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TikTok has been one of the most talked-about social media apps of recent times and became the topic of social conversation. The heat of Tik Tok has yet to boil down, especially when it has just signed a deal with Oracle and Walmart in the US. So what can we expect from Tik Tok and the changes it pioneers? 

This article is going to address them all.

1. What is Tik Tok?

Launched in 2016, Douyin has become one of the most popular apps in china. To extend the global market, TikTok, the English version of Douyin, was launched in 2017. Since Douyin and TikTok have little differences in product design and functionality, this article uses “TikTok” to represent both the version of Douyin and TikTok in a unified way.

TikTok is a short-form mobile video app that is mostly focusing on young users. They can shoot a variety of 15-second music short videos, including dance performance, script imitation, talent expression, emotional expression, skill-sharing, life records, and other content forms to create their works. 

Unlike most video apps, TikTok doesn’t have a “start” button. Once the app is open, the video starts playing automatically. Users can scroll through different videos by swiping up and down, just like you scroll through pictures on Instagram. When one follows a particular account, TikTok also feeds users with similar accounts. Whether in the car, when eating or even at work, one can always open to browse funny videos. TikTok even reached more than 800 million active users, of whom mostly below 25.

2. What makes Tik Tok popular?

The popularity of TikTok is built from 3 major pillars: interaction design, systems and modularity, and short-form video technology.

Interaction design

Firstly, TikTok chooses to play videos on full screen, which draws users’ attention immediately and significantly reduces the user’s cost of learning how to use it. A good interface should not call attention to itself but should let us direct our attention to the task – and Tik Tok is the living proof of such a definition. The first time people enter TikTok, they can learn how to use it right away without thinking because the interface is arranged in a neat and easy-understanding way.

That said, on its main interface, we can only see some necessary icons, including post videos, thumb up, comments, and share. Another attractive design is when viewing the comments and filling in the comments, only one pop-up appears, and the video continues playing. This pop-up design creates a continuous watching environment for users because even when they can only see the videos on half of the screen, they still can listen to the sound from the video.

Secondly, TikTok has efficient gesture interaction, which provides proper conventions for users. Constraints limit the possible actions that can be performed on a system. Proper application of constraints makes designs easier to use and dramatically reduces the probability of error during the interaction. 

When using phones, we get used to scrolling up and down to adjust the order of the page. TikTok applies the same conventions; that is, the user can switch between different video contents only by sliding up and down. Each swipe can get new content, which is efficient and straightforward. If the user wants to know more about the account that they are watching, they can scroll left to see all the videos on this account. Users can do most of the functionality just by swiping and clicking on a page in TikTok.

Before TikTok, most video apps like Snapchat and Instagram usually design a home page that shows a thumbnail of the video, and users can view the video by clicking on the video cover. However, TikTok cuts down the process between “click the video” and “watch the video” which reduces the time for users to enter videos and switch between videos.

Another unique gesture is double-clicking. By double-clicking on the screen, people can thump up and collect the video. In design, it is crucial to show the effect of an action. Without feedback, one is always wondering whether anything has happened. Icon of the little red heart appears on the screen after double-clicking to give feedback to users so that they can make sure their actions are valid. Once the user double-clicks the video, TikTok stores it in a list so that users can watch it whenever they want.

Thirdly is immersive design. After opening TikTok, the user cannot choose what the next video is. TikTok plays popular content on the whole screen based on its recommendation algorithm, which provides users with unexpected feelings. This sudden feeling is the result of rewarding stimuli. Rewards are attractive; they are motivating and make us exert an effort. That said, anything that makes an individual come back for more is a positive reinforcer and therefore a reward and one important function of the positive reward is to maintain an active repertoire of behavior. Thus, unknown videos make users get addicted to scrolling up the screen to watch more videos. Besides, videos play on a loop until people slide up or down. In this way, people immerse themselves in current videos without distractions. If the user plays the video more than three times in a loop, the system of TikTok assumes that you like the video. Consequently, the “share” icon becomes another social media icon to encourage the user to share the video on other social media.

TikTok also highlights music attributes, such as music information display. A critical reason for TikTok’s success is its soundtrack. Soundtracks in every video can be directly used by other people, which lower the cost of video shooting, encouraging users to create and produce hot spots. After clicking the record icon, it jumps to the select music page. Users can press the “use this sound” to use the same soundtrack for their videos.

Systems and modularity

Technologies are built from a hierarchy of technologies. All the functions of TikTok are made up of several small modules. The video shooting function of TikTok consists of a video module and an audio module. After user input videos and choose music, TikTok decodes and combines them and finally outputs the complete video on the platform. The video editing technology can be classified into various modules such as face recognition, real-time capture, and beauty algorithm. By working at the same time, they provide us with filters and effects used on the video.

The technology of recommending videos is also the consequence of modularity. What you watch in the next video is decided by different algorithm modules such as the content of the video that you like, the amount of video comment, the amount of forwarding. TikTok is not an isolated product but the result of various interdependent subsystems of modules working together.

Main function and module of TikTok.

Short-form video technology

There are two types of TikTok videos: one is the live video, and another is the recorded videos.

As an application, TikTok operates under the layers of the internet. Each layer only processes data to and from the layers it connects to, and is designed not to “know” or have to deal with all the complex variables handled by the other layers. When we initiate TikTok, the application layer provides us with the main interface through internet protocols such as HTTP. When we use TikTok to watch videos, the transport layer transmits information into specific data from the database through the internet and presents them into the application layer. The core protocol of transport is TCP/IP protocol. 

To be specific, TikTok sends requests to its back end through the internet. Its back end is a system that supports the operation of TikTok running on mobile phones. Then, TikTok’s back end sends a request to its database. The database would find out what the user needs and send them back to the back end and the interface on phones. All these procedures happen in one second to provide what we see on TikTok now.

Influencers or celebrities usually initiate live streaming videos on TikTok. When celebrities use some equipment to broadcast videos, an encoder collects data and compresses into a video stream that can be watched and transmitted. The encoder itself may be inside the camera, but it can also be a stand-alone device, computer software, or mobile application. After that, the video data is packaged into a real-time transmission protocol for transmission over the internet. Then, the media server in the cloud receives all the video data and changes them into streaming video.

For the recorded videos on TikTok, they consist of multiple images, which is a continuous set of images. The capture chip inside the phone acts as a server for internet video. It receives analog signal form TikTok and turns the signal into digital information at a rate of 30 frames a second. Then, the capture device sends the information through some compression standard. When displaying the videos on TikTok, the compression algorithm divides the videos into frames. The compression algorithm transfers those different parts between frames to transmit fewer data and make videos play smoothly. Videos on TikTok use the H.264 compression standard. The H.264 standard represents coding efficiency enhancement and flexibility for effective use over a wide variety of network types and application domains. It differs from previous technology in enhanced motion prediction capability, use of a small block-size exact-match transform, adaptive in-loop deblocking filter, and enhanced entropy coding methods.

One of the highlights of TikTok is its vibrant and exciting soundtrack accompanying videos. The audio we hear on our phones and computers is digital-analog audio. To provide music in a limited app, the audio module in TikTok processes sound in three ways. Firstly, it perceives sound as a signal and digitizes the sound. Secondly, it changes the digital signal into a binary bit. Thirdly, TikTok records the sampled and quantified data in a specific format to play, copy, and retrieve the music.

3. The implications for future social media platforms

To sum up, the boom of TikTok is explained by two reasons: first, excellent interaction design that brings good user experience and sense of agency; second, precise algorithm and technical support. However, with the story of TikTok, it is boiled down to one important key takeaway that the recipe for success is not necessarily about inventing new technology, but maybe about being smart by combining various technologies. All the video related features can be found on TikTok so that users can satisfy their needs on one application. And although TikTok is different in some ways from other video applications, the design principles behind them are the same – they are all socio-technical artifacts. 

Rather, TikTok acts as a medium between culture and society. Through videos, it spreads cultural values as well as popular hot topics and establishes connections between strangers. Instead of the content that it displays, the significant function of TikTok is extending people’s recognition of the diversity of the world.

This proposes a new principle for tech businesses to follow, that the experience is sometimes more important than the pioneer of technology itself. Yes, the technology has lots to do with the experience, but even an app with simple, familiar functionalities – if well thought out, carefully designed, smartly organized and functioned with a clear purpose – can work wonders. The user journey shall be put atop, just as the way Tik Tok thoroughly understand that the journey starts with finding something interesting and captivating to read – that’s why they place “For your page” feed-in place of a “For your and someone else’s page” as the way Facebook, Twitter and a whole bunch of oldies have done. Gone are the days of “good craftsmanship can make up for the deprivation of smart ideas” – the ideas and the execution now must be put on an equation to deliver the best social apps to users.

That pushes entrepreneurs to zoom in the ideas. That said, they either have to come up with a brilliant idea by themselves from the beginning, or call for support from a partner who understands the anatomy of social media and entertainment apps well and can give fresh and innovative approaches. 

In case you are looking for such a partner for growth, feel free to contact us – a tech consultant who has been in the industry for 11 years and has been verified for a creative mindset, strong commitment, and outstanding skills. We promise to not only deliver the best social app ideas to accelerate your business but are also capable of translating those initiatives into a seamless and competitive final product. 

Contact us via: 

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