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TikTok, The Internet's Hottest Meme Breeding Ground, Turns 1

Aug 5, 2019
Originally published on August 5, 2019 11:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Have you heard of TikTok? This is the social media app that lets users create super-short videos and then loop them. And if it seems like tick tock showed up on our phones 15 seconds ago, you might be shocked to learn that the app is now an entire year old. And now, as if on cue, its popularity is in decline. Taylor Lorenz covers technology for The Atlantic. And she's with me now to talk about it. Hey, Taylor.

TAYLOR LORENZ: Hey.

MARTIN: So before we talk about what is hot being less so, explain how TikTok works.

LORENZ: TikTok is a short-form video app. It allows you to record videos as long as 15 seconds to a minute but to - down. That could be music or a voiceover or anything. It had a lot of fun video-editing techniques.

MARTIN: So we can make short videos on other platforms. What makes this one special, and what's been the impact of it?

LORENZ: Sure. It's been really catchy. I mean, yeah, you can make short videos on other platforms. But you can't really share them as easily. And you can't make them as entertaining to watch, I guess. I think the ability to add kind of any sound inspires creativity and sort of - it's just fun. I don't know. It's fun to make. They're fun to watch. A lot of people make them together.

MARTIN: And it's attracted corporate America, right? I mean, major brands have started using TikTok.

LORENZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: Has that changed it?

LORENZ: Major - yeah. Chipotle actually did a massive campaign with YouTuber David Dobrik. They've seen great success. Lots of other brands are on there, too. But no, this hasn't really changed it. It's still small. It's still emerging in the advertising space. But it really packs a punch. I mean, people spending their dollars there are getting more impact than spending them even on Instagram and Facebook.

MARTIN: I mean, one year in regular life is like seven years in Internet life or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: What does that mean that in the course of a year, TikTok got so popular, and now popularity is already now fading?

LORENZ: How is the popularity fading? I don't think - I would kind of push back on that. I haven't seen it really decline. If anything, it seems to continue to be growing. It started off a year ago. It had already been launched internationally and was kind of huge in Southeast Asia, India, all over the world. And then ByteDance, which owns TikTok, launched in the U.S. And it kind of - I would say it, like, was under the radar. People thought it was cringey at first. But in the past six months, it's really exploded. And, you know, I feel like it kind of just continues to grow. I mean, you'll see this even evident in terms of, like, the videos that go viral. They get more and more and more views.

MARTIN: How much of that has to do with the company that started this, the tech startup ByteDance, which is the most valuable tech startup in the world? I mean, is that going to give TikTok more staying power, do you think, in the long term?

LORENZ: Yeah. I mean, again TikTok's popularity is only rising. ByteDance just - as you mentioned, one of the most valuable startups in the world - is pouring tons of money into this. So, you know, spent a billion - they spent a billion dollars in marketing alone last year, you know, getting people to download the app, promoting it to American users. And they could continue to spend a billion dollars every year and be fine. This company is massive.

MARTIN: Taylor Lorenz, a staff writer for The Atlantic. You can probably see some of her TikTok videos, I imagine, somewhere on the Internet. Taylor, thanks. We appreciate it.

LORENZ: Thanks, guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.