Oakland, CA — The latest and greatest social media app, TikTok, has emerged from one of the cringiest corners of the web, and it’s quickly becoming home to an entirely new ecosystem of memes, viral challenges and internet celebrities.
The music-focused, short-video-sharing app was first introduced back in 2017 when its predecessor, Musical.ly, was purchased by Chinese company Bytedance. Bytedance combined Musical.ly with its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, and TikTok was born.
Today, TikTok has become a global phenomenon, with most of its 130 million users in China. While users in the U.S. have been slower to adopt the platform, TikTok’s unique culture and steadily growing audience could mean big changes are ahead for the more established social and video platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“The app overall is an amazing platform to really see what people can do with just a few seconds. The comedy aspect of the app is something that I really enjoy,” said Kevin Carrieres, an 18-year-old from Arizona and established TikTok influencer.
“Honestly I have nothing bad to say about TikTok,” said Cristain Rodriguez, one half of the TikTok-famous brotherly comedy duo, TheRodriguezTwins. “No other platform has helped us the way TikTok has.”
Those who haven’t had much experience with the app are most likely to encounter TikTok’s short, choppy videos — often featuring dancing, lip syncing and other incorporations of popular music — and the app’s signature cringe-factor.
TikTok is often compared to Vine, the much-beloved six-second video app that was shut down in 2016.
Rodriguez, who was recruited to create content on TikTok thanks in large part to his and his brother’s Vine fame, said the comparison isn’t entirely fair because TikTok also offers a robust live-streaming feature in addition to the main video feeds.
The two apps do have one major similarity, in that both feature strict video length restrictions: TikTok videos must be under a minute. But TikTok’s unique culture and ever-changing selection of memes has established it as something far-flung from Vine and the more mainstream apps like Instagram or Snapchat.
Unlike on any of those platforms, the videos on TikTok are surprisingly — almost eerily — homogenous. A scroll through the public posts will quickly reveal that there are only a handful of popular video styles (often inspired by hashtags or challenges) at one time, and it often feels as though everyone on the app is participating in them.
For example, a recently popular challenge includes the subject using rubber bands or a nerf gun to knock down paper signs to the beat of a song, revealing a funny joke or a surprise in the process. No one community on TikTok — not the furries, the fitness nuts, the military fanatics or the makeup gurus — was too cool to not post its take on this newest challenge.
At first glance, this phenomenon could give a newcomer the impression that there’s a lack of creativity on the app, but rather, this reporter would argue that the uniformity creates a sense of harmony throughout the platform — unity, even — that is entirely missing from the more crowded social apps.
That unity is incredibly refreshing and encouraging to see online, especially after the cringe-factor has worn off, and is a big selling point for users.
In a recent edition of the Axios Media Trends Newsletter, Sara Fischer wrote, “Mainstream social media apps have grown so big that users are flocking to a less crowded and commercialized place, where they can focus on creating silly and fun original videos, without worrying about the stress that comes with widely sharing them on massive networks.”
At the same time, however, TikTok’s relatively small user base is on the rise.
TikTok saw a 67 percent increase in daily active users over six months in 2018, according to data gathered by Apptopia, and was recently ranked in the top five most popular apps in both Apple's App Store and Google Play.
And larger platforms are already making moves in an effort to imitate TikTok’s success. Facebook launched a copycat app, called Lasso, no doubt trying to tap TikTok’s famously young audience.
It’s unclear whether a larger platform will replicate TikTok’s best features and ruin its growth before the app itself becomes too crowded and defeats its own purpose, but it’s not a stretch to say that regardless of its future, the super cringey, surprisingly fun app has already made a lasting impact on the social media landscape.