WeChat: Your Own E-Newspaper

22:29 (UTC+08:00), 16 JUN 2014 | CHN BEIJING

In 1995, Joseph Schorr and others authored one of my more favourite tech books — Macworld Mac Secrets, where he introduced a number of Web links — including CRAYON (Create Your Own Newspaper). I’ve never been able to really use that back in the day, but I did know that in 1999, I was happy with My Yahoo!, which, as a Swiss Wetterfrosch, allowed me to put the weather report where it mattered — top left hand of the customised news page. (It also allowed me to set a pale-ish grey as the background colour, which was easier on the eyes.)

We’re now about 20 years away from when I first got introduced to CRAYON. Whilst that never really worked, it is working when it comes to customised news on my smartphone. There are three ways, in fact, I got this working my end:

  • following all the news sources I want on Twitter (easier said than done, really; I had to follow credible / verified accounts over “just about any old account”)
  • downloading news apps to my iPhone (again, I was never a fan of the “unofficial aggregates”, which I found hard to really trust)
  • following accounts on WeChat (here again, I had the tendency to trust verified accounts more)

There are three ways the whole thing got working for me:

  • adding all accounts to a list on Twitter (click, scroll, click, click; oh, the pain)
  • downloading so many news apps on my phone I couldn’t take it much more
  • going to Subscription Accounts on WeChat

For most of us in China, WeChat is the real option that actually works — I say that as the Chinese government doesn’t allow direct access to Twitter in China (plus there’s the language gap; more would prefer to use a Chinese-ready WeChat than try tweeting, although Twitter has been translated into Chinese).

To someone who was born in China in the early 1980s, it isn’t (merely) this technology that is so new, but far more the fact that you now get a diversity of content at your fingertips — quite literally. My collection is probably just too diverse: I am reminded of the “imminent death” of Western capitalism and democracy by the ultra-nationalists at the Qiu Shi political theory paper, but am also kept up-to-date on very different views of China from the people at the Southern Metropolis Daily or even overseas papers. Or I could get deals from BA, reports about new Chinese immigration policies, or what the US embassy in Beijing is up to.

I’m beginning to think, more and more, than WeChat is this one app anyone’s hard-pressed to pass off as “yet another Chinese imitation” of something-or-other in the West. I’m more sold now that WeChat is a very Chinese app — and that might be the way I’ll leave it at that…