TikTok Technology: What Makes This App so Good?

Hermione at Pangea.ai
Octavia Drexler
Published: 08.11.2022

TikTok technology might just be one of the single most interesting things to happen in mobile app development – if not ever, then at least in the last decade or so. Like it or not, TikTok is taking over the digital world. What used to be an app for kids doing dance moves (and attempting sometimes dangerous challenges) is now a full-blown phenomenon with more than 3 billion downloads and 1 billion active users doing all manner of things.

There's a reason this app has grown faster and more spectacularly than any other social media app in history, and it's tightly related to the technology behind it. Beyond trending sounds, overnight stars making millions of dollars on the platform, and video filters; TikTok is an impressive piece of mobile app technology and a great use case in Big Data and Machine Learning in and of itself.

How come? What makes TikTok technology so innovative? We took a closer look at this topic for you, so read on and find out more.

A TikTok's creator page opened on a smartphone on white background.

How Does TikTok Work?

Douyin, the Chinese app that gave birth to TikTok, was first released in September 2016. It was an instant hit in China, where it gained almost instant traction – so much so that one year later, the English version of the same app was launched too. They called it TikTok, and they made it available for both Android and iOS devices. It was (and continues to be) completely free to download and use (both as a content creator and consumer).

The app functions simply: you open it, and the first thing you see is a feed of short videos filmed by people from all around the world. The videos are set to music, and they're usually between 15 seconds and 1 minute long.

That's not all, because TikTok's algorithm is where the real magic happens. The app uses a personalized algorithm to show you content that it thinks you'll like. It's based on the stuff you've already watched, the people you follow, and the topics you're interested in – all of which TikTok tracks very closely.

The personalized feed is one of the main reasons behind the app's success. Because it keeps people on the app for longer, and it encourages them to come back for more, TikTok is a gold mine for advertisers and influencers alike.

What used to be a lip-syncing app is now a social media app where anyone can get famous, an eCommerce app, a marketing tool, and ultimately, a way for many people with just a smartphone (perhaps along with a tripod) to make money.

Why Is TikTok so Addictive?

As bad as it might sound, the one ingredient that makes TikTok a raging success is how addictive it can get – and how quickly it can grow into the kind of app people almost automatically open up when they have some time to kill.

TikTok is designed to be as addictive as possible, and it does a great job of achieving that goal. There's nothing new there, as most social media apps do that. Instagram, Facebook, and even LinkedIn are all designed to make you spend as much time as possible on their platform. Most people who use TikTok don't even realize how much time they're spending on the app, or how much data it's gobbling up in the process.

Because the app is designed to show you content you'll like, it can be very hard to put it down once you start using it. The more time you spend on it, the better the algorithm gets at understanding your interests, and the more targeted the content becomes. The entire algorithm is built to not only make you likely to watch a lot of videos continuously, but it is also designed to encourage you to become a creator yourself. The more people create content for TikTok, the more people will want to use the app. It's a never-ending cycle that is designed to keep you coming back for more, and it works like a charm.

A large part of TikTok's success is because it's so easy to use the app. You don't need to have any prior experience with video editing, or any other kind of technical skills. All you need is a smartphone and an idea for a short video, and you're good to go. The app does the rest: it records the video, edits it, and it posts it on your behalf.

From a User Experience point of view, TikTok is as intuitive as it gets:

  • Videos start as soon as you open the app
  • Only a minimum amount of icons appear on the main screen
  • Videos are played on the entire screen
  • All the gestures you need to use this app are very intuitive
A TikTok video of someone using a camera to film or take photos.

What Can We Learn from TikTok Technology?

The TikTok technology uses a variety of programming languages, including:

However, overall, TikTok cannot be considered a revolutionary product from the point of view of the programming languages it uses. TikTok technology (and genius) lies in how it all comes together to create an entire environment for the user to spend as much time as possible on the app. So, if we had to narrow it down to a handful of lessons any business building a mobile app can take from TikTok technology, it would come down to:

Focusing on What People Like

In the case of TikTok, that was video. But it could be anything else, like audio, games, or even just text. The important thing is to focus on what people like and make it as easy as possible for them to engage with that content.

Making It Intuitive and Easy to Use

TikTok technology excels at making the app very easy to use – so much so that even people with no previous experience in content creation can easily pick up on all its tricks. For most users, going on TikTok to watch or create short videos comes very naturally, and that's largely due to the intelligently built user interface.

Keeping Content Short & Sweet

You'd think that keeping your content short and sweet makes people spend less time on your mobile app, but that's not the case. When content is easy to consume and people don't have to make a big effort to see it through, they're more likely to do it again and again. That's one of the main reasons why most TikTok videos are only seconds long: so that people can easily watch them without having to commit too much time.

Before they know it, however, they end up watching multiple short videos in a row, committing quite a lot of time to the app. On average, users spend more than six hours per week on TikTok – and that's considering that the app is still relatively new and not everyone is using it yet.

Personalizing the Experience

The TikTok algorithm is very good at understanding the interests of each user and delivering content that they're likely to enjoy. As a result, people using TikTok get a very personalized experience that keeps them engaged with the app for long periods of time.

If you want to keep people coming back to your mobile app, it's important to give them a personalized experience that caters to their specific interests. The future of mobile app development might just be all about ultra-personalization, so you should definitely tap into this if you plan to build your app.

Incentivizing Users to Become Creators

TikTok is not just a platform for consuming content; it's also a place where people can create and share their videos. And TikTok offers several incentives for users to start creating their own content, instead of just watching what others have made.

For example, the app has a feature called Duets, which allows users to create a video that is split into two halves – their half, and a half featuring someone else's original video. This encourages users to create content, as it allows them to be featured in someone else's video (and thus, tap into other creators' audiences too).

TikTok Technology: Conclusion

TikTok is not even by far the best or most innovative technology out there. What it does really well, however, is create a confluence of many existing concepts and ideas and turn them into a smooth, delightful experience for the user.

If there is anything businesses can learn from TikTok technology, it's that focusing on what people like, making it easy to use, and personalizing the experience are key to keeping people engaged with your app.

On the flip side, however, it is more than worth noting that TikTok might be collecting a little too much data about its users – which actually led the U.S. to forbid TikTok from doing business in the United States (until Oracle deal to act as TikTok's American partner).

So while you can learn from TikTok technology in terms of keeping people engaged with your app, you should also be aware of the potential risk and ethical implications that come with collecting too much user data.

FAQs:

Q1. What is TikTok architecture?

The TikTok architecture is built on Big Data frameworks, Machine Learning, and microservices architecture – all of which make the algorithm behind this mobile app extremely efficient at personalizing user experience every step of the way.

Q2. What is the innovation of TikTok?

The innovation of TikTok lies in its ability to use data to feed a very smart algorithm designed to keep people on the app, as long as possible. It is possible via a flawless user interface and a high degree of personalization.

Q3. Why is TikTok so successful?

TikTok’s architecture and algorithm are very solid, the user interface is delightful, and the app is very good at understanding and catering to users' specific interests. So it is successful for a lot of really valid reasons.

The scandals surrounding TikTok (such as the dangerous challenges, as well as how TikTok collects and uses data) also made it (oddly) more successful, as they spread the word about the app and made more people curious about it. Last, but certainly not least, creators feel attracted to TikTok because the algorithm favors not just those who already have a lot of followers, but also brand-new creators willing to share in the fame.

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