One Millennial’s Quest to Understand Why TikTok is a Thing
Let me start by saying: Before I started writing this, I didn’t know anything about TikTok. The only exposure I got to it was a now-defunct Twitter account @ToxicTikToks.
The account showed short videos of people doing mashed-up short videos, some with music and some without. In the lower right-hand corner, the videos were labeled “TikTok” with a username attached.
Things I noticed right away: Some of these videos were objectively bizarre, others were hilarious (whether intentionally or not), and many of them looked like they were being done by people well over Gen-Z age, which surprised me.
I was intrigued, but knew it would be an enormous time-suck to download the actual app. When @ToxicTikToks got shut down (RIP), I figured it was time to figure out what this app actually was.
Founded in 2017, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company ByteDance, now the world’s most valuable startup at an estimated $75 billion valuation. The company also scooped up musical.ly, a popular lip-syncing app targeted at teens, and integrated all its content into TikTok. The Chinese version of TikTok is named Douyin, which is similar but operates within Chinese regulations.
The short-form video creation app is extremely popular — as of February 2019, TikTok says its 27 million users open the app eight times a day in the US, with an average session length of five minutes.
It was downloaded by more users than Instagram was in 2018, and at times has led the giants Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp in the App Store charts.
TikTok is reportedly so addicting that there is actually an addition-reduction feature within the app for users to take a break every two hours.
Vine, whose top creators left for Instagram and YouTube, never offered a way for them to earn revenue from the platform. TikTok is reportedlyworking on introducing this feature shortly, which will go a long way in attracting top creators and influencers to the network.
Currently, fans on TikTok can buy virtual coins to reward their favorite creators with actual money.
Corporations have dabbled in advertising on TikTok, but the company is still figuring out their business model. Reports state that companies may spend up to $20,000 for an influencer ad on TikTok.
For those companies, it may be worth it. The engagement levels on TikTok are extraordinary, and the top 50 creators have 442.8 million followers between them.
That’s right — about 100 million more people than the entire US population.
It’s Not Vine
I was a huge Vine fan back in its heyday, and some quotes from the app remain iconic to this day (Free Shavacado anyone?). When I started watching TikToks though @ToxicTikToks, it was sort of like Vine, but…also, not.
For one, the six-second videos produced in Vine had less musical integration directly in the app, even though there are some classic Vinesthat incorporate music directly.
There are also more video features within TikTok that allow for more direct control over the speed and editing of the videos. This leads to less America’s Funniest Home Videos-esque experiences and more highly edited ones.
TikTok is structured around memes and hashtagged challenges, and has a highly collaborative nature to it. The short video creation app is much more than just lip-syncing, and dancing and duets are also very much a thing.
When I downloaded the app, after the loading screen and asking me my interests, it took me right into the videos. I didn’t even have an account yet, but there they were, instantly playable and scrollable.
It then asked me for my birthday and my phone number, and I was all set.
I like that it shows on the videos what mode or filter they used to create it, so that’s easy to duplicate. You can also save the music in any video to use at a later time, though there have been complaints around artists not getting compensated for their songs being used in viral videos.
The first video I saw was of a woman at McDonald’s picking up her ice cream cone from the employee upside down, with her hand on the ice cream, and began eating it in reverse.
I then got into several funny music videos with dogs and got lost down a section where people just dance in the grocery store.
Then I found an elderly lady coloring her hair, while talking to her 650,000 devoted followers about her sick husband and health scares.
Smash cut to an hour later, and I’m still scrolling.
SOS: TikTok is addicting.
The level of earnestness that many TikTok videos convey often crosses the line into cringeworthiness. -Vox Media
Cringeworthy is right. Whether it’s divorced couples dramatically documenting their journey on TikTok, people spinning around on the floor like they’re in the microwave, or using a Lizzo song lyric to reveal “DNA test” results, TikTok creators are not afraid of putting themselves out there, regardless of who sees it.
It isn’t all fun and games — the social network has been fined and criticized for child privacy violations, and there are examples where lipsyncs border on racism.
But, in general, anything that gives people a safe creative outlet sounds like an amazing idea. In today’s complicated and noisy world, expressing yourself and being uniquely artistic may be more important than ever.
TikTok definitely is up against a crowded playing field: Vine is returning soon with Byte. Facebook quietly launched Lasso to win back its teens. Snap added TikTok to a list of its biggest competitors.
But if it can keep gaining momentum and providing a platform where the highest quality wins, it could be the last bastion of hope in an ad-filled social media landscape.
Keep on being weird, TikTok.