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WeChatlization is a term that I heard from Xinhua News journalist Wang Zichen. He shared the term on a stream of tweets that I have compiled into a quote below.
If nobody has said this before, I am gonna coin the term WeChatlization: a growing number of Chinese public discourse is increasingly going – firstly if not exclusively – to the WeChat part of the Internet, at the cost of the traditional Google/Baidu searchable World Wide Web.
The numerous and increasing amount of 微信公众号, called by WeChat itself as WeChat “Official Accounts” but in fact WeChat blogs, are gradually eroding the territory of traditional dotcom Internet sites.
WeChat blogs are effectively not searchable via traditional search engines like Google or Baidu. So for the purpose of getting information, one gotta adapt to the change.
Example No.1: the World Peace Forum starting today at Tsinghua University in Beijing doesn’t appear to have an updated dotcom, dotedu, or whatever site, but you will find the list of speakers at their WeChat blogWang Zichen via Twitter.
WeChatlization poses a number of challenges to the rest of the world and the open web. It makes information harder to find than the open web. It cripples opportunities for other Chinese information startups. Its not healthy, but then neither is Meta. Which brings us to our next point WeChatlization isn’t a new phenomenon. Prior to the open web taking hold there were closed communities on CompuServe, Prodigy and even AOL. For the duration of Yahoo! Messenger, there was a vibrant community underpinning the brokerage of oil to fuel ships.
Outside of China you see media and communities that only exist, or publish first on Facebook. This is particularly true for lifestyle as well as current affairs based communities. Both of which are just as opaque to search engines as WeChat. Like WeChat, Facebook’s internal search mechanism leaves a lot to be desired.
Prior to that there was a similar phenomenon with MySpace and Friendster. For many years after its peak in popularity, MySpace still hosted a vibrant community of HR professionals attached to the CIPD.
You seem a similar phenomenon in AltspaceVR, a Microsoft owned VR social network that has hosted in-platform only business conferences. You have had similar kinds of happenings in games like Fortnite and both American electioneering and Hong Kong political protests happened virtually in Animal Crossing.
All of this puts the communities under the arbitrary rules of the platform owner, be it the constraints that support an authoritarian government or a rapacious online advertising model. The ethics challenge the perception of open communications that these platforms allege to promise each other. More related content here.