What is Tik Tok?
Tik Tok is a looping video platform. You can make short-form videos up to one minute in length, usually with audio or filters to enhance the experience.
The long and short of it is that Tik Tok knows a lot about you, similar to other apps and platforms. We live in an age of de-facto surveillance, so personally this kind of privacy breaching is (unfortunately) not surprising to me. It is not clear to me how Tik Tok is using this data other than for curating content that it think I might like, and at the end of the day I am more concerned with targeted ads on other platforms because they are more noticeable.
The ‘For You’ Page
The ‘For You’ page is mainly a mystery. No one really knows how the algorithm assembles it, but it’s the equivalent of mainstream television — if you’ve made it to the ‘For You’ page, you essentially have made it to shoot your shot at fame. It is also my understanding that the ‘For You’ page is tailored quite literally ‘For You’. I am delivered content that is location, value, and topic specific. This means that it is not a huge platform that reaches everyone regardless — similar to what Facebook learned, it is tailored to things that may be relevant to me.
The user experience is ultimately good. I watch TikTok on my bus ride home from work, and for an hour in the evening before I go to bed. From the Washington Post:
Some former employees said the company’s strict content rules were designed to help protect the platform from the anger and negativity seen elsewhere on the Web.
TikTok, at least for me, has succeeded in creating a pocket of positivity especially in trying times. I am often surprised at the amount of wholesome and creative content that lands on my ‘For You’ page. Fortunately, the platform saves your likes on your profile (you can choose whether or not you want them public or private). I’ll sit down with my girlfriend in the evening and go through my liked videos, as another form of curation. Tik Tok compilations do exist on YouTube, but I do wish for a way to keep my own playlists of saved videos on the app. We’ll talk about this later, but I have found some workarounds.
I’ve been keeping a meme tracker so that I can closely follow trends. It’s not the most scientific thing ever, but my hope is to plot these out in a timeline for the end of the year so that folks on Reddit can be like “HA! Oh yeah, I totally forgot about that trend from earlier this year.” But, just from looking at it recently, I can see the lifespan of certain memes, and a rough estimate of their turnover. Super interesting!
Because Tik Tok currently doesn’t have a feature that allows for saving playlists, I’ve been pushing my “best of” collection to an Airtable, which is then rendered on this site: tiptoks.glitch.me. This has been surprisingly helpful as I express to my skeptical friends that there is actually really creative, funny, and wholesome content on the platform. This website isn’t the best, but it gets the job done!
@youngpanini slides into the frame in an all-yellow hoodie and drops some hilarious sass-bombs. I love his stylistic consistency, and his larger-than life persona that he has created, while also coming off as a pretty cool and reasonable dude. And by reasonable, I mean he is capable of being really funny without being toxic, which is internet gold for me.
The Washington Post Tik Tik account is run by a man named Dave Jorgensen and odds are you have seen at least one of his Tik Toks. Bringing goofy levity to hard journalism, I think that he has mastered the Tik Tok platform, and his fans agree. Last time I checked Dave’s Twitter, he highlighted the facts that folks have been sending fan mail to the Washington Post, suggesting that Dave Jorgensen get a raise. I agree.
First video I saw from @imthejay was when she found a tiny frog hiding in a Walmart. She had such a unique voice that I followed for more content and was not disappointed. Her strongest suit is being her good ol’ weird self on Tik Tok in a robust and unapologetic manner. And her videos are often wildly unpredictable. If you scroll through her feed, you will be entertained.
I’ve been following Karalynn Dunton for a bit, enough to see her find her place on the platform. Initially she made awkward videos of herself asking different internet communities if she could play with them, which led to her dressing up as a fish and asking for more fish content. Nowadays, I see her talking to her Vector robots and making a call to the universe for more of them.
The Time I Blew Up
I made a Tik Tok about Bernie Sanders that you can see below. It took me about ten minutes to make. I went to bed and woke up in the morning and saw that it had 10.7k likes. By the end of the day it had over 90k likes. As of today, it has 309k plays and 95.6k likes. After 24 hours, the velocity of views slowed significantly, suggesting that it was featured on the “For You” page for exactly one da. I still get a trickling of likes every so often, but nowhere near the traffic I got on the first day I posted it.
Honestly, I was quite surprised and pleased to see that I blew up on Tik Tok. I gained hundreds of followers, and felt really cool throughout the day. Is there a secret to going viral? I don’t think so — the best thing you can do is to make content that you like. Once you’re a user you will understand the general format of the kind of content that gets featured, and your best bet is to mimic that process.
Comparison to Byte
Basically, I was a Vine fan. I loved Vine, I felt like I was part of a community on Vine, it was great. When Vine shut down in 2016, I was truly upset. I actually mourned.
There were rumors of Vine 2.0. I followed fo years, and then learned that it was potentially to be called “Byte”. I waited and waited. Nothing happened.
Then in 2019, I met Mike Bennett at XOXO Fest, who convinced me that Tik Tok was the new Vine. I toughened up and joined. At first it was overwhelming, but I got the hang of it, and then I was enamored.
Then in January of 2020, Dom Hoffmann released Byte. I joined, got a pretty good username, and used the app a couple of times. But it was too late — Tik Tok had filled the void and made a home there. I just had very few reasons to spend time on Byte when Tik Tok was doing the thing and doing it well.
Further Reading & Links
- Hype House and the Los Angeles TikTok Mansion Gold Rush
- Privacy Analysis of Tiktok’s App and Website
- TikTok Users Are Inventing Wild Theories to Explain Its Mysterious Algorithm
- my favorite tiktoks
- Discrimination — TikTok curbed reach for people with disabilities
- Inside TikTok: A culture clash where U.S. views about censorship often were overridden by the Chinese bosses