China's top instant messaging client QQ is becoming more foreigner-friendly with a new international release with a user interface in English, French and Japanese.
Tencent, one of China's largest Internet firms, launched QQ International 1.0 on Wednesday, after testing the product through beta releases for more than a year. The new version is aimed at foreigners living in China or people interested in becoming connected with the country.
In China, QQ already dominates the instant messaging market, with more than 655 million active accounts, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. This has given the QQ client a 76 percent share of the market.
While Tencent is still focused on China, the company is slowly looking at the international market, said Mark Violo, product manager for Tencent. Like other major Chinese Internet firms such as Baidu and Alibaba Group, Tencent is "slowly seeding its brand and products" to overseas users, he said.
"I would definitely say it's not their main focus," Violo said. "This is a way of doing it without investing heavily."
The development of the product came about due to China's growing international presence and as more foreigners have come to visit and study in the country. QQ International is being promoted as a way for foreigners to instant message with Chinese Internet users for personal or business matters. The client has also partnered with local foreign-language media to provide users with information and news related to China, and even Chinese language lessons.
The first beta was launched in September 2009. Now the product has more than 2 million registered accounts with about 1.3 million active. So far about 55 percent of the QQ International users are foreigners, while the rest are Chinese users who have an international background or an interest in foreign countries, Violo said.
Version 1.0 of the client adds an invitation function, among other features. Support for Spanish, German and Korean will be added during the first quarter of 2011.
But even as QQ International opens up the client to new overseas users, the product is still focused on China.
"Our strength is if you use QQ International, you can connect with everything you want in China," Violo said. "If you import that model to the United States, you would have to provide everything you need in the United States. And right now we are not in the position to do that."
Coinciding with the release, Tencent is also preparing to launch a new social network service for foreigners in China sometime in the first quarter of 2011. The product, however, will not be based on any previous software Tencent has created. "It's something we have started from scratch in order to comply with the expectations from non-Chinese users," he said.
The new social service will focus "on groups, communities, organizations, rather than on personal profiles," Violo said, although personal profile pages will still be included. The goal is to allow any of these groups, from sports clubs to charity organizations, to represent themselves on the social network.