What exactly is TikTok, or Douyin, as it’s called in its native China? On the user side, it’s a platform for sharing short content in the form of music videos created by the users themselves. Technologically, this is an infinitely personalized bubble of algorithmically selected video content in 15-second dozes.
It’s one of the fastest-growing apps on the planet. TikTok was only released globally in September 2017 and became the seventh most downloaded app of the 2010s.
Only one application surpassed TikTok’s number of downloads in 2019, which was 740 million. It’s WhatsApp that had 860 million downloads. Does this all sound scary and complicated? Wait till we peek under TikTok’s “hood”…
Infographic and figures taken from a research piece from Betway.
The Algorithm Is Everything
When the app is first launched, a new user is surprised. No setup. No creating accounts. No searching for friends. The essence of TikTok is brutally simple: open the app and video starts. Boom, you’re on the “hook”! And it works so well that it’s just amazing.
At first, it will take you a good 20 seconds to get yourself together and figure out what’s going on as some funny video goes in the loop. Swipe up, down, left, right – and it will all become clear to you after that first shock because the fact is that everything really works by itself.
TikTok doesn’t ask you who you are, who your friends are and what you like. Of course, it gives you the option to enter all that info later – but it doesn’t limit you if you don’t do it.
Using the app, you’ll understand why. The TikTok algorithm doesn’t really need your explicit input of that kind. It already knows everything or figures it out pretty quick, profiling you through your behavior.
The Chinese have been creating an algorithm that has been learning about content, virality, and human behavior for years in their incredibly large market. Along the way, they also picked up Tencent’s and Baidu’s best practices.
Each and every blink of every new tiktoker is measured and compared to an enormous data set of interactions with the content of more than half a billion people.
Therefore, today, it’s able to release to you (within an instant), already on the second or third clip, content that you’ll look at in disbelief or delight several times.
Content and Impact Splitting
Other social networks, originating in the West, have only intensified our inner instincts. A typical example: from our centuries-old need for affiliation, influencers of every kind have flourished on the webs, sharing their experience, style, taste, sense of cool – and skill in sharing the same.
Social networks from the West have made each user’s first moves as this: registering, searching for people they know from real life, and tracking down interesting influencers. All this in order to populate your feed with relevant trusted content. The News Feed is completely blank at the beginning – because it’s a business model.
TikTok pushes content to the user, not other users. This, in this way, is not done by anyone else. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, TikTok eliminates the last illusion that any of us, any individual user, is here to decide and actively choose.
You can easily download the app today and scroll down to get everything you need – without consciously searching or “telling” the platform anything. Choices are the product of an algorithm. We are here to consume. In that sense, TikTok is much closer to YouTube than to classic social networks.
Where’s the Past Work?
Of course, TikTok offers all the expected user interaction options, but much more than that. Its most popular option is the “duet”, which is practically a video meme factory, responsible for the dizzying growth of users and the creation of trends with a lot of celebrities and influencers taking part.
Content is the focus, not the creator. The video travels on its own, making millions of meme copies if successful – followed by the users.
Within the application, the user can click on virtually any part of the interface and gain insight into the myriad videos that use it. In addition, there are algorithmically recommended trends for monitoring and emulation. TikTok, in other words, perfectly follows the original free use logic on the Internet: meme, copy, twist, craze, DIY.