Wait, 1.8 trillion views?
What is TikTok?
With the Wall Street Journal’s report that Google is set to buy TikTok rival Firework generating some industry buzz, it is possible that Computer Business Review’s readers may be asking the question – and wondering if their business should care.
The answer is, increasingly, “yes”.
What is TikTok? Vine, With 8 More Seconds?
Nature abhors a vacuum. So when Twitter shut down micro-video service Vine on January 17, 2017, something had to step into the void.
That something, arguably, was TikTok.
To those with short memories, Vine was a popular social media platform, jam-packed with looping micro-videos of people largely younger than you, performing, pranking, twerking, screaming and more, over 6.5 seconds. (As the Verge’s Casey Newton puts it, it evolved into a “kind of live-action cartoon network”).
Twitter, unable to monetise it as a standalone platform the way it wanted after buying it in 2012 for a reported $30 million, ultimately pulled the plug, bundling the technology into its own video service in 2017. (Critics variously blame Vine’s tardiness in adding new features, the rise of Instagram, and bad management…)
First launched in China in 2016 as “Douyin”, it really took off after absorbing lip-syncing app musical.ly; paying almost $1 billion to do so.
It is growing at a blistering pace, including in the UK, despite having been available in the country for just a year, where some canny content creation and curation has seen it gain steam rapidly.
At the time of writing, the #UKTalent hashtag, for example, has a claimed 1,829,126,812 views. TikTok says its #BeautifulPeople hashtag meanwhile — launched by Ed Sheeran and dedicated to challenging users to share videos with the beautiful people in their lives” — has had over 658 million views.
TikTok’s Play Store application has been downloaded 500+ million times, and it was the third most downloaded app in the Q1 2019, with 188 million new users overall.
Does it accept adverts?
TikTok itself touts “one of the first mobile-first products powered by AI and ML”, saying “we get your ads in front of users who will find them interesting. In addition to our advanced content distribution capability, you can target precisely with custom audience and conversion events, and track performance real time.”
It names Buzzfeed as a customer. In practice, self-serve ads seem to be in beta mode and only open to selected brands. Behind the scenes ByteDance appears to be building it out, with Adweek reporting that it had told agency partners in the US that it is working on a biddable advertising option on the platform.
Given its scale, the opportunities for marketers are significant: the platform seems intent on keeping the focus on (typically quirky and unpolished) content and brands would no doubt be smarter to consider things like unique hashtag challenges than ads.
In the meantime, data mining is the name of the game.
What is TikTok? (A Lot of Open Source Code…)
In terms of architecture, TikTok itself is built on a smogasbord of open source code, including Facebook’s Fresco – an Android library for managing images and the memory they use – Square Inc.’s Okio, Javapoet and Leak Canary; and Google’s Gson.
Ultimately, whether it proves a fad, outstrips Instagram (1 billion+ downloads on Play Store) or goes on to entrench itself as the dominant new social platform remains to be seen.
Meanwhile it’s raking in investment, with owner ByteDance tapping a Wall St. syndicate that includes Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley for $1.3 billion in debt financing this spring. As Bloomberg notes, along with $3 billion funding in 2018 from SoftBank Group and other major investors at a valuation of $75 billion, it is now the world’s biggest privately backed startup.
Expect to hear a whole lot more about the platform…