Will WeChat's "Little Program" Really Make A Difference?

摘要: WeChat adopts HTML technology but fails to incorporate the core idea of real HTML technology.

(Chinese Version)

Editor’s Note:

The author of this article used to be a core member of Microsoft’s IE team in US, and played a role in the compilation of international HTML5 standards and design of HTML engine in IE.

As a veteran in HTML, he believes that WeChat adopts HTML technology to make “Little program” but didn’t adopt the core of HTML, that is, openness and interconnection. Thus, he maintains that it’s still too far a goal to establish WeChat OS.

On September, 22nd, WeChat rolled out for testing the long-awaited new feature, dubbed “Xiaochengxu”, or “Little Program” in English, allowing selected developers to create so-called lightweight apps which will be incorporated within WeChat itself. The Chinese internet world was so enthusiastic about the new feature and all of a sudden it seemed that everybody was talking about it, from media to HTML developer communities. Some people even argued that an era of WeChat OS, or HTML Web App in the mobile internet world had come.

As a veteran in HTML area, I used to play a role in the compilation of international HTML standards. I should have get quite excited by the news, yet when I went deeper and looked through the detailed introduction to “Little Program”, I became not quite sure about the concept “WeChat OS”.

The time is ripe to roll out “Little Program”

We could learn a lot from the PC internet era when we try to figure out that trend of mobile internet. Although they might not look alike on the surface, they are identical fundamentally. There are two different structures of software programs: one is Customer/Server and the other is Browser/Server.

Both APPs in the mobile internet era and Windows software in the PC era adopt C/S structure, while HTML5 and HTML4 in the PC era adopt B/S structure. C/S structure was adopted in the primary stage of PC era, so most people download Microsoft software from download websites. Similarly, people in the mobile internet era go to App Stores to download APPs.

However, people gradually began to acquire information directly through websites, thus B/S structure was adopted later. A key variable in the transfer from C/S to B/S structure is bandwidth speed, since B/S structure was highly based on the internet. As long as the time is ripe enough, B/S structure would begin to be more widespread.

As bandwidth is growing wider, mobile internet era also witnessed such transfer, as did the PC era. An increasing number of people became unwilling to go to App Store anymore.

We’ve got to admit that Tencent is very good at developing products and every Tencent’s product is well-based. The time is ripe for Tencent to roll out B/S structure-based “Little Program”, compete with APP Stores with its huge user base and embedded browser inside WeChat, become a large distribution platform and achieve its ambition to build “WeChat OS” against the background of the transfer from C/S to B/S structure.

It is often believed that browsers, naturally, equal to Web OS. However, things might not necessarily go from this direction, since many people ignored one crucial detail.

What is WeChat’s “Little Program” missing?

As a matter of fact, WeChat is not the first one to do such thing. As early as 2000, Google, the largest internet company worldwide, carried out Chrome App. However, Google just decided to drop Chrome App project last month.

With over 1 billion active users, Google has not only more users than WeChat, but also more financial resources. So what makes Google’s Chrome App project fail at last? Chrome App and WeChat Little Program shares one fatal similarity: although they both adopted HTML technology, they failed to incorporate the core of HTML.

One of the core reasons why World Wide Web became so popular overnight worldwide is that it incorporates the core of HTML, especially the concept “hype”. Although the technology underneath is quite simple, it represents the core idea of the internet: openness and interconnection.

Anybody can get access to your content through a link, and you can go from one website to another without any interference from App Stores. However, according to Tencent’s announcement. any content sent through WeChat “Little Program” must be approved by WeChat first, and the platform is closed to the outside, so you can not go from one website to another as you like.

This is why I say WeChat adopts HTML technology, so that users no longer need to download other APPs but can also acquire information from other platforms, but fails to incorporate the core idea of real HTML technology. From this aspect, we can say WeChat “Little Program” might be a very great addition to WeChat IM service, but it is still too early to say that it could help WeChat build its own internet operating system. After all, only those that are open can be the most promising and popular in the internet world.

The real HTML platform

In the PC era, IM and internet browser are the two most frequently used kinds of software. The former connects people with people, while the latter connects people and information. These are actually the two most basic needs of human kind.

For sure, Tencent has some sort of gene in social networking, so it does a great job in connectting people and people both in the PC era and in the mobile internet era. However, Tencent is not known to be good at connecting people and information.

As the momentum is gathering in the further evolution of the mobile internet, WeChat’s embedded browser can no longer meet people’s need for acquiring information in a highly-efficient and secure manner, while WeChat’s half-closed nature will be at odds with the core idea of the internet, that is, openness and interconnection.

My prediction is that a real HTML platform might come back in the near future and become a high-efficient and secure platform to connect people and information.

This trend is already quite obvious abroad. This April, Google announced that the monthly active users of Chrome browser rose by 200 million within five months and had already reached over 1 billion. When Google dropped Chrome App project, it also launched PWA (Progressive Web App), a heavyweight platform based on the latest HTML technology structure.

One of the major inconveniencies of HTML5 is that users can not get access to websites offline and the user experience is not swift enough. Through PWA, however, users can get access to any website whether online or offline, while enjoying a better user experience and higher speed. While disadvantages of HTML5 have already been avoided, its advantages become even more obvious. In fact, PWA has already been adopted by browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Opera, etc.

When “omnipotent” browsers come back, users will be able to surf the internet more efficiently, while developers will develop HTML5 applications more conveniently. Besides, mid and large-scale enterprises will be able to develop or deploy HTML5 applications in a more independent and controllable manner. At that time, I really wonder if we still need WeChat’s “Little Program”.


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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Zhidao please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.




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