A Flow from East to West
Despite the boldness of Zuckerberg's repositioning, Facebook was responding to trends more than shaping them. A large swath of chat app innovation continues to originate in Asia on platforms like WeChat and LINE, and Western apps often appropriate those platforms' best products.
WeChat, in particular, has a monolithic presence in China reminiscent of late 1990s Internet portals like AOL and Yahoo (with a modern mobile twist). Users not only talk to friends and consume news on the app, but also make purchases, pay utility bills, book taxis and doctors appointments, enroll in brand loyalty programs, monitor traffic and air pollution, and report incidents to the police.
That dominance of the mobile web in countries like China might not be as likely in other markets, but it has served as inspiration for ambitious Western chat apps plotting roadmaps for growth and monetization. Like WeChat, Japan's LINE is also incredibly advanced in its product offerings, grossing $656 million in revenue in 2014. By contrast, while leading Western messenger apps may boast multibillion-dollar valuations, they often have profit and loss sheets in the red.
Time will tell if the same winning strategies will work halfway around the world. But for news organizations in North America and Europe looking for a glimpse of how the market may look in one to two years, downloading WeChat and LINE is the best place to start.