Despite the great gap that the media likes to paint between the US and China, the Beijing-based TikTok app has been connecting users from both countries - and just about everywhere in-between. TikTok has taken over.
But what about this video platform makes it so addictive and fun?
It definitely meets all 3 of the killer app criteria in the formula for killer apps I wrote about last week: low cost of failure, high value of success, and free marketing.
It also has Krueger’s 3 ingredients for a successful app that I wrote about this weekend: free to use, mobile-first, and rewarding/fun.
There are a few things that I really like about TikTok. One of them is that I do not need an account to see content. Downloading the app, I enjoy content immediately before creating an account - this is very refreshing. I also really like that the app has a constant full screen experience on my iPhone XS Max. It has a big screen and I really like that the app has no constraints on the content. I also really like how simple it is. They did a good job with the screen button layouts. I’m a fan of minimal interfaces.
History of TikTok
TikTok allegedly began as Musical.ly back in 2014. Musical.ly was a Shanghai-based app that made it simple for users to record lip synch videos. It turns out that TikTok acquired Musical.ly in 2017. Digging a little deeper, I learned that Musical.ly itself was actually a pivot from an educational video platform. The founders had a little money left after their education started and they decided to launch an entertainment app intead. This is a testament to the tenacity it takes to build a product which I wrote about last week. Now - 6 years later - TikTok is one of the most popular apps in the world.
TikTok are many security and privacy concerns which I will not go into depth about here - but I did want to quickly note that Musical.ly (TikTok) was sued by the FTC in 2019 for violating children’s privacy laws.
TikTok / Vine Commonalities
- Short-form skit videos that are addictive and viral - check.
- Tons of youth making videos and sharing them - check.
- People posting videos from here on other platforms - check.
Timing plays a huge role in success as well. Sure, timing was on the side of TikTok in many ways - especially over the past month - but it’s also what TikTok has been able to do with the opportunity that is incredible. Let’s dig in a look at this a bit.
First of all, TikTok is appealing to new users because it feels fresh. It’s not full of the same people doing the same things. It’s not full of your friends - but instead, a world of discovery. Once it becomes another app full of our friends, we will probably get excited about something else new. It’s human nature. As great as the algorithms are on Facebook and Instagram, they will not feel as fresh as a new app such as TikTok. When Vine was first released, Instgram was the rising star… hard to compete with that sort of starpower. Now that TikTok has that starpower. However, that didn’t stop the founder of Vine from launching a TikTok-competitor / Vine-reboot called Byte. I am curious to see where it goes, but my hunch is that - even if TikTok proves to be a CCP spy machine or a threat to national security, that Byte will not be able to dethrone it very easily.
For content creators, the coronavirus has leveled the playing field. You don’t need a studio any more to compete with Jimmy Fallon. You and him are both making videos from your living room without makeup. Of course, he still has great distribution and an amazing slide inside of his house, but has his kids making interstitials and his wife doing his makeup.
Meanwhile, millions of people around the world are on lockdown - staring at their “mobile” phones all day - looking into their black mirrors for new ways to experience the outside world… so TikTok is at the right place at the right time with the right traction. Speaking of places, have you noticed that TikToks are literally everywhere? I even saw that dude with a sign was protesting for people to “Keep TikToks on Tiktok.”
TikTok Trojan Horse
The sharability of TikTok is a smart strategy. It is a bit counterintuitive at first - let me explain why… You see, most apps want users (and the content) to stay inside of the app as much as possible… Screen time and recurring screen time are important metrics for apps to measure traction. TikTok allows anyone to watch videos without ever downloading the app or signing up. TikTok links unfurl nicely into any other app or message where you can watch the video in the context of another app, webpage, or message. Also, TikTok users can also download the TikToks and repost them elsewhere. This is not possible on Instagram or other popular media platforms. Each TikTok does include a little watermark to let you know who made the video (so you can follow their handle on) TikTok. The strategy is working. I saw so many TikToks that I finally decided to download the app again last week (I had previously downloaded and deleted.)
After downloading TikTok again, I realized that the sharability - the portability of the content can be more powerful than trying to lock users into an app. The wide sharing of TikToks on Facebook and Instagram is a Trojan Horse. Content from TikTok ends up on all of my friends’ Facebook and Instagram stories… and then, boom, I download the app again uninstalling it months ago… The Vine CEO previously said that Instagram video was the “beginning of the end” - however, TikTok is using Instagram video to grow. Despite protests to keep TikToks on TikTok, privacy concerns, and being an app that started in 2014 - the growth of the platform has reached it’s own virality due (mainly) to this sharability.