Now that Elon Musk is back in the saddle again, talking about Twitter, one wonders what the future of the social media platform could look like. Can it become the next WeChat?
Recently, Musk tweeted: “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.” Here X probably refers to so-called “super apps” which are popular in China and other parts of Asia, pioneered by the likes of Chinese technology giant Tencent. Frankly, everyone wants to have a replica of WeChat. Mark Zuckerberg wants WhatsApp to be that one super app and so does Evan Spiegel’s Snapchat.
WeChat, run by Tencent, is the biggest super app in the world, with over a billion users. Yes, it’s that big and anyone planning to move to China, should know about the app.
WeChat is not just a messaging app; you can do mobile banking, pay for things online or in store by scanning a barcode, post videos, do online shopping and what not.
WeChat has been on Musk’s mind for a long time. The Tesla CEO expressed admiration for the Chinese app calling it “great” during a town hall with Twitter employees in June. He said there is no WeChat equivalent outside of China.
“There’s no WeChat equivalent outside of China. You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can recreate that with Twitter, we’ll be a great success,” Musk said in June.
Other popular apps in Asia include Grab (GRAB) in Singapore and Malaysia, or Line in Japan. Grab was initially a ride-hailing service provider, while Line gained popularity as a messaging app but both have branched out significantly to offer other features.
The problem for Musk would be regulators. Earlier, China offered a more flexible regulatory environment, allowing Alibaba and Tencent to grow easily. As the years rolled by, anti-monopoly regulations became stricter. Similarly, it’s not easy for Twitter to become a super app easily in the US or for that matter anywhere.
Even Musk is aware of the uphill task. A few days ago, a Twitter user replied to Musk saying that “it would have been easier to just start X from scratch”, which prompted the billionaire to respond that Twitter was an important part of the plan “Twitter probably accelerates X by 3 to 5 years, but I could be wrong,” Musk wrote.
One area Musk is expected to stay away from when replicating WeChat is “Internet freedom”. WeChat is strictly monitored and the content is clean and politically correct; it’s not the place for criticising the government. Musk is an advocate of freedom of speech and he will certainly take a different path.