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How Douyin became the most popular app in the world
Editor’s note: A version of this originally appeared on Radii, a new media platform covering culture, innovation, and life in today’s China.
ByteDance’s Douyin app—or Tik Tok, to give it its official English name—has just topped the iOS download charts for non-game apps for the first quarter of 2018, according to a report from Sensor Tower, an American market research company.
What is it?
Douyin (抖音, or “vibrato” in English) is a short video and music video app that was launched by news app Jinri Toutiao founder Zhang Yiming in autumn 2016.
It’s generally used to produce and browse quick-fire video clips, in a similar way to how Vine used to operate before that platform was shut down. But one of Douyin’s key differentiators has been its editing functions, which have tapped into young Chinese users’ preferences by adding a whole host of add-ons, music themes, animations, and more.
This video compilation gives you a fair idea of what you can find on the app:
Is it dangerously addictive?
Perhaps one of Douyin’s most important features, however, comes as a viewer. While most video platforms (including YouTube as you can see above) require you to hit play on their videos, on Douyin you simply scroll/swipe between clips. If it serves up something you’re not particularly interested in or if you can’t make it through the 15 seconds that each clip lasts for, you can move to another piece of content with a quick flick of your screen.
Hear more: China Tech Talk 44: Short video and China’s hottest app
It’s addictive. In fact, for regulators, it’s too addictive and last month the app was forced to include an alert that tells you when you’ve been doing nothing but watch mind-numbing selfie clips for 90 minutes:
As Sensor Tower’s report shows, such measures haven’t slowed the app’s growth. According to report on Sohu, in February this year, Douyin already boasted 66 million active daily users, while Sensor Tower’s report shows it was downloaded 45 million times in the first three months of this year.
Not bad for an app that was reportedly developed in just 200 days by a team of eight at ByteDance, Jinri Toutiao’s parent company.
Can its growth continue?
It’s not been all smooth sailing for Douyin however. In addition to coming under pressure for being highly addictive, the app made international headlines earlier this month after it supposedly “banned” kids cartoon character Peppa Pig from its platform.
Douyin refuted such claims, but the story reflects some of the issues such a quick-fire, user-driven app faces in the midst of an apparent online clean-up effort by the authorities.
However, Douyin has so far avoided the fate that befell ByteDance’s other flagship short video app Neihan Duanzi, which was axed after reportedly spreading “vulgar content”. As it sits pretty atop the worldwide iOS charts for non-game apps, it will be interesting to see whether Douyin can continue to balance its exploding popularity with avoiding further interference from the censors.