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[liberationtech] Why Skype (real-time) is losing out to WeChat (async)

Maxim Kammerer mk at
Mon Dec 24 03:25:15 PST 2012

On Mon, Dec 24, 2012 at 8:10 AM, Nathan of Guardian
<nathan at> wrote:
> Why is a text messaging/push-to-talk model winning out over
> an instant messaging/VoIP model, in places like Africa and Asia,
> regardless of known increased risk and decreased privacy and safety?

I think that the reason is simple and obvious: society shifts to
preferring more impersonal communication. Same reason that teenagers
prefer texting to talking on phone, and hanging out to dating.

> Other than the typical "users are dumb" answer,

Users (on average) are not dumb, but they are irrational and lazy,
like people in general. So they will do what's most straightforward
(insecure communications, web apps). I am guilty of the same, but at
least I don't care (most of the time) if I am under surveillance. When
I do, I have the tools I trust (see signature). But the reason I am
aware of the dangers is relevant experience, not propaganda. That's
why firms hire “red teams” — execs are forced to stop irrationally
dismissing intrusion dangers after being shown how it is done on their

What follows is that for an anarchist group of activists / regular
people, you probably cannot do much. If a group forms an
orders-following hierarchy, it's a different thing — you only need to
convince the leaders.

> Why Skype/real-time is losing

Opinions wrt. your hypotheses below:

> 1) Noticeable impact on mobile battery life if left logged in all the
> time (holding open sockets to multiple servers? less efficient use of push?)

No, unless the difference is drastic.

> 2) Real-time, full duplex communications requires constant, decent
> bandwidth; degradation is very noticeable, especially with video

Doubt it.

> 3) App is very large (a good amount of native code), and a bit laggy
> during login and contacts lookup

No. Just a reason to buy faster devices with more memory.

> 4) Old and tired (aka not shiny) perception of brand; too much push of
> "pay" services

No. (Don't see people throwing out their iPhones just yet.)

> 5) Requires "new" username and password (aka not based on existing phone
> number), and lookup/adding of new contacts


> 6) US/EU based super-nodes may increase latency issues; vs China/Asia
> based servers

People shift to impersonal communication everywhere, not just in Asia.

> Why WeChat (and WhatsApp, Kakao, etc) async are winning
> 1) Push-to-talk voice negates nearly all bandwidth, throughput and
> latency issues of mobile.

Doubt that's the reason.

> 2) Push-to-talk is better than instant messaging for low literacy,
> mixed-written language communities; The "bootstrap" process for Skype is
> very text heavy still

Push-to-talk is an alternative to interactive calls, not IM.

> 3) Apps feel more lightweight both from size, and from network stack
> (mostly just using HTTPS with some push mechanism)


> 5) Shiny, new hotness, with fun themes, personalization, and focus on "free"

Unless WeChat are the first to think about those things, no.

> 6) Picture, video, file sharing made very easy - aka a first order
> operation, not a secondary feature; chats are a seamless mix of media

Doubt it.

> 7) Persistent, group chat/messaging works very well (since its just
> async/store and forward, its very easy to send many-to-many)


> 8) Identity often based on existing phone number, so signup is easy, and
> messaging to existing contacts is seamless

I think there are many similar services that do that.

> 9) More viral - you can message people not on the service, and they will
> be spammed to sign up for the service

LOL, no.

> Is my thinking headed in the right direction?

I think that you are missing key societal changes that drive the new offerings.

> Should we try to turn Gibberbot into a more-secure
> WhatsApp/WeChat clone?

You can try, but I doubt that anyone except a minority of security
enthusiasts will use it instead of established solutions.

Best regards,

Maxim Kammerer
Liberté Linux:

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