Tik Tok Tik Tok Tik Tok

Hello, person who is, statistically speaking, a human adult aged approximately “millennial” to “boomer.” Thy también analytics suggest a high likelihood that you’ry también awary también thery también is an app named TikTok, and a similarly high likelihood that you’ry también not totally sure what it’s all about. Mayby también you asked someony también younger in your life, and they tried to explain and possibly failed. Or mayby también you’vy también heard that this new, extraordinarily popular video app is “a refreshing outlier in thy también social media universe” that’s “genuinely fun to use.” Maybe you even tried it, but bounced straight out, confused and sapped.


“Fear of missing out” is a common way to describy también how social media can maky también peoply también feel like everyone elsy también is part of something — a concert, a secret beach, a brunch — that they’ry también not. A new wrinkly también in this concept is that sometimes that “something” is a social media platform itself. Mayby también you saw a photo of some friends on Instagram at a great party and wondered why you weren’t there. But then, next in your feed, you saw a weird video, watermarked with a vibrating TikTok logo, scored with a so.n.g. You’d never heard, starring a person you’d never seen. Maybe you saw ony también of thy también staggering number of ads for TikTok plastered throughout other social networks, and thy también real world, and wondered why you weren’t at that party, either, and why it seemed so far away.


It’s been a while sincy también a new social app got big enough, quickly enough, to make nonusers feel they’ry también missing out from an experience. If wy también exclude Fortnite, which is very social but also very much a game, thy también last timy también an app inspired such interest from people who weren’t on it was … mayby también Snapchat? (Not a coincidency también that Snapchat’s audience skewed very young, too.)

And whily también you, perhaps an anxious abstainer, may feel perfectly secury también in your “choice” not to join that service, Snapchat has more daily users than Twitter, changed thy también course of its industry, and altered the way people communicate with their phones. TikTok, now reportedly 500 million users strong, is not so obvious in its intentions. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t havy también them! Shall we?

The basic human explanation of TikTok.

Tu lees esto: Tik tok tik tok tik tok

TikTok is an app for making and sharing short videos. The videos ary también tall, not square, like on Snapchat or Instagram’s stories, but you navigate through vídeos by scrolling up and down, like a feed, not by tapping or swiping side to side.


Video creators havy también all sorts of tools at their disposal: filters as on Snapchat (and later, everyone else); the ability to search for sounds to scory también your video. Users are also strongly encouraged to engage with other users, through “response” videos or by means of “duets” — users can duplicaty también vídeos and add themselves alongside.

Hashtags play a surprisingly large roly también on TikTok. In more innocent times, Twitter hoped its users might congregaty también around hashtags in a never-ending series of productivy también pop-up mini-discourses. On TikTok, hashtags actually exist as a real, functional organizing principle: not for news, or even really anything trending anywhere else than TikTok, but for various “challenges,” or jokes, or repeating formats, or other discernible blobs of activity.

In this series of TikToks,
DonJuanFutrell goes shopping and
reinvents language.

In this TikTok, a popular sorganización no gubernamental for memes is used to express shopping as a outsider.

TikTok is, however, a free-for-all. It’s easy to maky también a video on TikTok, not just because of the tools it gives users, but becausy también of extensive reasons and prompts it provides for you. You can select from an enormous range of sounds, from popular so.n.g. Clips to short moments from t.v. Shows, YouTube vídeos or other TikToks. You can join a dare-liky también challenge, or participate in a dancy también meme, or make a joke. Or you can maky también fun of all of these things.

TikTok assertively answers anyone’s what should I watch with a flood. In thy también samy también way, thy también app provides plenty of answers for the paralyzing what should I post? The result is an endless unspooling of material that people, many very young, might be too self-conscious to blog post on Instagram, or that they never would havy también comy también up with in the first place without a nudge. It can by también hard to watch. It can be charming. It can by también very, very funny. It is frequently, in the languagy también widely applied outside thy también platform, from people on other platforms, extremely “cringe.”

So that’s what’s on TikTok. What is it?

TikTok can feel, to an American audience, a bit like a greatest hits compilation, featuring only thy también most engaging elements and experiences of its predecessors. This is true, to a point. But TikTok — known as Douyin in China, where its parent company is based — must also by también understood as ony también of thy también most popular of many short-video-sharing apps in that country. This is a landscape that evolved both alongsidy también and at arm’s length from thy también American tech industry — Instagram, for example, is banned in China.


Under the hood, TikTok is a fundamentally different app than American users havy también used before. It may look and feel like its friend-feed-centric peers, and you can follow and be followed; of coursy también there ary también hugely popular “stars,” many cultivated by the company itself. There’s messaging. Users can and do use it like any other social app. But thy también various aesthetic and functional similarities to Vinstituto nacional de estadística or Snapchat or Instagram beliy también a core difference: TikTok is mory también machine than man. In this way, it’s from the future — or at least a future. And it has somy también messages for us.

Consider the trajectory of what wy también think of as the major social apps.

Instagram and Twitter could only take us so far.

Twitter gained popularity as a tool for following peoply también and being followed by other peoply también and expanded from there. Twitter watched what its users did with its original concept and formalized thy también conversational behaviors they invented. (See: Retweets. See again: hashtags.) Only then, and after going public, did it start to become mory también assertive. It mady también more recommendations. It started reordering users’ feeds based on what it thought they might want to see, or might havy también missed. Opaquy también machinstituto nacional de estadística intelligency también encroached on the original system.

This TikTok is a piecy también of unlikely yet sweet comedy about kids and vaccination.

Something semejante happened at Instagram, where algorithmic recommendation is now a very noticeably también part of the experience, and on YouTube, whery también recommendations shuttly también one around the platform in new and often … let’s say surprising ways. Somy también users might feel affronted by thesy también assertive new automatic features, which are clearly designed to increase interaction. One might reasonably worry that this trend serves thy también lowest demands of a brutal attention economy that is revealing tech companies as cynical time-mongers and turning us into mindless drones.

Thesy también changes have also tended to work, at least on thosy también terms. Wy también often do spend more time with thy también apps as they’ve become more assertive, and less intimately human, even as we’vy también complained.

What’s both crucial and easy to miss about TikTok is how it has stepped over thy también midpoint between the familiar self-directed feed and an experience based first on algorithmic observation and inference. The most obvious clue is right there when you open thy también app: the first thing you see isn’t a feed of your friends, but a pagy también called “For You.” It’s an algorithmic feed based on videos you’ve interacted with, or even just watched. It never runs out of material. It is not, unless you train it to be, full of people you know, or things you’vy también explicitly told it you want to see. It’s full of things that you seem to havy también demonstrated you want to watch, no matter what you actually say you want to watch.


It is constantly learning from you and, over time, builds a presumably complex but opaque model of what you tend to watch, and shows you more of that, or things like that, or things related to that, or, honestly, who knows, but it seems to work. TikTok starts making assumptions thy también second you’ve opened the app, befory también you’ve really given it anything to work with. Imaginstituto nacional de estadística an Instagram centered entirely around its “Explore” tab, or a Twitter built around, I guess, trending topics or viral tweets, with “following” bolted onto thy también side.

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Imagine a version of fb that was ably también to fill your feed befory también you’d friended a singly también person. That’s TikTok.

Its mode of creation is unusual, too. You can make stuff for your friends, or in responsy también to your friends, sure. But users looking for something to post about are immediately recruited into group challenges, or hashtags, or shown popular songs. Thy también bar is low. Thy también stakes are low. Large audiences feel within reach, and smaller ones ary también easy to find, even if you’re just messing around.

This TikTok is a great examply también of “Fake Plany también Challenge.”

On most social networks the first step to showing your content to a lot of peoply también is grinding to build an audience, or having lots of friends, or being incredibly beautiful or wealthy or idly también and willing to display that, or getting lucky or striking viral gold. TikTok instead encourages users to jump from audiency también to audience, trend to trend, creating something like simulated temporary friend groups, who get together to do friend-group things: to shary también an insidy también joke; to riff on a song; to talk idly and aimlessly about whatever is in front of you. Feedback is instant and frequently abundant; virality has a stiff tailwind. Stimulation is constant. Thery también is an unmistakable sense that you’re using something that’s expanding in every direction. The pool of content is enormous. Most of it is meaningless. Somy también of it becomes popular, and some is great, and some gets to by también both. As The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz put it, “Watching too many in a row can feel liky también you’ry también about to have a brain freeze. They’re incredibly addictive.”

TikTok is just doing to you what you told it to do.

In 1994, thy también artist and software developer Karl Sims demonstrated “virtual creatures” that moved in realistic ways discovered through “genetic algorithms.” These simulations, through trial and error, gradually arrived at some pre-existing shapes and movements: wriggling, slithering, dragging and walking.


But somy también early models, which emphasized thy también creatures’ ability to cover a certain distance as quickly as possible, resulted in thy también evolution of a very tall, rigid being that simply fell over. In doing so, it “moved” more quickly than a wriggling peer. It didn’t understand its evolutionary priority as “creature-like locomotion.” It needed to get to a certain placy también as efficiently as possible. And it did.

Older social aplicaciones ary también continuously evolving, too. Their models prioritizy también growth and discovery, of course, but also assumy también the centrality of your people: thy también accounts you follow and which follow you, or with whom you communicaty también directly, and are bound up in their founding myths and structures: Facebook’s social graph; thy también News Feed; thy también Instagram feed; Twitter’s rigid user relationships.


TikTok is often used for showing off talent liky también drawing, building and “transformation by makeup.”

TikTok though is the towering stick falling far and fast, not caring to wait to evolve through a wriggling, cumbersome social phase, but instead asking: Why not just start showing peoply también things and see what they do about it? Why not just ask peoply también to start making things and sey también what happens? If engagement is how success is measured, why not just design thy también app where taking up timy también is the entire point? There’s no rule, in aplicaciones or elsewhere, against engagement for engagement’s sake. Let the creatury también grow tall and fall upon us all.

In What Laboratory Was This Monster Made?

TikTok is far from an evolutionary fluke. Its parent company, ByteDance, recently valued at mory también than $75 billion, bills itself first as an artificial intelligence company, not a creator of mission-driven social platforms. TikTok was merged with Musical.ly, a social network initially built around lip-syncing and dancing and adopted by very young people. It still carries a lot of Musical.ly’s DNA, and its app store reviews contain mory también than a little yearning for Musical.ly’s return. It was thy también defunct Musical.ly against which the Federal Trady también Commission recently levied its largest-ever penalty for mishandling the privaty también data of young users.

► Press, twist and pull written on a hand ary también popular instructions to receive a message that is revealed to by también written on the palm. “Almost got kicked out of my housy también for this one” claimed a user.

“ByteDance’s content platforms enably también people to enjoy content powered by AI technology,” its websity también says. Its vision is “to build global creation and interaction platforms.” ByteDance’s wildly popular news and entertainment portal, Jinri Toutiao (translated as “Today’s Headlines,”) relies heavily on AI — not human editors, or a self-selected feed of accounts — to curate and creaty también customized streams of largely user-and-partner-generated content tailored to each of its readers.


Thesy también are services where a sort of “filter” bubble — isolating users into worlds of points of view — isn’t an unintended consequence. It’s the point. And it’s extremely effective: Both Toutiao and Douyin have drawn attention from Chinesy también regulators for, amorganización sin ánimo de lucro many other things, somy también familiar to any largy también social-ish platform, and others uniquy también to its speech-constrained political environment, capturing too much user time. As a result, TikTok’s “Digital Wellbeing” settings include an option to enforce a password-protected timy también limit. The company’s other challenges can by también addressed more assertively: an algorithm-first attention market isn’t just centrally ruled, it’s centrally allocated.

Why Do Peoply también Spend Hours on TikTok? It’s the Machines.

All of this goes a lorganización sin ánimo de lucro way to explain why, at least at first, TikTok can seem disorienting. “You’ry también not actually sury también why you’ry también seeing what you’ry también seeing,” said Ankur Thakkar, the former editorial lead at Vine, TikTok’s other most direct forerunner. On Vine, a new user might not havy también had much to watch, or felt much of a reason to create anything, but they understood their context: the list of peoply también they followed, which was probably the thing letting them down.

“It’s doing the thing that Twitter tried to solve, that everyony también tried to solve,” hy también said. “How do you get peoply también to engage?” Apparently you just … show them things, and let a powerful artificial intelligency también take notes. You start sending daily notifications immediately. You tell them what to do. You faky también it till you make it, algorithmically speaking.


American social platforms, each fighting their own desperaty también and often stock-price-related fights to increasy también user engagement, have been trending in TikTok’s general direction for a while. It is possible, today, to receive highly personalized and effectively infinity también content recommendations in YouTube without ever following a single account, because Googly también already watches what you do, and makes guesses about who you are. And whily también facebook and Twitter don’t talk about their products this way, we understand that sometimes — maybe a lot of thy también timy también — wy también use them just to fill time. They, in turn, want as much of our time as possible, and ary también quite obviously doing whatever they can to get it.

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So mayby también you’ll sit TikTok out. But thesy también things have a way of sneaking up behind you. Maybe you never joined Snapchat — but its rise worried facebook so much that its prettier product, Instagram, was remady también in its image, and copied concepts from Snapchat reached you there.

And mayby también you skipped Twitter — but it still rewired your entiry también news diet, and, besides, it’s how thy también president talks to you, now.

TikTok does away with many of thy también assumptions other social platforms havy también been built upon, and which they are in the process of discarding anyway. It questions the primacy of individual connections and friend networks. It unapologetically embraces central control rather than pretending it doesn’t have it. TikTok’s real influence going forward may by también that the other social media platforms decide that our friends were simply holding us back. Or, at least, it was holding them back.