TikTok – The Rise of Micro Video App
TikTok is an app that is not very well understood by many people older than Generation Z, those who were roughly born after 1995. And, even within that generation, it is not understood. But the social media app is vast, with over 1.5 billion registered users as you will soon see.
The company behind the app is turning to AI for success, and this makes them different from the current generation of social media apps. So, who is behind the application, and why is it so famous? You might think, “ well who cares?” but the pace of success for this app might take many of us by surprise. The news engine explore why is everyone talking about TikTok news.
To paint you a picture of the size of TikTok, it’s tops as a non-gaming app on the App Store in the United States and ranks highest social media app on all platforms. In just two years, it has come to rival Netflix, Youtube and Facebook. Currently, they have a staff of 20,000 people with offices operating in the Southeast Asia, , Europe, United States, India, Japan, Brazil and Of course, China.
So, what is it? TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app. Most people think of it as only a lip-syncing or music performance app. It’s really anything people want it to be from comedy and memes to stunts science experiments and other creative uses. The content is usually limited to 15 seconds only.
Where did this giant come from? TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance which was founded in 2012 and has headquartered in Beijing. Bytedance is currently worth 75 billion US dollars making it the most valuable privately held company in the world. The founder Zhang Yi Mien was a former Microsoft software engineer and started the company in his twenties.
The company Bytedance is like a Chinese version of Facebook with several other popular sites in the region. They initially released an AI-powered news aggregator and a chat app, and then turned to video. They launched a short-form Chinese video app in 2016, called ‘Douyin’. It became very famous with over a million users in a short period of time. In 2017, they expanded the concept to the world with a new name ‘TikTok’.
There was competition, though; another platform called ‘Musicl.ly’ was already at the top of the app charts. Founded in 2014, Music.ly gained a lot of traction after the failure of ‘Vine’ in 2016. Vine that gave rise to personalities such as Logan Paul, ultimately failed because the parent company Twitter did not have the time or money to support the platform.
Users migrated from Vine to Musical.ly. Bytedance saw an opportunity and would buy Musical.ly for 1 billion dollars in 2017, eventually merging the two media and their associated user base. TikTok is now a monopoly on the micro-video app market, and compares to the old guard social media websites.
In 2019, ByteDance bought a French news company, and they also have a stake in the Los Angeles News Company. They tried to buy a significant stake at Reddit but were beat out by ‘Tencent’ another Chinese company.
ByteDance also has an AI tool capable of taking over 5000 different news sources and creating a personalized 400-word news article for a reader in just two seconds. Artificial intelligence is at the core of TikTok functions. TikTok uses a powerful AI tool that is more extreme than any other social media network in the West. The app’s AI dictates the entire feed.
The more your usage, the more it learns your likes. Of course, you can follow people, but that is basically it. You see stuff from people that you are following or you have an AI-powered feed where you cannot select the content; it is only a full-screen video that automatically starts playing. If you don’t watch an entire video, you will get fewer videos of that kind or vice versa.
It is a different approach to Facebook, Youtube, Spotify and Netflix. On these platforms, AI is merely a tool that is part of the experience, it recommends, and the user can choose from there. But TikTok, on the other hand, aggressively dictates what you see. As strange as this sound, having absolutely no choice has been labelled integral to the success of TikTok.
The business of TikTok
As a macro business strategy, Bytedance has two versions of their TikTok app; one behind China’s censored and closed off the internet and another one for the rest of the world.
Western companies should take note of this method according to some analysists. So, how does TikTok make money? Well mainly through the ads and sale of virtual goods like emojis and stickers from influencers to fans. Virtual goods are purchased through of digital currency in-app. TikTok revenue is booming.
This app has augmented the more impoverished and rural areas of China and India with homegrown content popping up everywhere. 25% of downloads were from India, which just came online in a meaningful way in the past couple of years, thanks to the Jio Network by Reliance. The song ‘Old town road’ by Little Nass gained popularity thanks to TikTok and its suitability for memes.
Why tiktok is bad? By the end of 2019, TikTok had to pay 5.7 million dollars for illegally collecting information of minors, a violation of the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), YouTube was fined for the very same law. Some have raised concerns over the Chinese origin of the app; Mark Zuckerberg famously spoke out against the censorships incorporated in the app that violates freedom of expression rights.
Many news outlets in the US think the same. There were also news of TikTok ban in India for a brief time, as they said that among major TikTok effects was causing cultural degradation among the youth. The ban was soon overturned, however. To finish off, here is one more fact; the biggest top TikTok videos star is Charli D’Amelio with about 82 million followers.
The app seems ok at first, but once you start using it by yourself, as we tried, your feed ends up filled with entertainment of your taste. It is why the AI approach works so well for short-term content.
ByteDance might be onto something here. But the question must be asked; is the app meaningful? Being real, there is not much value that can be offered in 15 seconds other than a quick rush of laughter. It seems to be an essential question for longevity, though, on the other hand, ByteDance is building an empire among the youth that pretty much no one is looking out for.
After all, they are the most valuable private company in the world and have over 1.5 billion downloads of their flagship app, so they must be doing something right. It is going to be interesting to see what the future holds for this app.