When we say that WeChat is a popular application, we’re talking half a billion people. They must be onto something, right? Although at the moment, approximately 430 million of those users are in China, the number of users around the world is growing at a steady pace. This instant messaging application may soon become top dog worldwide, if current trends are any indication. There are several reasons behind the huge success of the WeChat messenger app, but they all boil down to unique and innovative features that you can’t find in any other similar application. WeChat has taken the basic instant messenger and made it a really exciting, social experience.

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Aside from the standard messaging features that you would expect from this kind of app, WeChat’s unique social features are what really set it apart from the rest. As far as I know, this is the only instant messenger that allows users to easily make new friends online and in real life, if they choose to. This is done with their two special functions, “Shake” and “Look around”. Picture this: you’re at home and bored and want to chat with someone new. Select the “Shake” function in WeChat and then shake your phone… you will get a list of everyone who is also shaking their phone, from all around the world. You can send messages and friend requests to people in the list, and make new friends near and far. Another example: imagine you’re out with a group of people, some of which you’ve just met, but you’re all having a great time and want to add each other as WeChat contacts. You can add each other all at once by having the whole group shake their phones at the same time.

The other social feature, the “Look Around” function, is geared towards people who are interested in making new friends in real life who are nearby. Like the “Shake” feature, when you “Look Around” you will get a list of all the other WeChat users nearby who are also “Looking Around”. Don’t worry about your stalker figuring out where you are with this feature, though; you will only show up in people’s lists if you are “Looking Around” too.

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Another neat way that WeChat has made the basic messaging application more social is by offering the possibility to link it to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that you can share photos from WeChat into your social media feeds with the tap of a button using the “Moments” feature.

This is all in addition to WeChat’s text messages, picture messages, video messages, recorded audio messages, group chats (with as many as 500 people!), voice calls, video calls, and something called “live chat” which is sort of like using a walkie-talkie for a conference call. And to make your messages really fun, WeChat has a huge gallery of stickers, many of which are animated and famous characters, and a lot of them are free. Which brings us to the best part about WeChat… it is 100% free. Free to download, free to use, with no extra fees for using the special features or making international calls, and no annual subscription fees to worry about. Free forever. No wonder half a billion people are using it!