It can be hard to keep up with changing social media trends.
If you’re just starting to acknowledge the incredible power of Instagram, it might surprise (and depress) you to learn of a newer generation of social media platforms.
The likes of Kik and Snapchat have been embraced by privacy-conscious youngsters, who don’t want their parents responding to every post with heart emojis.
TikTok is another youth-oriented social media platform, and it’s among the first to have originated in China rather than America.
Launched on Android and iOS three years ago, the TikTok app has already been downloaded over 1.5 billion times, making it the seventh-most downloaded app of the last decade.
And while the majority of its users are Chinese, 46 million Americans downloaded it last year alone.
TikTok is a truly global phenomenon. But what is it?
Twisting on the Vine
TikTok represents an evolution of vines – the six-second video clips Twitter attempted to bequeath to the world in 2013, and which gradually faded from view.
Six seconds simply wasn’t enough to convey significant amounts of information. By contrast, the TikTok app supports videos of up to 60 seconds – still brief, but far more practical.
Once you’ve downloaded and opened the TikTok app, before registering an account, you’re asked to identify a few key interests from a shortlist including comedy, travel and animals.
There are also more niche categories like DIY & Life Hacks, and the intriguing Oddly Satisfying.
This gives a few key clues to the algorithm which makes curated content suggestions about video clips you might be interested in.
Subsequent viewing habits will also be used to suggest videos you may enjoy watching, and the accounts you follow will also steer the algorithm in a particular direction.
Swiping up for new videos reveals the clip ‘underneath’ the one currently displaying, which will continue to loop until you close the app or move on.
It’s then possible to start viewing material, with hashtags used to identify trending or relevant content.
For instance, entering #mazda into the top search bar will reveal around 70 million tags, ranging from dealership walk-rounds to drifting challenges and clips of Forza 4 races.
The TikTok app helps you find material of interest with suggested lists of hashtags related to terms you search for, while there are also numerous audio files in its archives.
In terms of content creation, musical/lip-synching clips can be up to 15 seconds in length, whereas looping videos of a documentary format may extend up to one minute.
These clips can be sped up, slowed down and given filters, all controlled through a fairly simple interface.
Unlike many other social media platforms, there is no graphic or extreme material here.
Newly updated TikTok community guidelines forbid nudity and explicit content, slurs or participation in dangerous challenges.
You’re not even allowed to upload videos of teenagers vaping, despite the fact these are bizarrely popular and often achieve huge viewing figures.
The updated guidelines belatedly acknowledge that users have taken TikTok far beyond its originally stated purpose of splicing short selfie videos to music.
As such, TikTok has followed the route of other social platforms like Instagram, which has evolved from a photography site into a platform for rants, diary entries and more.
As with many other things, it’s what you make of it.