Peek at Super App’s 2020 Plans

Zhang has become well-known for giving marathon speeches at the annual conference — his 2019 effort lasted four hours.
Zhang has become well-known for giving marathon speeches at the annual conference — his 2019 effort lasted four hours.

In his much-anticipated message to Tencent’s annual Wechat developer conference, the engineer who headed up the development of the ubiquitous app said that the app will plow more resources into improving some of its existing functions – such as mini programs and search.

Despite being an obscure figure outside China, Zhang Xiaolong has become an icon in the country’s tech community for his role in creating the app, which boasts over 1 billion users.

While Zhang has become well-known for giving marathon speeches at the annual conference — his 2019 effort lasted four hours and touched on almost every aspect of the app — this year he actually skipped attending the Thursday conference in Guangzhou and instead posted a 12 minute speech online.

Since its launch in 2011, WeChat has grown from being an instant messaging platform to a “super app” that includes a wide range of features including mobile payment and video conferencing. Zhang said the next step for the app, though, will not be to grow its user base by launching new functions but instead to identify “what’s worth doing and how to plow resources into doing it.”

Two areas Zhang mentioned are WeChat’s mini-programs and its search function.

Mini-programs — lightweight apps that run inside WeChat — were launched in 2017 and touted as new tools for businesses and brands to tap into WeChat’s large user base. After a slow start, they appear to be gaining traction, with Tencent announcing on Thursday that they have over 300 million daily active users and generated 800 billion yuan ($115 billion) of revenue in 2019, more than double the previous year’s figure.

The search function has also grown in importance to WeChat in recent years, as the amount of user-generated content being shared on the app has grown. This has posed a growing challenge to China’s dominant search provider Baidu, which is cut off from WeChat’s internal content.

Zhang said WeChat still faces a lot of obstacles to perfecting its search function, including making content within mini-programs searchable for users. He said the app will work on solving this problem while continuing to funnel resources into persuading more companies to roll-out mini-programs.

Contact reporter Mo Yelin (yelinmo@caixin.com)

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