6 Things you need to know about China’s QQ

QQ is Tencent’s instant messaging platform developed in 1999 that’s said to be an imitation of ICQ, which was developed in 1996. I remember using ICQ as my primary chat tool around 1999-2000, after AOL messenger and before MSN messenger.

QQ penguin
The only impression I had of QQ prior to living in China was their penguin logo and the annoying door sound notification they have for your friends coming online or going offline. It sounds just like this door sound from my son’s Vtech barnyard toy, only repeated more often than a hyperactive toddler can press a button.
Vtech sit to stand barnyard musical toy
It was so annoying hearing international Chinese students playing that sound throughout freshman year of college that I actually had an aversion to QQ. I found no reason to use the application. Even when the international version came out I stuck to WeChat only. Then came the day when I worked freelance on a project for a Chinese company and they flat out told me that the only way our relationship could last is if I download QQ and check it frequently (in other words: get the app on mobile too).

Whether you’ve seen your coworkers using QQ, heard your collaborators ask you to download QQ, or never heard of the whole thing, this list is for you! It’s the quick and easy guide to understanding the basics of QQ so you can decide if you need to use it too!

QQ international screenshot

1. “Email? Don’t you have wechat or QQ?”

If you’ve been on the receiving end of this question, you need to read on! QQ is the equivalent of email in China, hence why everyone has it and most use it. The latest report from a December 2016 showed that QQ has 899 million active monthly users, which is roughly 56.6% of all Chinese internet users.

You may have noticed that many Chinese email addresses are actually their QQ number (similar to ICQ) @qq.com. Josh Horowitz (Quartz) wrote an excellent article on how Chinese prefer real time conversation over email, which they consider lagged and much too slow. This is an important point to note if you do business with Chinese or collaborate–Don’t expect them to honor your no-work-emails-after-hours rule, or to accept your I’ll-respond-on-Monday-morning comment. In China, it’s not just the economy that’s been fast paced, but people have become accustomed to a faster pace as well, and no one has time for email.

QQ file transfer example

2. “What’s your QQ? I’ll transfer the files overnight”

If you work in China, or with China, and need to transfer files, you must use QQ.

The good news is that QQ is actually a superior tool for transferring files in that it’s free, you can set your account to automatically accept files without having to click “download”, and there is no cap on file size. You can also transfer files while offline and it pauses rather than resets when there are connectivity issues. This may not seem like a big deal if you haven’t tried using China’s internet, as you would not be aware of how much slower it is and how it is also incredibly unstable.

When you’re transferring hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes, and your emails reject them, and services like Dropbox are blocked by the Great China Wall, and cloud services either require too great a learning curve or it’s difficult to agree on just ONE cloud server (icloud, google drive, Baidu yun), it’s easier to stick to an application everyone is already familiar with and using in their personal time: the chat app. It’s like businesses marketing with Snapchat–they don’t so it because it’s a superior platform, they do it because everyone’s already on it.

As such, QQ has established itself as the workplace chat app (like Jabber), the family group chat app (like Facebook Messenger), the music app (like Spotify), the gaming app (like Facebook games–or what it aspired to be), and the meet-new-people app (like AOL public chat rooms).

Wechat Versus QQ

3. “QQ vs. WeChat”

You might think that since WeChat is life in China, QQ must be its older outdated cousin. However this is not the case; QQ and WeChat are both owned by Tencent. They are not interchangeable and it’s not an either or situation where you have to pick a side. In fact, a recent WeChat statistics show that foreigners in China use WeChat more than Chinese. How could this be if WeChat is life? Because it’s not 100% of Chinese life.

If you’re a millennial wondering where all the young people are on WeChat, note that 80% of QQ users were born after 1990 (the so-called “post 90s”). This is most likely due to the popular multiplayer gaming options on QQ and the fact that many consider WeChat to be for “mature” users (such as the arenas of millennials).

QQ in iOS AppStore

4. “Where’s your computer?”

QQ is best used on desktop as its mobile app has limited capabilities, especially if used for file transfer/gaming. Since it was originally developed for PCs, its mobile version is not nearly as sophisticated, nor does it have the location and payment capabilities of WeChat.

The mobile app is best for existing users who need to remain “online” (it keeps you logged in while running in the background) and alert for new messages.

QQ international login screen

5. “Oh, you can’t read Chinese?”

QQ has an international version, which is fully in English, and has the same “live translation” function that WeChat is known for.

The international version can be downloaded on mobile too, but evidently new accounts must be created on the website or with the desktop client.

QQ Facebook inapp

6. “Do you have Facebook?”

QQ now has a Facebook app called QQchat as part of its worldwide expansion attempt. What this means is that you no longer have to create an account with a bunch of numbers you don’t remember, but can instead login directly with your Facebook account.

So are you ready to join the 899 million QQ users? Or do you still have doubts? Questions? Leave a comment and let’s talk it out!

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