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WeChat loses shine amid information overload

2014-05-07 08:00 Xinhua Web Editor: Qin Dexing

WeChat, or Weixin, a popular instant messaging service in China, risks losing its luster as users complain about bombardment by deceptive ads and excessive information.

The situation came to the public's attention when a business account put fake ads on "Moments," one of the major functions embedded in WeChat, which allows users to upload photos and share their daily life via texts.

On Monday, authorities in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality busted a case in which a "travel agency" account told its followers on WeChat to "Like" its ads to win a free trip to Hong Kong and Macao, which was later proved to be deceptive.

Similar cases were reported in provinces of Guangdong, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Jiangsu, with unscrupulous businesspeople trying to lure customers with coveted promotions, but later breaking their promises.

WeChat, developed by Internet giant Tencent, allows people to send texts, photos, videos and voice messages over mobile phones. The application has earned a legion of fans in China thanks to its convenience, reaching 600 million users since its debut in 2011.

Along with fake ads, information overload on the app is forcing some users to escape the flood of daily annoyances.

Wei Kang, a white-collar worker in Beijing, said that he receives "tons of messages" from his colleagues in WeChat's chat groups, even on weekends.

Wei said that he spends about an hour daily replying to messages from his colleagues, and has to check WeChat every few minutes because messages from his boss might be among the sea of notifications.

"I feel like I have been kidnapped by WeChat," Wei said, jokingly.

Wei is not the only one bombarded by the app. Early in February, Huang Zhen, a professor from Central University of Finance and Economics, caused a buzz on the Internet when he announced that he would abandon all WeChat chat groups and "try to find some inner peace."

A survey in March by a newspaper in Shanghai showed that 66.67 percent of respondents had feelings of being "kidnapped" by WeChat, but most chose to put up with the barrage of messages and information.

The "Moments" section on WeChat, for instance, has waned in popularity as it has become a place for people to either share ads or "Chicken Soup for the Soul" type articles.

"My WeChat 'Moments' are basically spammed by these every single day, which is quite annoying," a WeChat user screen-named "HXfengai" told Xinhua.

As urgency for change mounts, WeChat teams need to adjust their product design and services to break the bottleneck and retain users, said Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research.

Zhang said that WeChat development teams should step up efforts to consider feedback from users and try to understand what they truly need at the moment.

"It's hard to say how loyal users will remain to WeChat, but if the company can make adjustments according to users' specific needs, it may help retain many users," he added.

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