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Where WeChat Goes, Facebook Follows

I've been in Hong Kong on client work all this week so of-course have talked a lot about WeChat, which I've been featuring in my trends work for a few years now. The number of monthly active users of WeChat is now approaching a Billion, and yet it launched as recently as 2011. An amazing rate of growth by any standards (even Facebook) but what is perhaps most interesting about WeChat of-course is the scale and scope of interaction that it enables (which you get some sense of from the video above).

I talk a lot about the 'gateway principle' or the idea that if you can be the place where people go to solve a problem, fulfill a need of some kind or get an answer for something, then you are the primary beneficiary of the transaction or interaction data. Many services and businesses have found themselves disintermediated by unexpected players. Many markets have succumbed to new intermediaries that facilitate the relationship between the end user and the service provider but in the process secure significant value through the data that they collect on specific users. The more of the customer journey that you own or you facilitate, the more data you get and the more value you can derive. That's why GAFA expand up and down the stack to encompass hardware, software, operating systems, payments and transactions, access and search, communication and messaging. That's why GAFA are woven into the fabric of the web (a phrase originally coined by Emily Bell) rather than just relying on destination domains or owned media assets. It's a key mindset shift that traditional businesses need to get their heads around and it's been happening for years. 

What's most interesting about WeChat though, is the degree to which entire customer journeys can happen on the platform with multiple sides of many different markets combining in one place. It's the very definition of a platform business. For all their progress, expansion and ambitions Facebook in particular must be coveting the way that WeChat have capitalised on a social graph to turn it into something far bigger and broader than just advertising. 

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