Thousands of people gathered Wednesday night in a southern Chinese city to hear Zhang Xiaolong, Tencent’s low-key executive who built WeChat eight years ago. It’s no longer adequate to call the app a messenger, for it now enables myriad functions that infiltrate Chinese people’s private and public lives.
It wasn’t just the tech circles tuning into the event. Civil servants, real-estate agents, salon owners, fruit vendors, teachers, artists — anyone who uses WeChat to facilitate daily work watched attentively for news and tips that came out of the annual conference.
Zhang, nickname Allen, is by nature a hardcore product manager. He went to great lengths during his four-hour speech, telling people productivity is WeChat’s holy grail, and that he wants to make user sessions “short and efficient.” He called out apps obsessed with keeping users on, which many may agree include ByteDance’s video app TikTok and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao.
That’s a tough sell, though, for WeChat is anything but a disposable tool. The app now boasts more than 1 billion daily users; 750 million of them open WeChat Moments, a scrolling feed of friends’ updates, each day, during which they check it more than 10 times.¬†User growth is cooling, but that’s