November 10, 2019
The internet came into my life when I was a freshman in college. I got an e-mail account at Hotmail and started exploring the world wide web. I remember my parents’ puzzled faces when I explained it to them and their dismissal as a mere curiosity with no meaningful impact on regular life. At that time Jeff Bezos was starting Amazon because, if something was growing at that speed at that scale, you had better pay attention. I had a similar feeling when I saw the graph below.
Like my parents, I find myself struggling to understand TikTok and its potential impact on the regular world. But in less than 3 years, more than 1 Bn people (including Arnold Schwarzenegger) have. At its core, it is a social media application that doesn’t require you to explicitly upload personal information, your friends nor personal network. It serves short videos without pause and observes your reactions to figure out what you like, through a powerful Artificial Intelligence engine. So, the more you use it, the better the product becomes for you. Regular users I interviewed report that the experience becomes extremely immersive and pleasant overtime. It also allows you to upload your own videos and assists you with powerful editing tools including background music and filters.
It is too early to confidently predict the business, cultural and social impact of TikTok. Its owner, Chinese company ByteDance, is now the highest valued private startup at $78 Bn. Here is what this phenomenon has shown so far:
- Its meteoric growth shows that virality and speed of change in the world is accelerating as more and more people connect to the internet (mostly through mobile phones);
- Artificial Intelligence is getting extremely good at learning from our actions and automatically adapting to our tastes;
- Contrary to popular belief, there is still a lot of opportunity to innovate on the internet, even in spaces that seem to have been settled like Social Media;
- There seems to be a demand for goofiness and fun in addition to the more ego driven posts you see in Facebook and Instagram
- China is capable of penetrating Europe and the US with innovative products rather than just cheap products;
- TikTok owned by a Chinese company is opening up questions in DC about national security and protection of privacy and information of US citizens.
– Pedro Ramos