For the uninitiated, TikTok isn’t the first short-form video platform on the planet. It certainly won’t be the last one either. In fact, Instagram is all set to compete by releasing Reels, while talks have it that YouTube is testing its own TikTok.
But let’s put these details for now. Instead, let’s focus on how TikTok is now primed to be the number one of its kind and why an old one called Vine met its demise. Hopefully, the parallel stories will help shed light on what’s truly important in app development.
The Looped Video That Fizzled Out
Vine was a short-form video-sharing app founded by Colin Kroll, Dom Hofmann, and Rus Yusupov in 2012 in Florida. It was also one of the lucky ones because it didn’t have to go through rounds of series funding. Instead, Twitter bought it only a few months after it was created for around $30 million.
Its rise since it operated in 2013 was meteoric. On January 24, 2013, it launched on iOS devices as a free app. Then, about a year since its inception, it ran on Google Play Store. Before the end of the year, Windows Phone users could already download it. On April 9, 2013, it became the most downloaded application on iOS App Store.
What made it such a big hit? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, it captured the attention of the growing millennial market at the time. In six seconds or less, they could already create videos, share them with friends, and even earn bragging rights based on the looped count or the number of views these productions received from different sources.
Second, it was fun—again, something that appealed to most mobile app users. The looped sequence was great and launched a thousand memes, and users could add special effects. It also attracted more attention when it allowed users to shoot videos using their self-facing camera. In other words, creators could now have a chance to build a brand for themselves.
True enough, Vine opened many opportunities to some of its most popular creators like Logan Paul who eventually received a movie deal.
But in less than four years, Twitter decided to shut it down despite having at least 200 million active users. The question is why. Verge provided a comprehensive list of answers:
- It failed to innovate, especially when Instagram allowed video creation that’s almost ten times longer than that of Vine.
- The app eventually lacked vision, and it didn’t help that there’s no unity among its team members.
- It suffered one of the most common problems apps face: the inability to monetize it.
- Seeing better prospects on other apps, some of its popular content creators posted less frequently and moved on to other platforms.
The Birth—and Thriving Life—of TikTok
If Vine’s origin began with an acquisition, that of TikTok started with experimentation. Interestingly, around the time that Twitter’s short-form video app was struggling and about to die, a company called ByteDance launched its own in China and named it Douyin.
In a year’s time, it attracted at least 100 million users in both Thailand and China, which gave the company an idea: “Why don’t we expand the market?” They wanted to go international and introduced a brand-new but copycat app called TikTok. But there’s already a similar platform that existed.
In the United States, there was already an app called Musical.ly. Launched in 2014, it shared a lot of similar features as TikTok such as lip-syncing and dancing to the songs, adding hashtags to create communities, or shooting comic skits. Users could create videos between 15 and a minute and edit them with the preset filters and other special effects.
ByteDance decided it still fit into the model they had in mind, went on to pay a large sum, and eventually merged Musical.ly with TikTok. From the get-go, it did something right: when these apps combined, they brought along with them the creators with an already stable following.
But that’s not all. They didn’t rely on the success of Musical.ly or Douyin when they innovated Tiktok:
- ByteDance improved its algorithm by introducing the For You Page (FYP), where users seemed to be getting random videos. In reality, the system is trying to determine the type of content the users want to see.
- It extended the length of time for videos. Now, users can create ones that are up to three minutes long. This means more meaningful, valuable, and focused content for serious producers.
- It launched the Creator Fund, which provides money to those who meet their qualifications such as page views over a certain number of days, number of subscribers, and content, to name a few. This encouraged users to promote their work and produce good content that their audience will like.
TikTok isn’t a perfect app, and it still needs to strengthen its money-making schemes. However, it survived over Vine simply because it did two things: (1) it knows what it wants and (2) does something to get it—it constantly innovates.