Introduction: At the moment when the dividends of the mobile Internet are gradually disappearing, QQ has stopped the decline through micro-innovation, but Tencent may have to seek the possibility of explosive growth elsewhere.

  On February 10, QQ will be 23 years old.

  After 23 years, QQ has already become an indelible representative of social applications in China, but indelible does not mean it cannot be surpassed.

Today, the image of QQ is still standing. Only the cute penguin figure represents QQ and Tencent. However, the growth rate of the QQ business behind Penguin is far behind the competition in the mobile Internet era.

  Talking about the dilemma that QQ is currently facing, Tencent insiders told the first financial reporter that although the 23-year-old is still a young group in the human population, as the oldest application of domestic social products, it is not appropriate to use "middle-aged" to describe QQ. However, it is difficult to maintain the fundamentals of 600 million monthly active users.

From bright to dim

  As a third-generation entrepreneur after the reform and opening up, Ma Huateng resigned after six years of work and went to sea, borrowing from the ICQ developed by the Israelis, and bringing the domestic version of QQ to the Chinese market.

  On February 10, 1999, the first generation of QQ was launched. At that time, Tencent’s founding team set the limit for QQ users to 100,000. They could not have imagined that QQ would grow into a national level with a monthly active life of more than 800 million in the future. application.

  After the exploration of the business model, the denunciation of users due to charges, the encirclement and suppression of portal communication tools, the bursting of the Internet bubble and other twists and turns, in the end, QQ still made great progress.

From 2004 to 2012, with the rapid development of my country's Internet and mobile Internet technology, the number of QQ monthly active users experienced a rapid growth stage; from 2013 to 2016, the number of QQ monthly active users was basically stable, but in 2016 it also became a QQ monthly active user. The inflection point where the number of active users began to decline.

  From January 2011 to January 2014, with the help of QQ's diversion, WeChat suddenly emerged and rushed forward, bringing Tencent Social into the mainstream consumer groups.

Accompanying it is the loss of QQ users.

  In the second quarter of 2016, the number of monthly active users of QQ climbed to an all-time high of 899 million, and it has been volatile since then.

According to Tencent's third quarter performance report in 2021, the number of monthly active accounts of QQ mobile terminals fell by 7.1% year-on-year to 570 million, and fell by 2.9% month-on-month.

  Talking about the decline of QQ data, Liang Zhu, the then vice president of Tencent Group and the fifth-generation leader of QQ, said, "Frankly speaking, there is indeed a transfer of QQ users to WeChat. This is an objective fact, especially in 2020. More obvious changes." Liang Zhu said, including parents sending red envelopes to their children on WeChat during the Chinese New Year, and also using WeChat to pay for things in the grocery store.

  Liang Zhu said that the topic of "user loss" is rarely discussed within the team, but there will always be social needs that WeChat cannot meet in this world. At this time, if there is no QQ, Tencent's social moat will be exposed.

Nowadays, the industry is competing for young people, such as the newly added Internet users. QQ's goal has turned to this part.

  Tang Daosheng, who was the senior executive vice president of Tencent and the head of Tencent's social network business group (SNG) at the time, is currently the senior executive vice president of Tencent and the CEO of the cloud and smart industry business group. Regarding positioning, he said in an interview with the media in 2014 that young users have always been the focus of the QQ team, because they have a strong demand for personalization, close communication and frequent communication between friends.

Tencent's attention to the needs of young people has always been very high.

  As for the differentiation and diversion of young people when they grow up, Tang Daosheng said that to undertake different groups of people requires different teams to serve different scenarios and different groups of people.

Like corporate office, Tencent has a corporate QQ team, which is dedicated to extending the technical capabilities based on QQ's original entry into the corporate office market.

"How can we meet the entertainment needs of young people, and also meet the convenience of working people, or the entertainment needs of the elderly, we will have different teams to explore."

  But unfortunately, the development of QQ has not successfully met the needs of people of all ages, and the positioning of young people has not stopped the trend of declining QQ core data.

Sinolink Securities analyzed in a research report investigating other companies that, for Generation Z, in addition to a high desire to explore new games, an important feature of their needs is high sociality. 80% of Generation Z Similar social APPs expand their social circles, and more than 50% of Gen Zers believe that WeChat and QQ cannot fully meet their social needs.

The unique social needs of the younger generation have given birth to a series of composite "content + community" platforms.

Positioning for success and positioning for failure?

  An employee who has worked in the QQ business department for many years told the First Financial Reporter that the position of QQ is very embarrassing.

In response to the downward trend of QQ in recent years, he analyzed the first financial reporter that the trend of QQ largely depends on the positioning of QQ at the group level.

  The rhythm of Tencent's internal innovation and product promotion has long been different from the past.

The outside world asked the reason why Tencent, which was in the early stage of its business, came to the fore. The answer given by the team was the paralysis and weakness of its opponents, as well as the micro-innovation of technology.

Micro-innovation includes storing user content and friend lists on the computer client, effectively controlling software volume, and adopting UDP (User Datagram Protocol) which saves server costs.

  Nowadays, the competition in the mobile Internet is fierce, and the atmosphere where several founders sat at a table to discuss products, competition, trends and innovations has long since disappeared. The top of the Tencent Group pyramid is the general office of the group. It also consists of a number of departments responsible for specific business.

  After Tencent acquired Sogou, the discussion on whether the Sogou input method will be integrated with the WeChat input method team to achieve the goal of complementing each other and improving efficiency has aroused outside curiosity.

A Tencent insider told the first financial reporter that from the perspective of efficiency, of course, integration is the best solution.

However, in the actual implementation process, the WeChat business department follows the will of the leader and prefers independent research. The optimal solution can only be reduced to an ideal hypothesis.

  The impact of the backwardness of the architecture on the development of QQ existed several years ago.

Yin Yu once said that behind QQ's loss of the era of smartphones, what was lost was time.

"At that time, the development speed of QQ was really slow, and there was not much innovation. It was more about the completeness of basic functions. What a basic IM should do, differentiation and innovation were things that happened when the major version was updated in 2013. .” In addition, the ownership of QQ was unknown at that time, and the team was led by Tencent’s wireless business system, and their assessment indicators were different, which directly dragged down the development of QQ.

So in 2012, Tencent established a business group, and the PC and mobile versions of QQ, Qzone, QQ Music and other products were included in the SNG social network business group.

  It is undeniable that for more than 20 years, QQ has not stopped in terms of functional innovation.

As the oldest social app in China, QQ still maintains a stable update frequency-mainly focusing on micro-innovations on existing tools, such as adding topics, selecting messages in batches, and interesting selfie emoticons.

  In the eyes of Xiaolong, a subculture player with over ten years of QQ age, QQ has been changing in the past ten years, including aesthetic upgrades and functional iterations: the message function that I played when I was a child is no longer used, but there are more and more auxiliary functions such as small world.

But in the opinion of another QQ player, Wang Kai, the frequent and subtle updates of QQ made him feel disturbed and bored. What to watch, etc. It seems that QQ wants to follow the experience of successfully guiding WeChat, but this does affect the experience.”

  The evaluation list under QQ products in the Android app store shows: "More and more bloated" "The more the update is bigger, can it be more concise" "Dozens of G memory occupy too much".

  Lin Yu, a brokerage analyst who has been concerned about the Internet for a long time, told the first financial reporter that QQ is aimed at young people and inevitably caters to young people's hobbies in terms of function updates. In this context, it is inevitable that the application will become heavier.

  In addition, the "non-mainstream" positioning was actually chosen by Tencent's executives.

Yin Yu, the vice president of Tencent Group who was in charge of the QQ business, mentioned that it is a contradictory choice to choose the post-90s or even the post-00s, or the post-70s and post-80s who grew up with QQ. The reason is that "no matter how young they are now, they It is the future, and it will definitely become the mainstream, we cannot do it against the trend.”

  In addition to the influence of experience and innovation, according to many industry insiders, one of the major reasons affecting the growth of QQ, which is positioned as a "young group", is the decline in population growth in recent years.

  On January 17, 2022, the National Bureau of Statistics released the latest population data. In 2021, the number of births in my country will be 10.62 million, and the number of deaths will be 10.14 million. The annual natural population growth rate in my country is approaching the era of zero growth.

According to data previously released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of births in my country in 2020 was 12 million, that in 2019 was 14.65 million, that in 2018 was 15.23 million, and that in 2017 was 17.23 million.

From the perspective of the birth population in the past five years, the downward trend of the birth population in my country is obvious.

QQ pinning its hopes on the addition of new population and new young groups may come to nothing.

  Why is WeChat now in the top spot instead of QQ?

Tang Daosheng once concluded that there are too many historical reasons and objective circumstances behind the results. In addition to Tencent's organizational structure, there are also Tencent's strategies.

But even if it's not WeChat, there will be other products that continue to challenge QQ's market position.

QQ new battlefield or in the metaverse

  Many interviewees also said that under the current macro environment, it is very difficult for QQ to rise again or even detonate a new round of explosive growth.

  Behind the continuous decline in the growth rate of the QQ business, including the sudden emergence of WeChat with the help of QQ traffic dividends, the short video platform's overtaking on the curve, the unclear positioning of the QQ business within the Tencent Group, and the internal friction and lag of Tencent's internal product innovation, etc. At the moment when the Internet dividend is gradually disappearing, QQ has stopped the decline through micro-innovation, but Tencent may have to strive for the possibility of explosive growth elsewhere.

  Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research, told that the decline in the number of QQ users is an inevitable result. In the past, QQ users who continued to use QQ mainly came from teachers who set up homework for post-00s and formed a QQ group, but with the popularity of WeChat, QQ has been significantly replaced. A large number of young users also switched to WeChat.

In addition, after Douyin became popular, a large number of young users turned their attention to the short video platform, which is also a greater impact on QQ.

  In terms of the maintenance of QQ itself, Zhang Yi said that it also has major problems.

From the monitoring of the past ten years, QQ has problems such as spam information, hacking, and interface confusion, resulting in the loss of users.

At the same time, QQ's own products lack innovation and competitiveness, leading to the swarms of competing products on the same track.

  Therefore, if QQ wants to break a game in the mobile social field, it needs fundamental innovation.

Looking at it today, Zhang Yi said that the existing online social products are outdated in innovation, and WeChat is still popular today, but the bigger reason is not based on its social functions, but the use of health codes for travel and WeChat payment for payments, etc. Branch line support.

In this comparison, QQ is just a single online social tool, which no longer meets the rigid demands of current consumers for mobile APPs. This is the fundamental problem of QQ.

  So where is the direction of QQ's fundamental innovation?

Perhaps the update of the latest version of QQ revealed some information.

In the beta version of QQ Android version 8.8.68, the built-in Unreal Engine of Tencent QQ increased by 23MB, from 123MB (version 8.8.55) to 146MB.

  In the QQ 8.8.55 version update, the Unreal 4 engine with more than 100MB has been built in. It is a 3D creation tool launched by Epic Games and has been widely used in the field of game development.

Unreal Engine officially stated on Zhihu that the way QQ embeds UE4 is to embed a 3D rendering interaction function in the App. The rendering effect of UE4 is better, the content development tool chain is better, and the source code transformation is more convenient, so it adopts UE4 is only, so you don't need to manually develop a series of 3D functions.

  The industry generally believes that the addition of Unreal Engine is to serve the newly launched Super QQ Show on QQ, and re-shape the face of the old QQ show by DIYing the faces, facial features, and clothing of QQ characters.

At present, face pinching and game engines are mostly used in companies that hold the banner of the Metaverse.

Lin Yu said that Unreal Engine officials have stated that there are many considerations behind the decision to build Unreal Engine 4 in QQ.

Perhaps we have only seen 1% of the content of the Super QQ Show, and there is still 99% of the imagination in the future.

  In addition, the uniqueness of QQ itself is an important weapon to maintain the current user stickiness.

Xiaolong, who has added more than 200 subculture QQ groups, told the first financial reporter that her favorite cotton dolls, Pia plays (voice acting), etc., are all communicated in QQ groups, "The main position of subcultures is in QQ. Group, I can meet many people in this circle on QQ, choosing QQ instead of WeChat can help me protect the privacy of my personal life, and at the same time gather friends with similar interest circles." Xiaolong said.

  "In the future, when you grow up and you may no longer like subcultures, will you still stay on QQ?"

  "Everyone is growing up and their interests will shift, but the friends they make will not change." Xiaolong replied to the reporter.

  But Tang Daosheng has already established a sense of crisis. In 2015, he mentioned: "The Internet market is changing too fast, let alone more than ten years, products that exceed five years are very difficult. It is difficult for me to say why users have not abandoned them. QQ, but I'm actually worried that it will be thrown aside one day." (Author: Lv Qian)