- Cristina J. Orgaz @cjorgaz
- BBC World News
A cell phone screen, a vertical video and 1 minute of your life.
These three elements are the essence of Tik Tok, the short video social network that engulfs young people and has already changed the video consumption habits of thousands of users.
How can it be so addictive?
You open it, it is 4 o’clock and when you look at the clock again, an hour has passed.
I really wear watch short videos non-stop for 60 minutes?
Infinite Scrolling, a signature social network design, does its job well on Tik Tok.
So much that until advertising still seems like a video.
It mixes with the rest of the content until it appears invisible.
This is the first indication that what seems simple in principle, it takes a lot of work engineering behind.
The second, explains to BBC Mundo Matthew Brennan, author of “Attention Factory” and technology specialist in China: one of the most advanced recommendation algorithms of the world.
With about 800 million active users per month, its success is no coincidence.
Only in 2019 TikTok and Douyin -their equivalent in China- they have been downloaded nearly 2 billion times worldwide.
Company ByteD.ance, the owner, it is not one Startup set up in a garage that happened to find success one day.
They knew how to do it
The executives and engineers behind the app, says Brennan, they knew how to convert this short video service in one of the most addictive social networks in the world.
“There is no small team behind it. It is one of the largest internet companies in China. It employs thousands of people. If TikTok has has grown so quickly thanks to the experience of its engineers because it has the best recommendation engine on the competitive Chinese market, ”he confirms in the interview with BBC Mundo.
“It’s a rival to YouTube and Instagram, the platforms people turn to when they have free time, wherever they go to entertain or looking for status“, Dice.
This algorithm use machine learning to know what content each individual prefers based on their behavior.
“What makes it so addictive is that it learns what you like and what you don’t like. And it does it fast because you can watch 5 or 6 videos in 1 minute.”
“In that time you have to throw the video away or watch it. And that action shows whether you like it or not. So ByteDance you can get a lot of information in a very short time“.
Compared to what’s happening on other platforms the process is slower.
“You can watch something on YouTube for 5 minutes without touching the screen. If it’s Netflix, you can watch for half an hour without doing anything.”
“So the system gets less feedback. You don’t help them understand how you feel, whether you find it boring or not,” he adds.
In TikTok, you constantly interact with the application And even if you don’t, you also provide information. If you don’t do anything, it means you’ve put in a video and you’re watching it. It’s a very strong indication that you find what you see interesting, ”says Brennan.
“So they quickly create a graph of interests for each user and the recommendation engine feeds your page with content for you.”
It’s another key to TikTok: the customization is extreme.
“What you see is different from what your friend sees. That’s the power. That’s why it’s so addictive“.
The best of each
Each development phase of TikTok was directly based on previously created products and technology.
“The engineers replicated technology, experience of the product and promotional playbook from its sister app, China’s Douyin, ”says Brennan.
It’s like TikTok is a mix of all features more attractive of the apps previously developed by ByteDance.
With its global launch in 2018, they confirmed that what they learned in dozens of lesser-known applications had served to create a platform that was good.
ByteDance was the first Chinese internet company to go “big” with the then emerging technology and committed to the daunting task of build a recommendation engine, which challenges the “status quo” of human healing, “says the expert.
“This early gamble paid off. The foundation for TikTok’s success has been laid years ago the application was created, and it was no coincidence that ByteDance was the company that made it, ”he says in his book“ Attention Factory ”.
The cherry on this growth was the huge budget to promote it.
“They’ve spent billions of dollars advertising it on Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat,” said Brennan.
In the ByteDance ecosystem everything is interconnected.
When a user has downloaded several of his applications on his mobile phone, a Like it in one it becomes a better recommendation in the other, the author explains.
Information is shared between them.
How internet use has changed
People use a laptop very differently from a smartphone.
The use of the internet on a mobile phone can normally be divided into 30-40 sessions per day.
Sometimes that look at the phone takes less than 60 seconds.
So if it used to be normal to consume videos in the morning, go to work or school and turn the computer back on to watch YouTube in the afternoon, now the users you can connect to TikTok at any time of the day.
And not just to watch, but also to upload videos.
“I really believe that short videos are a new paradigm for consuming content from Iinternet. And it is a huge behavioral change. It’s something that will remain in the long run. ”
For Brennan “the phenomenon has only just begun and will become even more important and get more users, and I suppose you could say that it gets even more addictive. We are still in the early stages, ”says Brennan.
For him, the next expansion of TikTok will come from all kinds of genres for the 1 minute video format.
From education to cooking recipes.
“TikTok has already changed the way consumers interact with social media platforms and there will be even more evolution,” says the specialist.
“We will probably see content innovations. In China there are all kinds of things, like people do mystery videos or psychological thrillers. Things you would never say fit in such a short amount of time. “
Integration with other services
“We will also see how the short videos are integrated with the buy online, live broadcasts or virtual gifts“, afirma Brennan.
“All these things have already been developed in the Chinese version. And I think they have just started in other parts of the world,” he says.
Today, ByteDance is a growing company. Like other major Internet conglomerates, their presence has expanded to a large number of online services, consisting of games, education, business productivity, payments, and much more“cree.
That awaits us in the coming years, he says confidently.
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