QQ: The Little Penguin Connecting the World

“Du, du, du” is the sound coming from Albert’s laptop, a Dutch engineer working for a New Zealand company. At the same time, a little penguin starts blinking in the right-hand corner of the screen. He knows that his Chinese business partner is calling him, and Albert quickly taps on the keyboard to catch up with his Chinese friend. The communication software Albert is using is called QQ, a very famous software brand in China. We asked Albert about his experience with QQ, he said:

There are quite a few social media programmes available these days: WhatsApp, Skype, QQ, Google Chat, WeChat and Viber. So many that it is sometimes hard to choose which one to use. I guess it depends heavily on the function you want to use and the people you want to communicate with. These days, social media programmes also offer other services, making it harder to choose among them all.

Over the years I have made a lot of Chinese friends. At first, I had difficulty communicating with them and most of the time I used email to share my thoughts with them. The tools I used to communicate were not all that common in China and I had to adapt in order to be able to talk to my friends and colleagues. After some research and advice from a good friend, I started using WeChat. I also started using QQ not all that long after.

Using these programmes opened up China for me. I could finally talk to all my friends. After using QQ for a while, I learned that QQ provides high standard services and enables me to exchange information in different ways. Any way I need to. If people ask me what social media programme I like best and use often these days, I would say QQ.

Kerisa, a British secretary working at a company in Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham explains: “I use QQ to make Chinese friends. I talk to them in Chinese and English. The chatrooms are great because there is always someone online. When you are learning a language you should use the tools that speakers of that language use and QQ are China’s number one communication tool”. Friends recommended using QQ when she started to learn Chinese two years ago. Now she enjoys talking to Chinese friends on QQ. She also created a QQ chatroom where she talks to Chinese-speaking people everyday. She can now speak Chinese very well by talking with Chinese friends using QQ.

Sonny, a young Dutch man, works at a company in Groningen. He met his Chinese girlfriend online. He said: “I started using QQ four years ago because my girlfriend persuaded me to use it. I use the International Edition as it is in English. Now I use it everyday to talk with my girlfriend who is in China (I use WeChat a lot now). QQ is very stable, great audio and video, I love the emoticons”.

As an overseas Chinese teacher, the most convenient way to communicate with my family and friends in China is to use QQ. I often upload recently taken photos to the QQ Zone to share with friends. At the same time I can read my friends’ news too. I also recommend using the programme to my students, because, just as Kerisa said, “When you are learning a language you should use the tools the speakers of that language use”.

You will find the famous penguin at the bottom right corner of Chinese computer screens if you look very carefully. This little penguin now plays a powerful and significant role in Chinese daily life.

QQ was developed by the giant technological company Tencent Holdings Limited in 1999. Just like most Chinese internet-related programmes, QQ was based on a foreign model, which is an American messenger program ICQ. But now, QQ has become the first widely used popular instant messaging software service in China. In addition to instant messaging, it also offers a variety of services, including online social games, music, shopping, microblogging, group chat. According to Millward Brown Optimor’s report, “From March 20, 2013, there are 798.2 million active QQ accounts, with a peak of 176.4 million simultaneous online QQ users, making its audience in China comparable in size to Facebook globally”.

In my opinion, there are several reasons for QQ’s popularity in China. Firstly, QQ’s logo, the little penguin, is eye-catching. Second, in addition to its main function as a piece of communication software, QQ also has additional features, such as emoticons, chatrooms, games, personal avatars, online storage and internet dating services. These features attract a lot of young people because they can choose their personal avatars and skins to show their own unique characteristics. The majority of internet users are young people. So QQ has become popular among Chinese youth first. With the increasing popularity of internet in Chinese daily life, only after a few years QQ has become widespread among the general public. Third, it distinguishes itself by offering a lot more online features than other messaging programmes, for example, QQ Zone, which is a customizable web page where users can upload text, photos and music, or QQ group, which is a platform where people with a certain common interest can talk freely and share their ideas.

Tencent Holdings Limited (known popularly as Tencent) was a small company when it was founded by Ma Huateng(马化腾) in 1998. After many years of development, it now continuously releases new functions and new products. So far, Tencent has grown into one of China’s largest and most used internet service portals. In 2012, it made the top five of Millward Brown Optimor’s list of the most Valuable Chinese Brands.

With the increase of the number of smartphone users and the development of mobile devices, Tencent is now shifting its priorities to WeChat. In 2011, they launched WeChat, which is also a very widely used messaging app in China now. The company even coined the phrase “The Era of WeChat” to describe the app’s popularity. The most remarkable feature of WeChat is its voice messaging function and its portability. With these useful new features, WeChat is very popular among Chinese young people. As of January 2013, it has 300 million users, according to the Managing Director of Tencent Ma Huateng (马化腾). Because of its open nature and its variety of mobile features, WeChat is an important tool in Tencent’s ambtition to diversify and expand internationally.

Tencent’s QQ penguin is becoming increasingly famous, not just in China, but around the world. Some countries are known through their world famous brands. For example, when talking about the brand Nokia, Finland springs to mind; the brand Samsung is connected with South Korea; Apple is associated with America; Shell is connected with the Netherlands. With the growth of Chinese internet companies and popularization of Chinese brands, sight of the QQ penguin in the bottom right-hand corner of computer screens will soon recall the country of China. More and more internationals will recognize QQ, the little penguin connecting the world.

By Teng Jiaqi(滕嘉琪)