How the V&A Museum is collecting & preserving WeChat for the 100-year future
The following is an excerpt from the Brendan Cormier (V&A)’s article on How We Collected WeChat:
During our filming at the WeChat campus, the design team pulled us aside and handed us a phone. They had come up with a possible solution for the acquisition. On the phone was the WeChat app. We poked around on it, and asked what it was we were supposed to be looking at. They explained that the version of WeChat we were using, was actually an offline demo that they produced for Apple. Apple has a rigorous screening process before apps are allowed on the AppStore, and so WeChat had to produce demos like this before they could get approval. The demo was server-free, a pure and closed piece of software that in theory could sit on a phone for one hundred years, and still work when you turned it on again.
Our problem of how to connect to a server had been solved. We asked if they could develop a similar offline demo for Android, and they agreed. The idea was that we would then load the APK onto a phone, which would officially become our ‘museum object’, which we would store for future display. We would also keep a separate back-up of the APK on our server, which could be loaded onto other devices in the future if need be. Meanwhile, there was still the question of content, and here we decided to make a few concessions. At the moment, it is hard to foresee how we can preserve the dynamic quality of social media, all the incoming and outgoing messages, photos, videos, event notices, shared articles, etc. The legal complexities are just too great. Instead, we decided to simulate it as best we could, by pre-loading content into the APK of a made-up typical user called Star. We asked the WeChat team to script typical chats that Star might have; they also took photos, added content to her ‘moments’ (similar to the Facebook timeline), and made up a list of contacts.
To round out the acquisition, we also asked to collect the GIF files of their Bubble Pup sticker series. The character is used as an unofficial mascot for WeChat and we were keen to include a sticker series because WeChat were the first to pioneer GIF usage in chats. The designers were also able to supply a series of pencil sketches which illustrate how their sticker ideas were developed.