WeChat founder Allen Zhang (Zhang Xiaolong) gave a speech at WeChat’s Open Class Pro event early this year, he asserted that the value that mobile apps can deliver via improved services is limitless. And, WeChat is expanding to revolve around different standalone apps, such as the mobile app for reading books WeRead, and will try different services that are independent of but related to WeChat.
If you’d like to get into the head of Allen Zhang, you can read the official translation by WeChat team of his speech below. He shared design principles and changes, WeChat history, driving forces, mini-programs, social interactions, numbers of users, and the future.
Caution: this article is over 7,000-words long. For CIW Standard (annual) and CIW Premium subscribers, you can download the pdf and send to your iBook or Kindle.
Good evening everyone! I’m Allen Zhang.
We just looked at some complaints (on screen). Very good, because every day I hear complaints, I’m already used to it. I feel that in China, every day there are 500 million people saying we are not doing well and 100 million people wanting to teach me how to make products. I think this is very normal. But I’m not here to teach everyone how to make products.
I feel this year was special, WeChat’s eighth year. In August, WeChat’s daily login rate surpassed one billion. This is a momentous milestone, possibly the first Chinese app to reach one billion daily active users. We never released such information before. Maybe to us it was just a matter of time, but to a mobile product developer, it is still an achievement worth celebrating.
Design Principles and Changes
My friend once told me: “In the internet industry, WeChat is a different breed.” What he meant was that WeChat is different from other products. I was shocked, and at the same time very proud.
I was proud because “a different breed” meant WeChat is one of a kind, and even outstanding. But I was shocked because WeChat is only dedicated to making a good product — and because of that we are one of a kind? It is because many products do not see themselves as “products”, and don’t see users as “users”. At WeChat, we have merely done these basic two things.
WeChat is different from many products, as exhibited in many aspects. For example, when it comes to Chinese New Year, many apps will change their logo and interface to red and yellow for the holiday, making it look like stir-fried eggs and tomatoes. However, WeChat doesn’t do that. Many people ask us why we insist on not doing it.
Currently, WeChat has reached one billion DAU (daily active users). Because of this, I’m actually more willing to spend some time talking in-depth about WeChat’s origin and core ideas to help explain our thought process behind WeChat.
Honestly, sometimes I just want to ask everyone: What kind of product is considered a good product? One with lots of users? One that is addictive? Or what?
I remember a few years back, we were playing with Apple’s iPhone and analyzing how such a good product was designed. I remember there was a German product designer, Dieter Rams, who came up with ten principles of good design; he was also highly regarded by Apple.
I will list these ten principles for everyone. Think about these in the context of WeChat, it’s very interesting:
- The first is a good product is innovative; it must have creativity.
- The second is it is useful.
- The third is it is beautiful.
- The fourth is it is easy to use.
- The fifth is it is unobtrusive, modest.
- The sixth is it is honest.
- The seventh is it is timeless; it won’t become outdated.
- The eighth is it doesn’t skip over any small details.
- The ninth is it is environmentally friendly and does not waste any resources.
- The tenth is it is not overly designed, meaning ‘less is more’.
Many would think that these principles are only suitable for Apple because they design and produce physical products, but users’ interactions with software products are much more frequent.
If you give users instruction, they will follow it. Users do what you prompt them to do. Both hardware and software products are essentially tools, so principles for tool design are applicable.
The reason why I highlighted these principles is that I believe that many products in the industry do not emphasize product design, or rather that product design is not their objective – design is just used to pad out a feature or squeeze profits from users.
WeChat never changes their logo or icon for holidays, many people will say that WeChat is practicing “self-restraint”. However, this decision doesn’t at all come from “self-restraint”, but rather it stems from our conviction towards good design principles. We will not make any changes that will damage the aesthetics of our product.
I noticed that in various industries when a product manager graduates and starts working, the company will misguide them. Because the company’s objective is to increase traffic and make money, hence everyone’s KPI is also to increase traffic and make money. This means the product manager’s work objective is not to create the best product, but to use whatever means necessary to obtain traffic.
We don’t support this way. What we advocate more is to use WeChat to create good products for our users.
I’m grateful for my past experience – from the PC era creating Foxmail, and later QQMail, to the smartphone era creating WeChat – because I’ve experienced many, many products. It’s to the point that my gut can tell what is a good product and what isn’t, which helps guide me in creating products.
Once I asked my colleagues a question: “In the PC era, what page has the most views?” The answer is Internet Explorer’s 404 error page. Then I asked, “Why didn’t Microsoft put an ad on the page?” My colleagues couldn’t answer. This question is very meaningful, right? Why didn’t Microsoft place an ad on a page with such high traffic? Why doesn’t WeChat place an ad on its startup page? Everyone can think about this.
WeChat is eight years old. Think for a second, how much time do you spend on WeChat every day? Do you spend more time with your closest family and friends, or with WeChat? If WeChat was a person, certainly it would be your best friend, that’s why you’re willing to spend so much time on it. Then, how could I stick an ad on your best friend’s face? Every time you saw him, you would have to watch an ad before you could talk to him.
Interestingly, because we stick to our principles, we must change many things… The important thing is that we make sure our products adapt to the era we are in, rather than failing to adapt it out of fear that users will complain.
Interestingly, because we stick to our principles, we must change many things.
This reminds me of the major change we made in WeChat version 7.0’s user interface. Many users complained, saying that they weren’t used to it.
Actually, any major updates will always cause user dissatisfaction because people are used to whatever they are familiar with, and whatever they are familiar with is the best. We can’t poll one billion users to decide what is good. So, how do we improve our design through such changes, making sure that the change is for the better? These decisions must follow good principles.
Just like WeChat version 7.0, we spent a very long time on it; I kept switching my own WeChat back and forth between the old and new versions. After a while, I wasn’t willing to switch back to the old version.
Maybe users can’t accept the new version right away, but I believe that after they become familiar with it, they will accept it. The important thing is that we make sure our products adapt to the era we are in, rather than failing to adapt it out of fear that users will complain.
Especially regarding UI, we can never please everyone. But we can make the product more beautiful, adapting it to or even shaping our users’ aesthetic preferences, instead of lagging behind.
Many people have probably heard this story before, but back then, I wrote an email to Pony [Ma Huateng] about creating WeChat. This is a true story, though there are also some made-up stories out there, like that we went to some temple…
Anyway, thinking back to that email, from time to time I experienced a kind of post-event fear – if I didn’t send that email that night, and I went to shoot some pool instead, then there probably would be no WeChat or another team in the company might have made a different WeChat.
I find that many ideas come suddenly as if God has programmed code and puts it in your mind at the right time.
But that doesn’t mean traces of the idea for WeChat can’t be found before that moment. A year before WeChat was released, we had made QQMail into China’s most popular email provider. We tried many new things with it, such as Message in a Bottle, and I also spent a year designing Reading Corner in the email inbox.
Subsequently, a lot of our later WeChat products have borne some traces of QQMail, such as Subscription Accounts and Moments. We experimented with different methods of social interaction in QQMail’s Reading Corner; based on a social form of reading, friends could share and discuss articles with friends.
But Reading Corner was only a small part of the email inbox, so not many people used it. It got to the point where we felt we had reached the limits of the product and that it was time to change direction.
When Kik came out, I realized there was an opportunity – this opportunity did not necessarily just stem from Kik as a product, but it came from me starting to use a smartphone, and from the lack of good communication tools in many PC products and messaging software.
My thought was very simple at that time – I wanted to make a communication tool for myself and others to use. Coincidentally we had a team developing a mobile version of QQMail, so we assembled a team of ten to start work on WeChat. Including back-end developers, three mobile front-end developers, UI, myself, and a recent graduate on my team, ten people in total. In two months, we had created the first version.
This is how WeChat got started, and this past year has been WeChat’s eighth year, a meaningful milestone. It marks the maturation of our product since its birth.
At that time, we had one principle: if a new product can’t grow naturally, we shouldn’t market it. So in the first five months, we didn’t promote it ourselves; we were waiting to see if users would be attracted to WeChat, if they would promote it themselves. If users weren’t willing to do this, whatever marketing we did would be meaningless.
I remember when WeChat version 2.0 was introduced, we saw user growth, not very rapid growth, but it was increasing naturally. At that moment, we knew we could start marketing it. We were grateful we had made a couple of good decisions.
First, we didn’t import users and automatically add them as friends within WeChat, instead of letting users choose who to invite or send a friend request to one-by-one. Second, when the product wasn’t yet widely recognized, we let it grow naturally rather than market it. These two things were the right way to do it. Although it took more time, it meant that the product was healthy when it really started to grow.
I’d like to mention a statistic: in August this year, WeChat daily active users surpassed one billion.
This is probably the first product in China to exceed one billion DAU.
When it exceeded one billion DAU, our team didn’t celebrate. Everyone felt reaching one billion was just a matter of time. But when I saw the data, I was touched.
I’m very happy that I can accompany a product for eight years. Moreover, I’ve always seen myself as a product manager, not a business manager. I believe this is necessary, because a good product requires a certain degree of ‘dictatorship’, otherwise it will embody all sorts of different, conflicting opinions and its personality will become fragmented.
Hence this year’s Open Class is different from that of previous years. I’m more willing to explain our thinking behind different aspects of WeChat.
I believe it’ll be useful for everyone to understand WeChat.
WeChat’s driving force can be summarized into two points… First, create a good tool that can keep up with the times… The second driving force is “let creators cultivate value”.
Driving force stems from a deep understanding and expectation of ourselves. It is powerful. It can last very long, overcoming many obstacles.
WeChat’s driving force can be summarized into two points.
First, create a good tool that can keep up with the times.
It’s because I’m passionate about tool-like products, that I even coded and created a product like Foxmail to fulfill my desire for creation. In order to create an excellent product, I think it is good to be obsessed about it. WeChat’s foundation is to be an excellent tool.
I’m very clear that in the current business environment, many users are actually very tolerant of forced experiences, even though they are sometimes terrible.
Many people think that it is normal, for example, opening their apps and seeing ads, or receiving system push notifications with marketing messages, being lured into clicking on links – this is all normal now.
There are many examples like this. If we go back to the SMS era, everyone’s spam messages exceeded their actual messages. What’s scary is not this huge amount of spam messages, what’s scary is users thinking this is normal.
Once you know what’s a good product and what’s a bad product, you won’t accept a lousy feature being forced upon users.
Hence WeChat makes it a point to create a good tool, a tool that can accompany users for many years. To users, the tool is like an old friend.
Whether or not it’s keeping up with the times depends on the user, not us. WeChat is a tool and thus needs to earn the recognition of our users.
Everyone knows WeChat has a slogan: “WeChat is a lifestyle”.
“Why is it ‘a’ lifestyle and not ‘a kind of’ lifestyle?” At that time when my colleague asked me, I couldn’t explain it clearly. But I know if it is “a kind of” lifestyle, it is just a typical motto, not suitable to be used as a slogan, and people won’t remember it.
It must be a lifestyle that belongs to WeChat only, a unique statement. At that time, WeChat didn’t cover so many aspects of life; WeChat Pay didn’t even exist. But in hindsight, it really represented a lifestyle.
This is a lifestyle. Actually, I have a nagging thought, WeChat will penetrate every person’s daily life. It should change as trends change, or even lead those trends. However, I’m not sure how WeChat will penetrate users’ daily lives.
Which aspect of life? If we don’t set it as a lifestyle, and we label it as a communication tool, it will be too superficial and will limit our potential. Thinking about it now, suggesting at that time to call it a “lifestyle” was very bold.
Now we can see that WeChat has entered different aspects of people’s lives: group chats, Moments, Red Packets, Official Accounts, Mini Programs, and so on. I feel that WeChat has achieved the dream of being “a lifestyle”.
The second driving force is “let creators cultivate value”.
We released Official Accounts in a very early version of WeChat. This was an innovation by WeChat. At that time our thought was, “If WeChat replaces SMS, then what are the market’s needs in the SMS era?” Many services had to use SMS to communicate with their users. Since we replaced SMS, we needed to provide something of similar capabilities to serve the market’s needs.
But I know that since SMS and email can be sent en-mass to many users with no way to control it, this produced some well-known negative side effects. So, we thought, if WeChat chooses to provide a subscriptions model, it’d help protect users from being harassed or cheated.
It also would allow services to control who to target with what message. This would help bridge the gap between customers and businesses. I still remember at that time we were so excited when we came up with the idea, that we messaged Pony saying this mechanism will be immensely powerful. Pony asked, “What about the spam messages?” And I said that by nature there would be no spam because users are the ones subscribing to the services they want to receive messages from.
So, after the Official Accounts Platform got started, and we expanded from connecting people to connecting services, WeChat began to reflect the advantages of being a platform, later including Mini Programs.
Making a platform requires a driving force. Without that, we may have just been reduced into being a service provider platform. Many wouldn’t have heard of the platform.
When a platform only focuses on pursuing its own benefits, I believe it’s short-sighted, it won’t last. When a platform can benefit the people, then it’ll take on a life of its own.
When we were creating Official Accounts, we would think: “What problems do we want to help people solve?” Of course, it was the problem and disadvantages of information asymmetry.
Let’s use an example: traditional business all depends on renting a store located in an area with high foot traffic; but with the internet, location is no longer your advantage, your service is your advantage. Then, we wanted to help those people and businesses that truly offer good service to find and reach out to potential customers.
At that time, the most popularly used case study was about helping a blind person with no technical ability to find customers. They should have an Official Account, which their customers can share with their friends. So, we decided to make the slogan for Official Accounts “Everyone, no matter how small, can have their own brand”. Their Official Account is their brand. Moreover, the brand is based on attention and recognition.
Our driving force at this time was to let people who create value cultivate value for other users. Because WeChat breaks down the barrier brought by information asymmetry, users can get better quality services. Then, people will think of more solutions to provide services that can match user demand and expectations for quality – therein lies the key driving force of Official Accounts.
The same applied later when we created Mini Programs. If we cannot allow outstanding Mini Program developers to reap more benefits in return, this ecosystem would only grow a little – what would the point be?
This year, I actually saw a real-life example of that case study. A friend posted on WeChat Moments that he discovered many blind massage therapists using Mini Programs to find customers. Seeing this filled me with joy. This was the exact situation that we had originally brought up as what we wanted to achieve.
Much of WeChat’s innovation stems from these two driving forces. From a professional standpoint, everyone may think that this was a prediction of the future.
But I believe all predictions in the business stem, most importantly, from driving forces. Or we can say, a good product has its own mission.
I’m grateful that all these years, WeChat’s driving force has never changed.
Making the Best Tool vs Capturing Users’ Time
These two years, the goal of apps across the industry has been to try their best to keep users in their app as long as possible. This goes against my beliefs…. The primary goal for technology should be helping humankind increase efficiency.
In relation to the two driving forces, I will go a bit in-depth about “making the best tool”.
Keeping to this principle, when I’ve observed many products in our industry, I’ve often felt that there are many things that go against my beliefs.
For example, these two years, the goal of apps across the industry has been to try their best to keep users in their app as long as possible. This goes against my beliefs.
A user only has limited time in a day, so this goal of maximizing user time in-app is secondary. The primary goal for technology should be helping humankind increase efficiency.
For example, a good communication tool must be highly efficient. That’s why WeChat does not have a message status, the reason being that the most efficient method is to just send and go. You don’t have to worry whether the message was sent or not, whether if it was successfully sent or successfully received, and even worry about whether or not there is a network issue.
If it’s an information search tool, it should help users obtain the most useful information in the shortest time. If it’s a kind of entertainment product, users staying a bit longer is not an issue. Like when I watch a TV series, I’ll spend a lot of my time watching it. Of course, though, it shouldn’t endlessly add episodes to the series just to capture more of my time.
Here’s an interesting phenomenon: video software now allows users to change the speed of the video, with many users choosing to watch the entire series at 2x speed. I guess this is a way for users to vote with their feet when they encounter TV series that drags on too long.
Speaking of user visit duration, it reminds me around the year 2000, when the internet had just come around, there was a popular term called ‘attention economics’.
Every websites’ goal was to grab as much attention as possible. Hence, we saw articles being divided into many pages — you read a little and clicked to the next page. This let websites add an advertisement on each page and increase their page views. This still happens now. There are also sites where users must click to expand the full text. This can get more clicks in the short term, but I don’t think this is a good product.
There’s another interesting example about user visit duration. From the day Moments was released until now, users’ friends have increased more and more.
Logically, content on Moments continues to increase as well. However, everyone fails to realize that even as users’ friends and content increase, everyone is still spending the same amount of time on Moments, about 30 minutes. When you have fewer friends, you read slowly and with more focus. When you have more friends, you browse faster.
Actually, users won’t divide their time based on the amount of content you have, but I believe this is reasonable. If we insist on extending their visit duration, we have many ways to do it.
However, this would only frustrate users, because their social interaction efficiency would decrease. If we insist on increasing the 30 minutes to an hour, it will only mean that efficiency will go down.
So, using the visit duration to evaluate an app strays away from my aspirations and understanding of the internet. Everyone only has 24 hours in a day. The mission of developers shouldn’t be to make users spend all their time on their phones aside from when they eat and sleep.
A few years ago, we had a version of WeChat with a statement encouraging users to put down their phones and meet their friends more in-person. This view has never changed.
WeChat will never make user in-app time our objective. Instead, we are more concerned with when our users communicate, post a picture, read an article, make a payment, or find a Mini Program, that they can do it as quickly and efficiently as possible – this is what makes the best tool.
We are willing to brainstorm thousands of ideas to increase this kind of efficiency. For example, I want to send a message to a specific person, but I can’t remember their name.
If we have a more intelligent solution to this, like an associative capability that helps you remember that specific person through people associated with them. That is, when your brain goes blank, we can help you find the information you want. This is something very important that we must work on.
Things that benefit oneself but not others do not last. Mini Programs’ mission is to allow creators to cultivate value and also benefit from it. Just because we have a lot of user traffic doesn’t mean we should occupy it ourselves…
If we didn’t decentralize it, Tencent could monopolize the platform with its own Mini Programs, but there would be no external developers. Sure, Tencent would benefit in the short term, but the platform ecosystem would not.
There are many companies making Mini Programs now. I think this is a good thing. Some of their APIs are like ours, but I’m not worried this will pose a threat to us. We may be doing the same thing, but besides our platform and team is different, the most important difference is: what is your driving force?
If you just want to borrow Mini Programs as a medium to profit from traffic, I’m not optimistic about it. Things that benefit oneself but not others do not last.
Let’s recap: Mini Programs’ mission is to allow creators to cultivate value and also benefit from it. Everything we do revolves around this mission. Just because we have a lot of user traffic doesn’t mean we should occupy it ourselves. We should let Mini Programs produce and reflect this value from user traffic.
A lot of people do not understand why Mini Programs are decentralized. If we didn’t decentralize it, Tencent could monopolize the platform with its own Mini Programs, but there would be no external developers. Sure, Tencent would benefit in the short term, but the platform ecosystem would not.
Even the companies that Tencent invests in should follow the platform rules like everyone else, otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair. I know everyone thinks that WeChat has been biased towards these companies. I have to say, maybe we haven’t done it well enough, but I believe from now on our team will dedicate more resources and manpower to ensure that we treat all companies equally.
Looking back at Mini Programs, from the very beginning to now it has been three years. It seems quite slow. I feel that Mini Programs has been our biggest challenge at WeChat, and also the biggest challenge in my own professional career because we never before tried announcing something that we hadn’t created yet.
The reason why we announced it before it was made is that we wanted to give everyone pressure such that we had no choice but to do it and absolutely had to complete it.
I remember clearly the night I announced that we were creating Mini Programs, I sat down with my team to discuss a topic: How many ways could our Mini Programs fail? I remember very clearly because we were talking about how difficult it would be instead of how bright its future would be.
Why did we insist on doing this [creating Mini Programs]? Because I believe this is an inevitable trend for the future. Because mobile apps need to all be downloaded and installed, and websites’ user experience is terrible. I spoke about this in a previous Open Class.
A lot of people don’t understand why websites’ user experience is terrible, just like they fail to understand why Official Accounts’ user experience is better than that of websites. WeChat used some methods to pre-define the experience, such as pre-defined layouts. This allows even amateurs to create an experience that is reasonably good to users.
Our conviction in making Mini Programs has been very strong. We haven’t been in a rush to finish it. It is an ecosystem, not a B2C function, hence we have been patient, nurturing it slowly. After our experience creating Official Accounts, we don’t want businesses to misuse Mini Programs as just a source of traffic to recklessly reap profits.
Even today, we can’t say that Mini Programs have been a complete success. I believe it still needs improving. To us, when we see that Mini Programs is getting closer and closer to our original aspirations, it means we are making progress.
We are seeing more traditional businesses using Mini Programs as a tool to connect to their customers, which has increased their business performance. These are excellent examples.
Mini Programs is not perfect yet, there are some things we have to work on.
We will continue to think of ways to make Mini Programs more accessible to users. But don’t expect us to do something that is aggressive and frustrating to users.
Now, every day 750 million people go into Moments, with each person going in an average of over 10 times, so that’s a total of 10 billion times each day… But there are some negative side effects to this… If I could turn back time and had the chance to do Moments again, I would make the album private.
I’m going to talk about something I never have before. I have never talked about WeChat’s origins and its foundation, so I will be spending some time talking about WeChat’s social aspect.
What’s the origin of socialization? Of course, this doesn’t have a definite answer, everyone has their own ideas.
My idea is this:
Maybe in prehistoric times, socialization was born when humans started forming groups. The most important need for a person in a group is to not be excluded, hence people must talk with one another.
What do they talk about? Really they just boast about themselves to demonstrate their value to the group. This is my imagination about prehistoric interaction, everyone does not have to take it too seriously.
On Moments, everyone must post over-exaggerated pictures of themselves on vacation and stuff, this is really just a continuation of our habits from prehistoric times as users attempt to avoid being excluded.
Many years ago, I asked a question on Zhihu, “What is the essence of communication?” Actually, this is a question with no answer.
I later thought of an answer myself, but it’s by no means the correct, standard answer. It is “communication is the process of inculcating one’s self-image into another person’s mind.”
What does this mean? Everyone has an image of themselves they want people to accept. Every sentence we say, intentional or not, is said with the hope that others will accept this image of ourselves.
On the surface, we may be discussing something, but in actuality we want others to perceive and accept the image we try to portray ourselves as. Of course, this is just a convenient way for me to understand why we socialize, it’s not a scientific explanation.
Posting on Moments is just the process of portraying our desired image and placing it in our friends’ minds.
For example, everything you post is in hopes of convincing your friends to see you as a certain kind of person. It is an image you designed yourself. Hence, all your Moments posts are carefully selected to help craft this image.
So WeChat Moments is a place to portray your image.
Why does Moments encourage posting pictures instead of text? Writing text is a bit more complicated; writing a paragraph to post can be a difficult and frustrating process to many people. It’s especially difficult if it’s meant to portray our image. Posting a picture is much easier.
So, to help users portray their image, we created this tool to make it as easy as taking a photo. But for those people who are more conscious, they will ask themselves: What kind of image of myself do I want to portray?
Many years ago, whenever I posted on Weibo, I would ask myself: “What do you want to portray?” Most of the time when I asked myself this question, I’d give up and delete what I had already begun to draft. Of course, most people aren’t like this. The bigger one’s weakness, the more one wants to post on Moments to strengthen that weakness. This is normally the thought process.
But there are some negative side effects to this.
If you post a few more pictures of yourself on vacation, everyone will think you are always on vacation. If you post some pictures of yourself working overtime, everyone will think you are always working overtime. This tool may be useful to portray your image, but it can go overboard. It’s difficult for you to portray your reality.
Just like how we aren’t always happy or unhappy at every moment. But if your post says you are happy, everyone tends to think you are always happy. A lot of what we see on Moments are the best images portrayed by people, whereas the bad parts are not included.
We don’t have a tool that records our day truthfully.
This is why we decided to create the short-video status feature called “Time Capsule”.
Actually, I want to say a bit more about Moments. Many people say they want to escape Moments or say they don’t really use Moments anymore. But in fact this is an illusion that everyone in the internet world sees.
Everyone often takes the situation of people around them and makes it the situation of people all over the world. But it’s not like that. Because Moments is socialization, how can one escape from socialization? Even if you post less, you will still check it, like posts, and comment. It’s an act of socialization.
There is a statistic I want to announce here. Since launch, the daily number of people going into Moments has always been increasing, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Now, every day 750 million people go into Moments, with each person going in an average of over 10 times, so that is a total of 10 billion times each day.
I feel that Moments is the backbone of online socialization for Chinese people. It’s possible that it is China’s most effective social tool. It currently has so many users and visits every day. It feels like checking Moments is a routine task to complete one’s daily requirement for socialization.
Maybe a user didn’t leave their house all day, but this didn’t prevent them from socializing. Even if you don’t post on Moments, you’ll still check it; you are socializing by liking and commenting.
All the product managers here, let’s analyze: Why does Moments have so many users? Even though these users have grown up and maybe their environments have changed, they still use Moments. Many users’ methods of social interaction haven’t changed for many years.
Just like my idea about prehistoric people, socialization hasn’t changed, or we should say that the need for socialization hasn’t changed. Online socialization is just a reflection of offline socialization.
If there was no internet, whenever we wanted social interaction we would get together for a big lunch or attend some party, where we would then say ‘hi’ to familiar friends, but it wouldn’t be very efficient because the requirements of time and location create restrictions.
What’s the basic essence of Moments? Really, Moments created a new location for socialization. I’d compare it to a town square.
You spend half an hour every day walking through the town square. While walking, you see groups of people chatting and discussing different things as you pass. You know these people, and you can stop and join their discussion. You also realize that you know every single person in the group.
You can go over to say ‘hi’ or join them for a while. You can then turn around and leave, walk to another group to join or not join any at all; or you can simply say ‘hi’, like what they say, and leave. This way, when you’ve finished browsing Moments, you’ve finished walking around the town square.
I want to emphasize this design – in Moments, you can only see the activity of mutual friends. This means that the discussions you engage in involve friends who all know each other. This makes socialization more fulfilling as there are more friends engaging in meaningful interactions.
Within half an hour, you’ve seen many friends, seen many topics they are discussing and joined them in some discussions. You’ve already completed your online socialization need for the day. Such an efficient socialization tool like this, of course, you’d find it hard to leave it.
However, Moments has a weakness. It’s caused users to want to leave Moments. Because it is like a town square when you like or comment on something it’s akin to shouting in the town square. Everyone can hear you. This creates more stress for users. Moreover, as your friend list increases, the stress becomes greater.
When Moments was launched, I posted over ten photos every day. Now, I post once every few months. Many people feel this kind of stress when posting on Moments.
Hence, this is a problem that we have been constantly thinking about. Although Moments is an efficient socialization tool, it can be stressful when it comes to expressing oneself.
So we need to think of a new way to help users be braver about expressing themselves.
But here is a dilemma. If we want users to communicate freely at the lowest stress level possible, the only situation is talking to oneself.
But when you talk to yourself there are no responses from your friends, meaning there is no social benefit. The more people the user talks to, the greater the social benefit, but the stress is also greater. That’s why many people set their Moments posts to only be visible to friends for 3 days so that they feel less stress.
A lot of people ask me, why would one set their Moments visibility to three days? Won’t their friends be upset? Let me briefly explain.
Normally, as a toggle in privacy settings, not many people would use it. Product developers all know, the majority of users are rather lazy. But actually this Moments privacy setting is used by many users – over 100 million users have set their Moments visibility to three days.
If I could turn back time and had the chance to do Moments again, I’d make the album private. From a product standpoint, Moments and its album can be entirely separated. A photo could be stored in your album as a memento to look back at later, or it could also be posted and displayed on Moments. It was a mistake made during development to combine them.
So we encourage users to set their Moments visibility to three days. Hopefully, this will alleviate some stress and allow them to bravely post on Moments. Users don’t have to worry about friends digging into their history later.
If a user insists on displaying their history, they should have something else to display it, like for carefully selected and prepared photos, instead of using their status posts on the Moments timeline as a way to display their history.
Number of User
WeChat has never said that its objective is to increase the number of users. If we wanted to, we could have done it a few years ago and reached the one billion DAU milestone even earlier… The number of users is always limited, service is unlimited… In times like this, innovation is the only solution for the future… So, finding what kind of needs users will have in the future is our objective as we sit at one billion users.
WeChat has reached one billion daily active users. We’ve always felt that the number of users we have is not very important. But people always bring up user numbers to determine their position and the gap they must improve on. But I don’t feel this is right.
WeChat has never said that its objective is to increase the number of users. If we wanted to, we could have done it a few years ago and reached the one billion DAU milestone even earlier. But that’s not how it is. Our number of users grows organically. In my view, what we should consider is what kind of services we want to provide to our users – this is a more important question.
The number of users is always limited, service is unlimited. Previously, an ‘era’ was basically ten years long, but since the coming of the internet era and the mobile internet era, I feel that an era is now only three to five years. This means that the change of eras is happening faster than ever, new demands are coming faster. In times like this, innovation is the only solution for the future.
With these constant and rapid changes, we don’t really need to be concerned about how many more users we can get. We are focused on how to meet future needs. So, finding what kind of needs users will have in the future is our objective as we sit at one billion users.
We realize that WeChat as an app contains many, many features, making it look simple. But there’s a limit to how much it can hold, so our next step will revolve around different apps, trying different services that are related to WeChat. Just like the app WeRead, if we really needed to insert books into WeChat, it seems like we could do it. But making it a standalone app with its own development and growth, this seems more appropriate.
At this momentous juncture of eight years and one billion users, our team is thinking of how WeChat is going to take on the next eight years of challenges. These challenges will not come from competitors, but rather will stem from users. Users will continue to change every year. We’ll face new users and new needs.
No matter what we do to respond to these new needs, if we follow our key driving forces “making the best tool” and “letting value creators cultivate value”, I don’t think we’ll deviate too much.
Sometimes when we look back on the changes brought about by WeChat over the years, we feel a sense of accomplishment. A lot of time, people will ask me, how are we different from others? I think that one difference is this: when we’re thinking of a problem or what to do, we often ask ourselves, what’s the meaning of doing this?
Of course, I know many teams won’t ask about meaning when they do things, they only ask, “What is our KPI?” Honestly, since the beginning, the WeChat team has never worked towards KPI before. This doesn’t impede us from constantly improving. Just like Mini Programs, if we had used KPI, we wouldn’t know what KPI to set because there was no such thing. If we had set a KPI, everyone wouldn’t know what to do.
Everyone in our team has developed a habit of ensuring every feature and every service has a meaning or a dream behind it. If a feature is made for just gaining traffic, and it doesn’t provide value to users, then it’ll have problems, it won’t last. We think about the meaning behind every detail of everything we do. This is a reason we’ve been able to make it to this day, and it helped us make many right decisions.
What is WeChat’s dream? I said it before. From a user standpoint, it’s to become the best tool for users. From a platform standpoint, it’s to create a marketplace that allows value creators to produce value for other users.
Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, it seems like we always stand by the egg. If you make something so big that you interfere with users and provide no value, WeChat will limit you; if you’ve just started and aspire to provide value to users, WeChat will support you.
So, we don’t really think about our competitors. WeChat also doesn’t have competition, no need to pair us with competitors. If there is a competitor, it will be ourselves, it will be whether our organization can keep up as time changes.
WeChat is not anxious. No need to say that we are anxious whenever we do something. You don’t have to impose your anxiety on WeChat.
For me, I’m very grateful, and I feel I’m very lucky. As a product manager, I can lead this team that has created a product used by one billion users. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. But, I feel even luckier that over this process, I’ve been able to imbue my perspective of the world into the product, making it a part of the product’s value. This is even rarer.
There’s a phrase I like, a line from a movie. I want to use it to conclude today’s speech.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” Many people know this phrase. I often think if WeChat can’t give our users even a little bit of hope, then we can’t judge whether what we’re doing is right or wrong. So, this is also how we measure ourselves.
Thank you, everyone!