Tiktok, a video-sharing app that was top-charting No.1 in the US app store, came into the limelight when its Chinese parent company Bytedance bought musical.ly for as much as 1 billion dollars on November 9, 2017, and merged both of them together under one umbrella. In its early stage, TikTok was nothing more than just a lip-syncing app that young people used to pass their time on. Fast forward to the second quarter of 2021, TikTok is now the most downloaded app in the world. A height that took other apps like YouTube or Instagram quite some time to reach. There’s no denying that TikTok reached this height through its merit. Many users use the video-sharing platform to express themselves and share their life in some unique way. And the app is often applauded for its recommendation system.
Once it understands your preferences properly, TikTok becomes one of the best scrolling experiences for you. Everything is so perfectly curated to your specific interests, and it is hard to put the phone down once you start browsing. It is so captivating that so far in 2021, TikTok got about 690 million users every month. And has reportedly overtaken YouTube in the USA when it comes to average watch time in 2021. Compared to TikTok, other platforms are doing so much more to hook their users. Instagram and Facebook have so many sub-features to gain the user’s attention. Whereas TikTok only has its “For You” feed, and that is enough to get people to spend more time on the app longer than they do on other apps. But how did an app like TikTok pull something like this off? The answer is simple, through its unique algorithm.
Everything in TikTok comes down to engagement. And TikTok notably has the highest engagement of any major social media platform, including the percentage of followers who engage with influencers. When a user first opens the app, it will first show him/her a list of videos with a higher view count along with some moderated content. The way the user interacts with a video is an essential factor in the algorithm. For example, watching a video from beginning to end is a vital sign of interest and carries greater weight in the algorithm than other contributing factors. The algorithm considers how far a user got in the video and whether or not they watched it in its entirety. If a user watches a video till the end, instead of skipping to the next one halfway through, that action is registered as a stronger indication of interest. It also notices a few other things to completely make sure that the videos they recommend on the “For you” section are accurate. They are based on:
All of those points make your interests and preferences easier for the TikTok algorithm to figure out. At first, some of the videos may be a “hit or miss.” But after a few days (sometimes it only takes hours) of surfing through TikTok’s feed. Two users will never see the same videos on their ‘For You’ page. In addition, the videos you see might change over time based on your viewing preferences and even your current state of mind. ‘Parks and Recreation ‘star Amy Poehler talked about this in the late-night tv show with Seth Meyers. It is pretty fascinating and feels unnatural how a video-sharing platform can read someone’s mental state and show content as per.
While user interaction signals are based on how you interact with other users on the app, video information signals are based on the content you tend to seek out on the Discover tab.
TikTok is mainly a content-based media, and content is its bread and butter. Typically, social media websites do not share how their content algorithm works, but TikTok has published an article that lets you explore some of the basics of how the TikTok algorithm works. In an article, TikTok said that the recommended videos would show up on your home page according to the content type, not the content creator. Charli D’ Amelio is the most followed TikToker in the world. So, naturally, her contents will be everywhere. But if her videos do not work well with my preferences, they will not show up on my feed. Also, other factors work together to help the algorithm determine which videos are made for you. The elements are captions, sounds, hashtags, and video effects. These factors are easy and simple to understand, and when they are adequately tweaked, they can elevate any video. TikTok also cares about trending topics in videos. As a viewer, trending video topics will be more enticing to the viewers. And if you talk about trending topics in your video, then there’s a good chance that your video will get more views.
Device & Account Settings
From titoks published article, it is confirmed that TikTok considers device and account settings. Still, it also clarifies that these factors are not given as much weight as stronger, preference-indicative measures like user interaction or video information. These factors are primarily tracked to optimize app performance. While showing you videos, it will consider where you are from, your device type, and the language you speak. Device type matters less than your country and language because it has no mentionable effect on your home page. But your country and language will allow TikTok to show some of your local content and see if you like them or not. If you don’t interact with them, then TikTok will gradually stop showing them to you.
What Not to Show in the Algorithm?
TikTok’s recommendation system is designed with safety as a consideration. It has a specific system built so that you don’t get the wrong video in your feed. For example, review content that may be shocking if surfaced as a recommended video to a general audience will not be shown to you. Similarly, videos that have just been uploaded or are under review and spam content such as videos seeking to disrupt daily life will be counted as ineligible for recommendation into anyone’s “For You’’ feed. In addition, TikTok has a Restricted Mode that limits the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences.
Will TikTok’s Algorithm Make It a Worthy Competitor of YouTube?
Tiktok beating youtube when it comes to viewer count ultimately raises the question, “Does TikTok’s algorithm make it a worthy competitor of YouTube?” Before comparing the two giants, we have to consider that TikTok gets more of its users through mobile devices, whereas YouTube also works quite well in its web version.
There’s another thing to keep in mind, People watch youtube videos for many reasons, entertainment, learning skills, documentaries, you name it. They are also used to watching videos stretching 5minits to even an hour-long! On the other hand, TikTok users are there purely for entertainment. Though the topic varies, you’re always getting that same 30 seconds. The difference is as clear as day, but TikTok is still taking a huge chunk of its user base. Roughly 26.5 million monthly active users are from the USA. Also, 41% of its users are aged between 16 to 24 and 50% are under 34.
The numbers have surely raised some eyebrows in YouTube headquarters. So, to catch up to TikTok as the short-form video platform of choice, Google came up with its very own version of TikTok, YouTube shorts. The service was first launched in India last year, before expanding to around 26 countries including the US and the UK. Google is pushing Shorts’ integration with the broader YouTube ecosystem as a key selling point. It recently added the ability for Shorts creators to sample audio from YouTube videos and says that it is exploring ways to offer quick links from Shorts to YouTube videos they’ve taken samples from. Although YouTube shorts is still in its beta version, Google has already put together 100 million dollars to fund the Shorts’ video creators. Like YouTube, Instagram launched its own short video sharing platform named Instagram reels. Reels’ is just Instagram’s way of keeping up with TikTok and trying to win back some of their audience. As both YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels are still in their beta stage and not available globally, we still can’t say anything with 100 percent assurance which one of them will beat the other in the end. But this silent battle between giants can be considered a blessing for content creators all over the world.
Possible Privacy Breach
There is no denying that TikTok’s rise to the top is desirable. However, many people are concerned about the risks while using this app. They claim that TikTok stores people’s data without their consent and provides them to the Chinese government. The issue with TikTok became so bad that at one point, former US President Donald Trump’s administration almost considered the app as a National threat. Eventually, they stepped back. And TikTok issued a statement saying that China can’t get hold of TikTok user data because it’s stored in the US. But TikTok is still facing lawsuits here and there because they are accused of storing data without the user’s consent. Earlier this year, TikTok had to pay around 92 million dollars to settle dozens of lawsuits that alleged that the popular video-sharing app harvested personal data from users, including information using facial recognition technology, without consent and shared the data with third parties, some of which were based in China. The fact that they had to go for a settlement in a lawsuit makes you wonder if those accusations are true or not.
I have had my fair share of experience with social media platforms. And I have seen many apps interact with me through its algorithm. Except for Spotify and TikTok, none of them are similar to each other. They use the same way to interact with their users and provide interesting content. But still, when it comes to popularity and user base, Spotify is nowhere near TikTok. TikTok reached its height because it knows how the community reacts to things and listens to them. The fact that it is still operating even after all of those challenges means it is here to stay for a long time.