The instant messaging application WeChat is steadily gaining popularity, and it’s easy to see why. WeChat currently boasts over 500 million active users, making it the largest messaging application in terms of monthly users. Although the vast majority of those users are in China, where WeChat was first developed, this uniquely social application is catching like wildfire, with 70 million current users outside of China, a number which is growing every day.

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As an instant messaging app, WeChat has all of the basic features you would want and expect from an application of this kind. Like many other instant messenger apps available today, WeChat allows its users to send text messages (SMS) and picture messages (MMS) to anywhere in the world, as well make free voice calls and conduct group chats with up to 500 people! You can send recorded audio and video files in your messages, or do a live video chat with your friend. They also have a huge gallery of fun, animated stickers to liven up your messages. All of these features are pretty much par for the course nowadays, so let’s talk about what makes WeChat special compared to all the other messaging apps available.

WeChat has taken the supposedly social skeleton of the standard instant messenger app and made it truly social by allowing people to meet new people and make new friends, near and far. Here’s how it works: WeChat has two different social options, “Shake” and “Look Around”. If you turn on the shake option and shake your phone, everyone else who is shaking their phone around the world will show up in a list, where you can send friend requests and messages to anyone who looks interesting. This is a great way to meet new people who are also interested in making friends, but is also helpful if you meet up with a large group of mutual friends in person and want to add everyone as a contact quickly and easily… all you have to do is shake your phones all at once!

The other social feature, “Look Around”, does basically the same thing but shows other WeChat users who are nearby, so if you would rather have a real life friend instead of an online friend, this is the option for you. It works the same way as the “Shake” function in that it will only show people who are also looking around, so no need to worry about people finding you if you don’t want them to.

Aside from these cool social functions to meet new people, WeChat has also taken a page from the social networking book with its “Moments” feature, which essentially allows users to share photos to their linked Facebook or Twitter accounts.

WeChat is supported across multiple platforms, including iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Symbian OS phones like Nokia S40, as well as versions available for Windows PC, Mac computers, and a web client. Best of all, WeChat is completely free to download and use, with no subscription fees ever. You can buy special sticker packs to add some flair to your messages if you want to, but there are lots of free stickers available if you’d rather not buy them.

If you’re looking for a new messaging app that goes above and beyond, give WeChat a try; you’ve really got nothing to lose!