TikTok is huge. Nearly unfathomably monumental, truly. The product of Chinese language mother or father firm ByteDance, the social media video-sharing app has remained a fixture on the high of the App Retailer charts for greater than a yr now — with no signal of it dropping that place any time quickly.
Journalist Chris Stokel-Walker is the creator of a brand new guide, titled TikTok Growth: China’s Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media. It launches at present in Europe and worldwide, with a US launch coming September 30.
Stokel-Walker spoke with Cult of Mac about what makes TikTok, properly, tick, the app’s face-off with Donald Trump, and why it’s now not completely an app for teenagers to point out off their dance strikes.
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TikTok dominates the App Retailer
Cult of Mac: TikTok has dominated the iOS App Retailer chart for the previous yr, beating apps made by main gamers like Google and Fb. What has given it this seemingly unassailable lead over the tech giants throughout this time?
Chris Stokel-Walker: It’s a mixture of issues. The very first thing is that they’re supported by ByteDance, which is a large firm with an estimated valuation of between $400-$600 billion. Their income final yr was $34 billion. They’re spending some huge cash getting the phrase out about TikTok. The guide goes into element about [TikTok’s] method to person acquisition, and it entails spending obscene quantities of cash. They’re one of many uncommon apps that may compete with Google and Fb on that entrance.
Then you definitely even have the truth that they’re one of many beneficiaries of the pandemic. They actually got here to the fore at a time after we have been in search of out leisure. In March 2020 alone, customers outdoors of China [cumulatively] spent as a lot time on TikTok as there was time between now and the Stone Age, one thing like a whole bunch of hundreds of years.
TikTok is a really addictive app. It retains you , and then you definately additionally begin to develop into a creator. Then you definitely drag different individuals into your movies, and so they obtain the app as properly. So it’s actually a mixture of numerous cash, good timing, and phrase of mouth.
Donald Trump vs. TikTok
Cult of Mac: How do you view the standoff with President Trump that threatened a ban of TikTok within the US? Had been fears about TikTok and knowledge safety well-founded? Or was it a political pawn caught up in a wider battle with China?
Chris Stokel-Walker: Among the issues are reputable. They’re reputable for any social media platform that we use. Submit-Cambridge Analytica, now we have develop into far more circumspect concerning the apps and companies that we use. The problems that TokTok had final yr, which proceed into this yr, are the proper analysis [of broader issues]. We’re involved about overly draconian monitoring of our knowledge; we’re involved about the truth that our knowledge will get utilized in ways in which we don’t essentially learn about.
However that doesn’t imply that Xi Jinping has a Bat Cellphone instantly into ByteDance’s headquarters. Folks much more clever than me have spent a whole lot of time looking for that smoking gun and we haven’t been in a position to. [Part of the issue with the standoff with Donald Trump] was that, through the US presidential race, Joe Biden wasn’t going out on the marketing campaign path. Trump noticed an expedient opponent in TikTok, and constructed up a head of steam that has since had ramifications within the UK, Australia, and all throughout Europe as properly.
TikTok’s secret sauce
Cult of Mac: TikTok’s video suggestion algorithm is commonly praised as the key sauce that has made TikTok so huge. Previously, you’ve written that its algorithms know us higher than we all know ourselves. Nevertheless it’s not the primary firm to make use of suggestion algorithms that study our tastes and preferences. What makes it so particular?
Chris Stokel-Walker: There are two issues, I believe. One is that TikTok is extra targeted on a content material graph, somewhat than the social graph. It’s far more, nearly totally, targeted on the kind of content material that you just interact with, somewhat than what your pals are engaged with.
The opposite factor is that the algorithm is simply far more highly effective. Primary is the quantity of inputs that go into it. If you concentrate on the common YouTube video, which is six, eight, ten minutes lengthy, over the course of an hour you’re solely watching 6-10 YouTube movies. On TikTok in that 60 minute time interval you possibly can be watching anyplace from 60 to, within the case of actually brief movies, 500 movies. [As a result,] TikTok is far more knowledge wealthy, it’s in a position to know far more about what you do. [Number two] is that this isn’t simply TikTok’s algorithm, it’s ByteDance’s algorithm which has been educated on content material since 2012 with Toutiao, its Chinese language information aggregator. That algorithm has been plugged into all these completely different apps that ByteDance makes use of and so they all feed into it. That’s why it’s so highly effective.
Not simply youngsters dancing
Cult of Mac: One revelatory tidbit you level out is that two-thirds of TikTok’s customers worldwide are over the age of 25. I’ll admit that I’ve typically held onto this notion that it was primarily younger individuals driving TikTok’s progress. How necessary is that this older demographic in pushing TikTok ahead and making it a long-term prospect as an alternative of a short-term fad?
Chris Stokel-Walker: Yeah, massively. It’s actually fascinating to see that as a result of it’s one thing that TikTok themselves acknowledge. I spoke to Wealthy Waterman, who’s TikTok’s UK Managing Director, over the course of a number of years. He stated that this was an specific aim [of TikTok’s]. They have been initially going for youthful audiences, and [now they’re focused on] growing old up. They knew this was integral to their survival. It’s assuring their long-term progress.
Within the guide I converse to TikTokers of their eighties, which dispels this fantasy we as soon as had that TikTok was a spot filled with youngsters dancing. It’s now not that. It’s a hub for every type of content material from all forms of individuals.
This interview was frivolously edited for size and readability.
Get TikTok Growth
TikTok Growth: China’s Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media will be ordered by way of its writer Canbury Press, on Amazon, and anyplace else good books are offered. Besides, after all, the US, which should wait a few months.