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February 9, 2017

What you need to know about “?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0” in Google Analytics

TL;DR version: When you see “?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0″ in your Google Analytics, that means you are getting traffic from Chinese social network WeChat. For the whole story, see the details below.

While examining the channels section of your Google Analytics dashboard, you may have wondered if all those direct visitors actually typed in your URL and navigated straight to your website. You may have also noticed that some of the destination URLs or landing pages for direct visitors had mysterious parameters added to the end of your web page URL. Today I will explain what you need to know about ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics.

?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics

The Mystery of ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics

When I first noticed these direct visitors, I ignored them and assumed that they were spammers like the Russian “Secret.ɢoogle.com You are invited! Enter only with this ticket URL. Copy it. Vote for Trump!” guy.

Yet these visitors caught my attention after our direct website traffic spiked. Almost all these new visitors’ destination URLs had this mysterious parameter at the end that started with “?from=.”

I drilled into the data and discovered that 100% of these visitors were on mobile devices. Some of them stayed long enough to read the article, and some of them bounced. In other words, they acted like any other normal visitor.

But who are they? Why did they visit IVANNOVATION.com exactly? And why did they cause my Google Analytics dashboard to record extra parameters after the URL?

A Google search showed me several articles (here, here, and here) about this extra parameter in Google Analytics. Yet all the articles were in Chinese, not one was in English.

So we researched the Chinese sources, and today we will reveal the mystery of ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics to the English-speaking world.

Also Read: Three Reasons to Translate your App into Chinese

Who are these visitors?

Not only are these visitors not spammers, they are not even direct visitors.

They are social visitors. What social network? WeChat.

WeChat (微信) is a Chinese social network that began as a voice messaging app. Young mobile users, who found typing messages (in Chinese) bothersome, latched onto an app that would allow them to send each other short audio messages using their voices rather than their fingers.

WeChat added social sharing features like those on Facebook, and it ballooned in popularity. Now WeChat has 846 million monthly active users (as of Q3 2016). Compared to Facebook at 1.65 billion monthly active users and Twitter at 317 million monthly active users, WeChat is a major social network on the global stage.

When WeChat users click on your article shared via the WeChat app, your Google Analytics dashboard will display the destination URL with a variation of ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 at the end.

Learn More: How to Build a Multilingual Website? Here Are the First Steps [Complete Guide]

Have visitors on your site from China? It's time to translate.

What do the parameters mean?

If you look at ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0, you will notice there are two sections: the ?from= section and the isappinstalled= section.

The string, isappinstalled, means that the user’s device has the WeChat app installed. The value after isappinstalled should always be 0.

There are several variations of the parameters that come after ?from= in the URL. Here is each variation with an explanation.

  • message: a user sent a message to another user with a text link and no image (See (A) in the image below.)
  • singlemessage: a user sent a message to another user with a link and an image (See (B) below.)
  • groupmessage: a user posted a link with an image to a WeChat group (微信群). (See (C) below.)
  • timeline: a user posted a link with an image to his or her “Moments” feed (朋友圈). (See (D) below.)
WeChat message text link with no image. WeChat message link with image. WeChat group link with image. WeChat Moments link with image.

(A) WeChat message text link with no image. (B) WeChat message link with an image. (C) WeChat group link with an image. (D) WeChat Moments link with an image.

Here are all the variations that we have seen on our Google Analytics dashboard.

  • ?from=message&isappinstalled=0
  • ?from=singlemessage&isappinstalled=0
  • ?from=groupmessage&isappinstalled=0
  • ?from=timeline
  • ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0

So when you see “?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0″ in Google Analytics, you can be sure that these mysterious visitors are not spammers. As a matter of fact, they are real people, interested in your content, and coming to your website from a Chinese social media network.

What types of articles from your website are popular on WeChat? Do you have any special tricks to manipulate how these visitors appear in your Google Analytics dashboard? Please share your ideas below.

Darren Jansen, Business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.

January 23, 2017

Zhou Youguang, the Father of Pinyin, Dies at Age 111

Zhou Youguang, the father of Pinyin, passed away on January 14, 2017, the day after his 111th birthday.

His creation, Pinyin, has become the most common romanization system for Chinese characters around the world.

Chinese characters are non-phonetic. Therefore, a Chinese reader can only take a guess at the pronunciation of a character he or she has never seen before. Thus, Pinyin acts as a pronunciation guide for Chinese.

It has become indispensable in modern times.

  • Chinese children learn it to aid in correct pronunciation of Mandarin
  • Chinese dictionaries list words alphabetically according to the Pinyin spelling
  • Students of Chinese as a second language use Pinyin to learn how to pronounce Chinese
  • Street signs in China include Pinyin, making navigation easier for non-Chinese
  • Speakers of English and other languages use Pinyin to spell the names of Chinese people and places
  • Smartphone and computer users type Pinyin and then select the correct characters from the list of options
How to type Chinese characters using Pinyin

How to type Chinese characters using Pinyin

The Early Life of Zhou Youguang, the Father of Pinyin

Zhou Youguang was born in Jiangsu province on January 13th, 1906, to an official in the Qing dynasty.

His family’s poverty nearly held him back from advanced studies. But friends and family gathered money for his education, allowing him to continue.

The former residence of Zhou Youguang in Changzhou, Jiangsu

The former residence of Zhou Youguang in Changzhou, Jiangsu

He studied economics at St. John’s University, Shanghai. On the side, he took a few linguistics electives because he had an interest in languages.

In 1933 he moved to Japan to continue studying. However, he returned to China in 1937 at the start of the Sino-Japanese war.

Zhou Youguang and his wife, Zhang Yunhe in 1938.

Zhou Youguang and his wife, Zhang Yunhe in 1938.

Upon his return, he worked for a short time at Sin Hua Bank in Shanghai. This is where he met Zhou Enlai, who later became a leader of China under Mao Zedong.

After the end of the war, Sin Hua Bank sent him to work in New York City and then London.

Back to New China

Like many Chinese people at the time, he returned to his homeland in 1949 after the establishment of Communist China, excited to take part in the establishment of a modern, resurgent China.

He said about that move, “We all thought that China had a very good opportunity to develop; we didn’t expect the later turmoil. History misled us.”

Back in China again, he taught economics at Fudan University in Shanghai. However, his future would not include becoming a famous economist.

Zhou Youguang, the Father of Pinyin, in 1947

Zhou Youguang, the Father of Pinyin, in 1947

The Birth of Pinyin

At this time, the new Chinese government was considering the need for language reforms. One of those reforms was creating a new romanization system.

The Wade-Giles system was another romanization system already widely in use. This system may be familiar to readers for its alternative spellings for cities such as Beijing, Nanjing, Fuzhou, and Qingdao. (Wade-Giles spells them Peking, Nanking, Foochow, and Tsingtao respectively.) However, this system was ungainly and did not always accurately convey true Chinese pronunciation.

Now a major player in the Chinese government, Zhou Enlai, remembered his old friend Zhou Youguang, whom he had met in Shanghai years before. He recalled that Zhou Youguang had an avocational passion for languages. So he called him to Beijing to lead the committee that was to produce a new romanization system.

Zhou Enlai and Zhou Youguang

Zhou Enlai (left) called Zhou Youguang (right) to Beijing in order to undertake linguistic reforms in 1955.

Zhou Youguang resisted, saying that linguistics was only his hobby, but Zhou Enlai told him, “Everyone is an amateur.”

Unable to refuse the number two leader in China, he moved to Beijing where he began a three-year effort that resulted in the invention of Pinyin.

It turned out that this job change was good for him and protected him from Mao’s fury against intellectuals.

Zhou Youguang said, “Mao disliked greatly the economists — especially economic professors from America. By that time, I had shifted to the line of language and writing. I was not considered a rightist. Very lucky. If I had remained in Shanghai teaching economics, I think I certainly could have been imprisoned for 20 years. A good friend of mine was imprisoned and committed suicide.”

However, even his contribution to the history of Chinese linguistics could not protect him from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. In 1969, the government sent him to work in a labor camp, where he toiled in rice paddies for two years.

Get a free quoteThe Later Years

After 1980 he continued his scholarly pursuits. After he translated the Encyclopedia Britannica with two other scholars, he gained the moniker “Encyclopedia Zhou”.

Youguang also wrote a book called, The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts, whose English translation still sells in the United States.

He started a blog on Sina (Zhou’s blog in Chinese) and continued blogging until he was 105 years old.

One of the most recent articles on Zhou Youguang's blog

One of the most recent articles on Zhou Youguang’s blog

He also wrote more than 40 books, several of which are banned in China for being critical of the government.

It was probably this free spirit and independent thought, which held Zhou Youguang, the Father of Pinyin, back from widespread fame in his homeland. The government could not allow him to challenge the communist status quo. Nor would it really do to have a supercentenarian, and a legendary figure at that, arrested. The best it could do was make sure that the media ignored him.

Regardless of how well known this 111-year-old man is, he truly made a major change to the language that has the most native speakers of any language.

His contribution to the history and culture of China deserves recognition from historians, linguists, and language learners everywhere.

Photo credit: 猫猫的日记本 via Wikipedia (license)
Photo credit: Fong C via  Wikipedia (license)

Darren Jansen, Business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.

September 2, 2016

8+ Tips for Marketing Your App in China

Are you yearning to earn some Yuan?

Maybe selling an app to China’s millions would do the trick. But can you just post your English app on an app store? Then hope that people will know what it is and how it works? Or can you just do a quick translation of the app? Then expect to feel your pockets fill up with gold?

Unfortunately selling an app in China is not as easy as posting it to Google Play or the Apple App Store. Nor is it as easy as just translating it.

If you want your wallet to bulge with copies of Mao’s portrait, then follow these tips for releasing an app in China.

Mao's face on Chinese Yuan. Tips for publishing an app in China.

Mao’s face on Chinese Yuan


The citizens of Hong Kong are well-known for speaking excellent English. However, outside of the large coastal cities of China, few people are proficient in English. Even those who have a high English proficiency prefer to buy from websites that are in Chinese.

But you cannot simply translate an app word for word and expect that it will meet the needs of Chinese consumers. The app needs to be truly localized. For example, dates in China start with the year, then the month, and then the day. Chinese names have the family name first and then the given name. These are basic localization factors that need to taken into account when the app is under development.

Still, there is more to effectively localizing. In order to really appeal to the masses, you must speak appropriately to their culture.

Get a quote

For example, young Chinese like to use Internet slang. One commercial featuring Jackie Chan depicted him saying “Duang.” This word took off with the masses even though that combination of sounds had never existed in the Chinese language before. That didn’t bother the Chinese Internet world. Netizens even invented a new character for the word by combining Jackie Chan’s family name and given name into one character. This word immediately insinuated itself into advertisements, news headlines, and countless online discussions. It was everywhere.

Working with a Chinese partner who understands this up-and-coming terminology can give you an idea of what words can resonate with your target audience.

Not only is Internet slang popular, but it also set phrases, called chengyu. They come from history and ancient literature and speaks to the hearts of Chinese people. The phrase “discussing military strategy on paper” does not really mean much to non-Chinese. However, Chinese immediately know the story behind that short phrase, and they know the meaning. It is worthless to have an intellectual knowledge of something without a practical ability. By using chengyu you can communicate a deep meaning with few words. As well as show your literary knowledge at the same time.

Finally, names of foreign brands must turn to localization in a way that appeals to Chinese consumers. Very often foreign names are written using Chinese characters that sound out the foreign name. However, these can be hard to remember for Chinese people because they are like a random assortment of Chinese characters. This type of Chinese name can be just as hard for Chinese people to remember as Chinese names are for you.

Therefore, many companies, rather than sounding out their English names in Chinese, create a new Chinese name that is meaningful to Chinese people and easy to remember. The meaning of the Chinese name may not be exactly the same as the meaning of the English name, but it sounds good and feels right.

An example of a movie named this way: The Expendables in Chinese is literally “the team that dares to die.”

The Expendables

Men with guns

Design Your App for China

Not only does the language need to be Chinese, but the app design needs to be Chinese as well. Chinese web users are much more comfortable with what Americans would call clutter. One web portal page can have hundreds of links.

Compare the NetEase web portal to Yahoo.


A screenshot of NetEase

Screenshot of Yahoo

Screenshot of Yahoo

In addition, Chinese web pages are often full of movement. When you open up the Chinese web portal www.163.com, a large advertisement opens from the top for about five seconds. It then withdraws back to the top, but a newsfeed photo slider continuously changes photos, text scrolls along the sides, and advertisements on the sides never stop flashing and changing. What an American user might find infuriating is normal to a Chinese user.

GIF of NetEase

GIF of NetEase

Websites and apps are even designed differently in hidden ways as well. Chinese web designers use blank links—links which open the webpage in a new browser tab—much more frequently than American web designers do.

For an in-depth comparison of American and Chinese app design see  Dan Grover’s blog.

Release on Android

iPhones are extremely popular in China. Netizens have even nicknamed the iPhone “kidney” in reference to the story of a person who sold his kidney to buy an iPhone.

However, because much of the smartphone market growth is due to less affluent people in smaller cities, cheaper alternatives based on Android are driving growth. Local brands such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, and Lenovo all sell well across China.

Android is where the people are; about 70% of gamers on mobile devices in China are using Android.

Nevertheless, note that iPhone users on average spend more money on apps than Android users do.

Publish on Multiple Third-Party App Stores

Unlike in America, where Google Play and the Apple App Store dominate the market, in China more than 300 Android app stores vie for consumers. The top stores are Myapp by Tencent, 360 Mobile Assistant, and Baidu Mobile Assistant. These stores have an installation base of 26%, 23%, and 18% respectively. Google Play, on the other hand, has a mere 5%.

“In fact, Google play is blocked in China,” says Shlomo Freund, the founder of AppInChina.  “So even though it has some market share, few people use that store. It’s mostly used by foreigners or tourists coming in. Its market share comes from pre-installs on Android phones. Otherwise, I don’t see Chinese mobile users downloading the Google Play store to their phones actively.”

How to market an app in China. Be sure to release it on local app stores like Myapp Store by Tencent

Myapp Store by Tencent

Studies show that developers can improve distribution by 200% by publishing on multiple platforms compared to releasing on Google Play alone. The decision on what stores to release on depends on factors like budget, demographics, and the relative market share of each store.

Here is an up-to-date list of the top 20 Chinese app stores.

Partner with a Local App Publisher

Names and name brands represented by well-known celebrities matter in China, from goods to phones to sneakers. Chinese consumers prefer to buy from a brand that they know and trust. Google’s data suggests that more than 80% of mobile gamers buy from a brand they recognize.

That means foreign app developers should be prepared to partner with a local app publisher so that consumers know that they will get an honest product without spyware and viruses.

Nevertheless, as a developer, you yourself should be alert against being cheated. Work with reputable publishers that will not simply take your ideas and leave you cold.

Integrate with Services Like QQ, WeChat, and Weibo

Be prepared to have your app and its associated websites integrate with QQ, WeChat, and Weibo. WeChat has over 500 million users. While it is primarily a messaging app, it also has a Facebook-like functionality, which allows users to post updates and share web addresses.

WeChat welcome screen. WeChat is a top app in China.

WeChat welcome screen. WeChat is a top app in China.

It has become so important at driving inbound traffic, that now web developers must optimize their websites for the WeChat app.

Thomas Graziani, the founder of WalktheChat, said, “I read a ton of articles by non-Chinese mobile developers who have to test their work in multiple browsers. In China, we need only test our light apps in the WeChat browser, and if it works there, we’re good to go. That’s how universal the platform is.”

The light app that he mentions is a small web page designed specifically for the WeChat browser. In fact, sometimes these tiny apps don’t even function in a desktop browser.

In China, the mobile-first idea is old fashioned. As Kendra Schaefer says, “China is already going mobile-only.”

Use Free Apps with In-App Purchases

Chinese consumers tend to dislike paying for apps. Perhaps this has something to do with the long tradition of free information in China. You can download free music, free movies, and free books off the Chinese Internet. Students are even accustomed to getting textbooks for free, or nearly free, by taking their classmates’ textbooks to the copy center and reproducing them page by page.

Therefore free apps appeal to Chinese consumers more than paid apps at any price. That doesn’t mean though that Chinese are not willing to spend money. Chinese love to spend money, not ON apps, but IN apps. They pay for things like extra services and functions, e-commerce, and premium versions.

Happy man with money. How to publish an app in China.

Happy man with cash

As of 2013, 90% of profits from apps came from in-app purchases. Forbes magazine states that out of those who make purchases online, 80% used a mobile device to buy something last year. 20% do so weekly.

Don’t Hurt the Feelings of the Chinese People

Usually, when you hurt someone’s feelings, you kiss and makeup and it is all good. But when the Chinese government says you hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, you are in deep trouble.

Try accessing Facebook or YouTube in China, and you will understand what happens to companies that hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. The result: your website and app will be blocked. End of story.

There is no Western Internet giant big and powerful enough to ignore the laws of China. Follow the rules or stay out.

This means paying attention to a whole host of issues. If your site or app features a map in it, be sure to consult with the government’s official maps first. Pro tip: Be aware that Beijing wants Taiwan to be the same color as the Mainland. Also, remember the nine-dash line.

Blog content and discussion forums’ discussions had better not stray from the view of the People’s Daily, the official government newspaper.

Don’t just assume that it is you against the government. You need to need to be sensitive to how the people themselves feel. Anything that seems to represent China had better be treated with the utmost of respect.

Ferrari found itself the brunt of ire when it lifted a car up onto a section of the Great Wall for a photo op. Having an Italian car on the wall seemed to many the equivalent of trodding on the Chinese flag.

When Japan is involved in any way, be especially sensitive. Much negative sentiment remains from World War II. Toyota sparked a backlash when one of their advertisements showed stone lions, a traditional Chinese decoration, showing obeisance to a Toyota. This led netizens to create photos of stone lions smashing Toyotas: not the image the automaker was going for.

Beware of the pitfalls when marketing your app in China.

Stone lions with Toyota

Therefore, be sensitive to the rules of the Chinese government. As well as the views of the Chinese people.

Other Tips

Use reliable content providers: Do not rely on content from websites that are blocked or restricted in China. That means rather than using information or maps from Google, use Baidu. Rather than getting videos from YouTube, use Youku or Tudou. Also, pay attention to whether the CDN you use will work in China.

Small games: The most popular mobile games in China are games that are easy to play in short moments, like during the subway ride or while trying to appear attentive in class. Levels with short play times beat out epic games that require half an hour to make progress.

Keep apps’ bandwidth requirements small: Chinese networks tend to be slower than America’s. Therefore, do not make an app that lags and tries the user’s patience. Further, data plans can be expensive, so keep that in mind when you are asking your users to download and upload information. Keep the exchange as minimal as possible.

Do not host in America: Sites hosted in America will be much slower than those hosted in China. But hosting in China will involve a Chinese business license and a lot of red tape. To avoid both the red tape and the slow speed, try hosting in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Login credentials: Many Chinese users like to log on to services with their telephone numbers, third-party authentication, or QR codes. Don’t assume that email is the best way for everyone to log on.

Connect to bank accounts or a payment service: Credit cards are not as popular in China as in the United States. Chinese netizens often pay online by connecting to their bank account directly. Or by using one of the online payment services such as AliPay or WeChat.

WeChat Payment

WeChat Payment

More Tips for Releasing an App in China?

Clearly, opening shop in China requires more than simply posting an app on Google Play and hoping that China’s millions will come with their money. You need to enter the Chinese market the right way, but if you do, you could see rich rewards.

These are our tips for how to publish an app in China. What are your tips? Please leave a comment to share your experience or to stump us with a question.

100 Yuan via photopin (license) – photo credit

The Action Star via photopin (license) – photo credit

一切只是為了開門 | All for Open via photopin (license) – photo credit

Darren Jansen, Business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.

April 30, 2015

Three Reasons to Translate your App into Chinese

Tapping a market of 1.3 billion consumers sounds like a no-brainer. Fortunately, in our interconnected world, you can communicate with anyone anywhere in the globe. You can develop an app, and it is available for billions of people in an instant. But will they ever actually find your app? How will you make them want to use it?

If you want to reach into the wallets of China’s netizens, your app has to take some Chinese lessons.

Leo Liu, the greater China country manager for PopCap Games, the developer of Plants vs. Zombies, said, “We were amazed by how much support we got from our fans in China after we localized Plants vs. Zombies on iPhone into Chinese. The comment boards were flooded with positive comments, and in only three days, the Chinese version reached the number one paid application spot on the China App Store. We’re selling twice as many copies now, in Chinese, than we ever sold in English.”

If you ever want to see the kind of Chinese app store success that Plants vs. Zombies achieved, you’ll have to translate your app into Chinese. Here are three reasons your app should speak Chinese.

Chinese Plants Vs. Zombies

Chinese Plants Vs. Zombies

Chinese Internet and Smartphone Users Outnumber American Users

In China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion, 47.9% of the people use the Internet. That is about 649 million people. (In comparison, the number of American Internet users is just about 280 million.) Out of that number, according to Reuters, 86% of them use phones to access the Internet.

Clearly, if you want to do business in China, you have to master mobile. Over 39% of Internet usage in China takes place on mobile devices. That includes shopping. In the third quarter of 2014 Chinese used mobile devices to spend more than $37.95 billion.

As Kendra Schaefer says, “Mobile First? Puh-leez. China Is Already Going Mobile Only.”

China Has a Low Average English Level

Out of 63 countries ranked by English First’s English Proficiency Index, China ranked 37, receiving a grade of “low” for English level.

Of course, millions of Chinese people have amazing English knowledge and skills, even better than some Americans or British, but most of the proficient English speakers live in a few first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

In second-tier cities and in the countryside live millions of consumers with little to no English ability. You don’t want to assume that those who cannot read your app’s user interface will have the patience to use it anyway.

Studies show that even those who can speak English still prefer to use websites and apps that are translated into their own language.

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The Journal of Consumer Research says that content written in a person’s native language will cause a greater emotional reaction than content written in their second language. Authors of the study said, “Our findings show that, in general, messages expressed in consumers’ native languages tend to be perceived as more emotional than messages expressed in their second language.”

As an app developer, you should speak the language of people’s home and heart. Only if you make that connection by translating your app into Chinese will users in China want to download, and perhaps spend money on your app.

Chinese Use Their Phones for Everything

The app WeChat acts not only as a messaging app but also as an online wallet similar to PayPal. What’s more, you can use it to hail taxis, to order groceries, and to play games. It will even tell you what parts of the city are most crowded at any given time.

In China, telephones have a breadth of function that phones in America don’t fulfill in the same way. While PayPal is still rarely used in brick-and-mortar stores, WeChat payments are now common all over China.

WeChat Payment - Translate your app into Chinese

WeChat Payment

Clearly Chinese are used to using apps to deal with every aspect of their lives.

Although studies show that that Chinese prefer not to pay for apps, they do love to spend money in apps. Ninety percent of the money made from apps comes from in-app purchases.

As Internet usage in China continues to grow with a mobile-centric bent, be sure that app developers have endless opportunities to reach the Chinese consumers and increase their global revenue. There has never been a better time than now to translate your app into Chinese.

Darren Jansen, Business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.