Many of you might have heard of WeChat mini programmes before, basically smaller apps used within WeChat. At first, WeChat’s main focus for the mini-programmes was games. The purpose of this was to lengthen users’ time spent within the WeChat app, increasing the chance that they browse content from official accounts (retail brands, news agencies, etc.) during the downtime between gaming sessions. Nowadays, most of the popular platforms such as Dianping (Yelp, but better), online shops, and big brands in China have their own mini-programmes within WeChat, giving WeChat additional revenue streams and also encouraging users to spend more time in the app.
It’s an incredible idea, allowing WeChat to collect more users than ever before. However, Baidu is coming at WeChat with a much bigger vision that could have wide implications. What’s more, it’s something that only Baidu can do.
At their annual AI conference this month, Baidu unveiled their new plans. Their mini-programmes will also be apps within an app, but with some key differences:
- Baidu has developed an open platform for developers to make mini-programmes easily using Baidu’s tools and AI capabilities, making it as easy as possible to create apps from scratch or port apps developed for other operating systems into the Baidu system.
- In addition, these mini-programmes can travel freely between all Baidu Apps (Baidu maps, Baidu app etc.) AND external apps such as BiliBili.
- Lastly, they are opening up their deep learning framework for developers to customise, train and test the AI’s strength for different application scenarios. This could make developers’ lives a lot easier!
In contrast to what WeChat is doing, which is to keep all their users within one app, Baidu is more keen to build an open ecosystem where every single touchpoint through the mobile internet will be somewhat be “dependent” on them. Why do they want to do this? Data. Who doesn’t want to know your every single interaction with your mobile phone, no matter which application you are currently using?
Baidu can do this because their focus has always been on tech development first, rather than application scenario. This is unlike the rest of BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) as they focus on application scenario first before considering how they can make use of their acquired user data to develop the technology. Through years of experience in tech development and data they have collected from their search engine, Baidu is possibly further ahead of their competitors in terms of AI capabilities and their ability to understand data.
Unlike the rest of the world, China has very few data regulations. But this is changing, as the Chinese government has now made customer protection a priority. Therefore, unless Baidu has a clear plan on what data they will be collecting, and how they are going to use and share it within their ecosystem, they might run the risk of having a Facebook-like scandal. However, all risks aside, this is a brilliant (yet scary) idea and the world will be watching…
What are your thoughts about this? Or do you know more about the Baidu mini-programmes? Leave a comment here and let me know! Thanks for reading 🙂