PhD Defense by Rui Zhou

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Title: User's Role in Shaping WeChat as an Infrastructure: Practice, Appropriation, Creation



Rui Zhou

Ph.D. Candidate in Human-Centered Computing

School of Interactive Computing

College of Computing

Georgia Institute of Technology



Date: Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Time: 12:00 AM – 3:00 PM ET

Location: https://bluejeans.com/577806230 (remote)




Dr. Betsy DiSalvo (Advisor), School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Beki Grinter, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Carl DiSalvo, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Ken Anderson, Next Generation and Standards, Intel Corporation

Dr. Xinning Gui, College of Information Sciences and Technology, Pennsylvania State University




The past decade has seen the rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly online social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. While online social platforms have existed since the early years of the internet, it is only in recent years that they begin to set foot on mobile devices, bringing them accessible to more people from all over the globe. Gradually gaining their presence in people's everyday lives, some of these social platforms (e.g., Facebook) have started expanding themselves from a simple social platform to a more powerful, more embedded, and more transparent infrastructure, supporting their users through various ways that are not limited to social or communication aspects.  


One instance of such a social platform that has successfully turned into an infrastructure is WeChat, the most popular mobile social application in China. Introduced in 2011, WeChat is currently the fifth largest social networking platform in the world, holding 1.16 billion monthly active users, who are mostly Chinese people living in China. When it was first developed, WeChat was solely a mobile instant messenger that supported users with a set of common communication media, including text messaging, audio messaging, etc. However, throughout its growth in the past nine years, it has also designed and integrated many non-communication, non-social functions for online payment, gaming, and much more. Nowadays, Chinese people use WeChat all the time: from paying street vendors to calling ride-hailing services, from reading daily news to reserving restaurant tables, WeChat is not only a communication tool but also an all-encompassing platform and infrastructure that Chinese people use to fulfill all kinds of needs. Given this prominent presence of WeChat and its status as both a platform and an infrastructure, WeChat's development and its relationship with its users are worth studying; its success offers a lot to learn about other similar platforms that are swiftly evolving into infrastructures.


This dissertation delves deep into understanding WeChat by focusing on how people use it--taking a user-centered perspective. It asks questions about how people use WeChat, why people use WeChat, and how people's use of WeChat has influenced WeChat to move from a platform to an infrastructure. To answer these questions, five empirical studies were conducted, revolving around Chinese people's use of different functions on WeChat under various situations and scenarios. Relying on qualitative methods, these studies together provide a holistic view of how people use WeChat. In addition, a meta-analysis was done on data collected from these studies, aiming for teasing out the user's role in WeChat's evolvement from a platform to an infrastructure. Findings from these studies reveal that while WeChat influences users and shapes their interactions with each other, it is also affected and changed by users' practices as well. Furthermore, by using WeChat, users, knowingly or not, have pushed WeChat to become a powerful infrastructure. This dissertation is the first in-depth study that researches diverse aspects of WeChat by attending to people's ways of using it, providing a holistic view of Chinese people's engagements with WeChat in their everyday lives and how these engagements contribute to WeChat's becoming an infrastructure.


This dissertation offers three major contributions to the field of Human-Computer Interaction: first, it provides an in-depth exploration of a popular non-Western social and communication application (i.e., WeChat); second, by taking a user-centered perspective, this dissertation uncovers the mutual-shaping relationship between WeChat and its users; third, most importantly, this dissertation contributes to understanding other social platforms' infrastructuralization processes by using WeChat as an exemplar, uncovering the role played by users in this process.



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Tatianna Richardson
  • Created:07/29/2020
  • Modified By:Tatianna Richardson
  • Modified:07/29/2020