TikTok versus Instagram: In brevity lies the future

by John B. Professional Writer

Young mobile users: what's next for TikTok and Instagram?

"We're introducing Reels, a new way to create and discover short, fun videos on Instagram." That's what Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced to his Twitter followers on Wednesday, garnished with a feel-good music video. Tech journalist Jason Abbruzzese responded with just one word, in quotes: "new". Adam Mosseri's response to this no longer sounded like an advertising slogan. "Fair," the Instagram boss wrote. "TikTok, or for that matter, deserves the credit."

This dialogue alone shows: The social media market is in upheaval, a short video is a current megatrend - and everyone wants to be number one. Companies are buying and copying each other, and now even the US government is having a say in the future of TikTok.

TikTok, an app from the Chinese company ByteDance, has been caught between the fronts of the trade war. With an estimated 800 million active users worldwide, the platform has apparently become too powerful to be indifferent to US politics and Donald Trump. TikTok users had helped to create a PR fiasco for the president as recently as June when the Trump team expected hundreds of thousands of supporters at an event in Tulsa, but only a few thousand showed up.

TikTok could now become part of Microsoft or be banned in the US under questionable circumstances - that will be decided by mid-September (read more about the TikTok dispute here). The video community hangs in the air, between a doomsday mood and the dull work of the day: publishing mostly funny clips, often accompanied by pop music.

"We have come to stay," says Theo Bertram, who is responsible for the platform's relationship with Europe's governments, in order to reassure TikTok fans in countries like Germany: "Users don't need to worry. There have also been many competitors and imitators, Bertram tells SPIEGEL, "but there is a reason why people are on our platform."

15 seconds of fame
The legacy of the original TikTok will remain important in the US. Typical TikTok clips last a maximum of 15 seconds, they run - if you don't swipe to the next video - in endless loops. The fact that there is still a lot of dancing and performing on TikTok today is because the app merged with in 2018. In the Lipsync service, you could become a stage star even without singing talent, and the app appealed to children and young people. ByteDance had bought in 2017, and Facebook had previously also considered acquiring the music app.

With the user base, proper self-promotion, but above all an endless number of short videos on the first app screen, TikTok has since become one of the most popular apps in many places. Services like Vine had used short clips before, but TikTok brought them into the mainstream. Especially in the Corona crisis, the mostly amateurishly authentic, timeless videos were and are a welcome change from news horror and even more so from much longer YouTube videos or Netflix series.

The clips are produced quickly, according to the principle: one idea, one message, one gag per video. While many YouTube and Instagram contents require professional cameras, sound angling or editing skills, a mobile phone camera is enough for a typical TikTok video.

But it's not just the video format that makes TikTok so popular. The main way to discover videos is through the app's "For You" feed. Here, in a mix of algorithm and human curation, clips from a wide variety of people end up, not just content from friends or stars you follow. TikTok is considered a hit machine that can make you a web star overnight.

"We are the attention deficit syndrome generation"
Chris Equale and Sarah Rasmussen, 32 and 33, only started posting dog videos on TikTok at the end of March on a channel called "Hammy & Olivia Corgi". They dub the barking of their corgis with funny sayings. After 137 dog clips, they already have 1.5 million followers.

"We're the attention deficit syndrome generation," says the Las Vegas couple. "We want to consume content that engages us instantly and doesn't hold our attention for too long." TikTok, they say, is "beautifully" built around that psychology.

Facebook subsidiary Instagram, on the other hand, can seem predictable. Users have to build their own main feed through subscriptions; primarily it's about beautiful shots, beautiful people. With its Reels feature, which is available in 50 countries including Germany and the US, Instagram is now using TikTok: The function includes a short video showcase in which basically every Reels user can land.

Entertainment from ordinary people
"For us, Reels is a core piece for the future of entertainment," Instagram product head Vishal Shah tells SPIEGEL. "It's entertainment that doesn't just come from big media companies, but from ordinary people like you and me." In the style of TikTok, Instagram is also relying on a 15-second limit for Reels, just as Facebook did with a standalone TikTok copy called Lasso, but which was recently discontinued due to lack of success in test markets like Mexico. "It's easier to be entertaining in a short period of time," Shah comments, saying the time limit helps people think about what they could record.

Shah believes Reels will spawn its own stars, "the next generation creator". With Reels, he says Instagram wants to help video creators "who have an idea but no audience yet, find that audience."

And has Instagram brazenly copied TikTok now? "We've always said that TikTok has done a very impressive job of bringing the format forward," says Shah. "At the same time, we were focused on how to build such a product within Instagram." They wanted to understand, he says, "how it fits with the things we do." 

Good timing, unclear perspective
Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier is an Instagram expert; she wrote "No Filter," a book about the rise of the platform, which was bought by Facebook in 2012. Frier thinks the timing of the Reels launch is perfect, "just days after Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the US". Credit tiktok no watermark

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About John B. Freshman   Professional Writer

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Joined APSense since, April 9th, 2021, From Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

Created on Apr 20th 2021 14:18. Viewed 733 times.


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