In China, email addresses are irrelevant

Great article by the BBC about email vs. mobile apps in China — and why email is losing out to the most popular apps.

It’s important for Westerners such as myself to remember that most of the world did not first interact with the Internet via desktop computer. In most emerging markets, people leapfrogged computers altogether on their way to using mobile apps.

Matthew Brennan, a Briton who has worked in China since 2004 and is a consultant on Chinese digital innovation, says that having an email address in the UK is part of your identity as it’s required to register for many online services. In China, however, mobile apps often take precedence and it is possible to do all your online transactions once you are logged into an app with multiple functionality such as WeChat or Alipay (created by online retail giant Alibaba) You can book an appointment, pay for shopping and message your friends all within a single app.

If someone were to ask me to do all of my emailing via iPhone, I would soon look for other ways to communicate.

It’s also worth noting that the Internet was Latin-biased from the beginning. That is, the people who created the Internet did not take into the account the many different scripts used around the world. Which is why email addresses were historically limited to Latin-based characters (though there are viable workarounds today, though still not very popular).

And herein lies the most important takeaway for anyone looking to expand into a new market, such as China. It’s not simply a matter of localizing your website, particularly if you expect customers to reach out to you via email or Facebook (blocked) or Twitter (also blocked).

You need to understand not just the applications people use but how they use them and why they use them.


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