China’s first border-breaking social network does so by taking the best of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter so it can reach out to young people
If you’re over 30 and/or don’t have children, you may not know what Tik Tok is, and even if they explain that it’s a video-based social network and that it’s managing to change the way messages are posted online, you may well stay the way you were.
Knowing that it was the most downloaded application in 2018 helps you understand some of its relevance. It was downloaded more than Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.
And like it or not, it’s an example of how China is asserting itself on new fronts in the world of technology: although the origin of TikTok is in another app, musical.ly, right now it’s a Chinese business that’s going all out.
So, we try to understand what this app is, why it has so many users, why most of them are so young, and why, even if you are never going to use it, you should know how it works.
THE FORTNITE OF SOCIAL NETWORKS
You know Facebook, the social network for old people (sorry); Twitter, the social network for journalists (even more sorry), and Instagram, the social network for beautiful people (sorry, sorry).
There are other networks out there, like Snapchat or Pinterest, but this one here is the triumvirate of the viral in Spain, of what matters, of what generates millions of euros at the cost of those data you’re paying to use them. Tik Tok could well be the square of this bizarre love triangle.
If you use at least one of these three nets and have been observant, you have surely seen the name ‘Tik Tok’ as a watermark in a video, one that has surely reached you because it has been shared hundreds or thousands of times. Is it that background song that it carries? Because it tells a story at full speed? Or is it that young people (sigh) are crazy?
At its core, Tik Tok is an evolution of the ‘stories’ format that Snapchat created and Instagram plagiarized and took over until it sunk the competition. Their videos last 15 seconds, are vertical, you move around the beads that you keep scrolling with your finger and, if you want to record and share a video, you have everything from filters to popular songs to give them more identity.
No wonder he has captivated young people. If they’re not playing Fortnite, they’re doing the video game dances in Tik Tok. Spain already has ‘tiktokers’ with millions of followers: two Basque twins called Paula and Aitana Etxeberria are the most popular: 6.6 million at the time of writing.
TikTok also has hashtags like Twitter and you can mention or respond in video to other users, or replicate those videos and add your own recording as a reinterpretation or a mockery or a duet. The goal is to see and be seen, this doesn’t change much from other social networks.
Nor does it change the predominance of the meme culture, memetics if we are worthy. And this is crucial to understanding the social network, because the meme is embedded in its very tools of creation. You can add an excerpt from your favorite series just by looking it up.
The problem is that it’s not as easy to make a ‘tweet’ that you think is funny or put together a meme and upload it to Facebook as it is to record a video with a funny voiceover, rhythm and delivery. If you’ve ever used the failed social network Vine, you know what I’m talking about: making a short video funny is complicated not only by how the message is transmitted, but also by the whole editing process.
Be that as it may, the result is an infinite source of short videos with very concrete impulses that can trap you for hours. Just as you swallow YouTube videos of disgusting recipes filled with sugar, you swallow duels of lipsyncing, of easy jokes made by very mentally agile people, or of people who are repulsive, but whom you want to watch more and more. It’s tele-trash concentrated in pills of a few seconds and made by anonymous people.
So anonymous that, if you install the application, you won’t know who all those people on your wall are. If on Facebook you have to add people by compromise, on TikTok the app and its algorithm already give you a lot of things to see that it thinks can entertain you. In this sense, it’s more like YouTube, but without the terrifying theories.
FROM CHINA WITH LOVE
Unlike Facebook, Twitter and so on, Tik Tok is a Chinese social network. There it is known as Douyin, but it changed its name to make the jump to the rest of the world. It also merged with another similar and previous service, musical.ly, after the acquisition of the company that had created it. The merger cost $1 billion.
This is a perfect example of how Chinese technology is beginning to creep into our daily lives in other ways. If we are already using Huawei and Xiaomi mobiles, it was only a matter of time before we would be using Shanghai-based services as well.
They’ve learned quickly and well from the mistakes of others. What if you don’t have contacts added to Facebook or Twitter? You don’t use them, because there’s nothing interesting. This doesn’t happen with Tik Tok, who will show you featured videos right away and direct you to his search engine to find more.
And yes, Snapchat and Instagram came before the stories, but Tik Tok lives and dies for them. But as soon as you enter their content stream, you quickly learn to show more of what you like, whether or not you follow their creators.
It remains to be seen how the content produced in Tik Tok filters into public life, but it is undeniable that it is an application with a potential like none seen in others that have come along in recent years. For the moment, it has its first controversy, which undoubtedly helps to establish this notion: they have paid a fine of almost 6 million euros for not protecting the privacy of their youngest users.
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