What is the newly popularized app TikTok and where exactly did it come from? More importantly, what makes this app so popular?
When defining the app in a simplified way, TikTok is a social media platform used for sharing videos, however, when examining the app as a whole it is much more complex. As of February 11, 2020, TikTok ranked #1 on Apple’s Top Free Apps Chart.
While researching the app’s rapid growth, its history becomes that much more fascinating. The app surprisingly started long before it took over the nation. In 2016, the app was released in a slightly modified form in China, in order to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions, before being adapted to fit IOS and Android phones in 2017. In 2019 it was announced that TikTok was the 7th most downloaded app for the entire decade, from 2010 to 2019, even though it was only released in the second half of said decade. So how exactly did this small app become a global phenomenon? Well, TikTok did not act alone. Bytedance, the parent company of the video-sharing app, purchased the app Musical.ly for nearly $1 billion back in 2017. At the time, Musical.ly was a relatively popular app within the United States that more or less did exactly what TikTok does now. Through the merger of the two apps, courtesy of Bytedance, the already created accounts and users on Musical.ly seamlessly switched over to TikTok allowing the app to gain a vastly wider fan base.
For those who do not currently have a TikTok, beware that the app can become quite addicting. Why? What makes this social media app special when compared to all the rest? Well, when I was originally asked this by my dad a few weeks ago the only response I could come up with at the time was that “there is simply nothing else like it, and if there is, I haven’t seen it.” By definition: “The TikTok mobile app allows users to create a short video of themselves which often feature music in the background, can be sped up, slowed down or edited with a filter. To create a music video with the app, users can choose background music from a wide variety of music genres, edit with a filter and record” (Wikipedia). This definition does not precisely capture the depth of all the app’s features, though. Users have the opportunity to display their unique dance skills, practice their acting abilities through lip-syncing their favorite cinematic moments, or show off their art, to list just a few.
Examining the app’s target audience, it originally grasped the attention of young teens, but as time has progressed, college students and millennials have joined the trend too. Ironically, the majority of celebrities and online influencers joined TikTok after its rise in popularity and now use the app as a means of marketing to their younger demographics. A recurring theme amongst all that have gotten swept up in the app is the three stages of TikTok addiction. The first stage consists of simply downloading the app, as a joke, of course, just to see what the fuss is all about. Second is when you start watching TikToks, which can quickly escalate from minutes of viewing to hours. The final stage is when the user decides to immerse themselves in the app by making TikToks of their own. Considering the targeted age group, TikTok’s allowed video lengths also grant the app immense benefits. Adolescents, in the modern age, are continuously searching for instant gratification. Since the app only allows a video to be a minute long, the viewer is able to scroll endlessly.
As I examine the social aspect of the app I feel there are a few key points I can not forget to mention. One of the primary specialties of TikTok is the app’s unique For You page. Brian Feldman of New York Magazine details that “The For You page is the front page of TikTok, the landing place when users open the app. The videos on this page are populated by a recommendation engine,” (Feldman) The specialty of the For You page is that, rather than Instagram or Facebook, the people you follow appear secondary in an alternate tab whereas the suggested videos for you appear first. This grants users the feeling of inclusivity and diminishes the hierarchy that exists on other social platforms. The exciting aspect of the For You page is that anyone can end up on it, meaning that anyone can ultimately go viral.