It’s late April and I’ve been at home for over a month. I’m adjusting slowly to this new way of life and working from home. I found myself spending more time on Instagram, looking for novelty in a world that became so routine. My feed became saturated with banana bread and throwback pictures longing for a time that was only a few months prior. Once in a while I would come across short 15 second videos on my feed that would always make me laugh. I noticed that all of these videos were from TikTok, an app that my 7 year old cousin was keen on. I was hesitant to use an app that I thought was deemed childish but, my curiosity was stronger than my pride.
It turns out I wasn’t alone in this endeavor. TikTok had been downloaded over 2 billion times as of April 2020. The app’s surge in popularity shouldn’t be a surprise, especially during a time where our opportunities to connect are primarily digital. It still raises the question though-what is TikTok providing as a service and why are millions of people using it now?
The most obvious answer is to connect with others. The app allows us to connect with those in our area but also those who live all over the world. The videos have an acute sense of specificity when it comes to quirks in our friend groups, embarrassing moments from childhood down to awkward first date experiences. No matter what your story is, you’re bound to find a video that relates to you on some level and this is done intentionally.
The app uses an algorithm which shows you videos based upon your engagement with the app. For example, if you consistently like cooking videos, you will continue to see more and more of them on your feed. The app strongly considers user interactions (how often you like, comment and share) with videos and is another way the app provides personalized feeds for every user and builds community.
Another way to measure how usable TikTok is, is by the ease of content creation. It’s straightforward to record a video, edit and publish it. The process of making a video is seamless, thus allows us to pump out content quickly. As we spend more time at home, we are leaning into our creativity and producing/making in a variety of mediums.
This may be a core reason to join TikTok. The app has so many talented people and at least one is bound to make you laugh. Comedy appeals to our emotions, increasing serotonin in our brain and relieving our stress. There is an expectation that using TikTok will provide some sort of entertainment and happiness which speaks also to its desirability as a product.
It’s worth considering, what would this pandemic look like if we didn’t have access to digital products like TikTok? How would it affect us socially and emotionally? The app has allowed us to expand our horizons, showcase our talents and connect with others during a time where we feel isolated. Seeing the app’s growing popularity is a testament to its success and the impact of digital products. In the case of TikTok, it’s providing relief during uncertainty which is a reminder that the products we use should not burden us, they should relieve us.