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Chinese apps opening up: tearing down the walled garden

What is one of the hottest topics around Chinese tech right now? No doubt, it’s the new Chinese policy called hùlián hùtōng.

Hùlián hùtōng (互联互通) is a term, meaning “interconnectivity”. It is used to describe the things which are connected, open and rely on each other. The phrase now can be seen everywhere in the news due to recent China's official policy towards the opening up of its biggest internet and online retail companies, mainly Alibaba and Tencent.

For years, Chinese tech giants were not allowing their competitors’ content to be shown on their own platforms. For instance, users couldn’t open Taobao link via WeChat or Douyin and vice versa. It turned into virtual barriers. The pressure from official regulators made companies take a new, powerful move: to open up their services to each other. As TechCrunch described, Chinese tech is “tearing down the walls”.

The process started at the beginning of September when China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology organized a meeting inviting the leaders of the main Internet platforms, including Alibaba, ByteDance, Tencent, Huawei, Baidu, Xiaomi and declared the new requirement.

On September 14, companies issued official announcements that they would follow the new policy and design further steps to improve interconnectivity.

Today it’s more than a month since the launch of the new regulations. What did tech giants do during this time? Let's see how the hùlián hùtōng policy is being implemented with our own eyes.

WeChat & Taobao: what is done within one month

Before hùlián hùtōng: Taobao users used to copy the link and only then proceed to browser

Previously, WeChat users had to copy the Taobao link and insert it into a dialogue with another WeChat user. The possibility of direct link-sharing or sharing to WeChat’s “Moments” (WeChat news feed) didn’t exist.

New official requirement implies that from now on users of Tencent’s platform would be able to access a link from Taobao or other apps within the platform, which will be displayed as a page, without having to manually copy a password or go to a browser to open the link.

Today, after one month since the launch of the new regulations, WeChat users still face some restrictions when sharing Taobao links. For example, when users forward content from Taobao to WeChat, the text is still displayed like “unreadable” and users need to confirm opening the link for the second time.

After the introduction of hùlián hùtōng: WeChat users can open Taobao links, though not without troubles

The same difficulties are around videos that users share from Taobao to WeChat: they still need to go through a second checking and confirmation, and only then can be opened.

Recently, in the run-up to the biggest Chinese shopping festival Double 11, Alibaba Group published an official statement with the guarantee to open up the direct links sharing function, so users would be finally able to send the content to WeChat groups, chats or moments only with one click. This function is expected to be officially launched on October 27.

Douyin and WeChat

Similar to the case of WeChat and Taobao, Douyin videos couldn’t be directly shared via WeChat and vice versa. Up to now, users of these two apps still face some troubles when opening each other’s’ pages, as the link needs to go through double verification. But it’s the progress, completely different from the way it was before.

All the Douyin links were previously unreadable in WeChat

As Douyin parent company ByteDance announced, the feature of Taobao links free sharing through Douyin chat groups will be launched right before this year Double 11 Shopping Festival and serve the convenience of consumers.

Why is it important and what it means for the economy of China as a whole?

The regulatory pressure which tech giants in China are facing can change the situation around the Chinese tech we know now. It can cause one of the most radical transformations in terms of how tech operates, eliminating the “old” way of zero cooperation between Tencent, Alibaba and other giants and thus making monopoly almost impossible.

But most importantly, the new regulation could give an enormous push to consumption growth within the country and will make the life of users much easier and convenient.

At the same time, there are some technical and financial issues that are not been solved or much discussed by tech giants yet. One of the fields of concern is apps advertisement revenue. Companies usually paid a fee for WeChat advertising which counted for a huge revenue channel for Tencent. How this issue will be resolved after apps complete opening-up and free sharing is still unclear.

The only sure thing is that there is no way back to virtual barriers, they are broken and won’t be restored again. The interconnectivity of Internet companies is increasing. It opens doors and brings enormous opportunities for further development and integration of e-commerce, online livestreams and short videos industry.

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