Byte / TikTok / Clash / Triller / WIRED
Only Donald Trump knows how the TikTok saga is likely to end, leaving the app’s 800 million users – and the creators who earn a living from it – in limbo.
“When an app focuses on short form content they can never really go wrong anymore,” says Nora Matty, insights and trends analyst at Uptime App, and a former YouTube trends analyst. “However, the problem with the apps is that they are easily replaceable. If you remove TikTok, someone will always find an alternative.”
TikTok users are fearful that the app they’ve grown to love could be swept away at the whim of the government, as was the case in India in June, and they’re searching for alternatives. “It’s an exciting time in the vertical, short form video space,” says Brendan Gahan, partner and chief social officer at Mekanism, a US creative agency. “What’s exciting about all the disruption is we’re seeing communities gravitate to more ‘verticalised’ social platforms. Each platform is cultivating its own unique community.”The number of apps capitalising on the confusion around TikTok seems to be growing by the day, and each offers something different – but which one is most likely to step into TikTok’s shoes?
Triller is very similar to TikTok, though it focuses more on AI-guided editing tools, and is integrated more closely with the music industry: a result of its star-studded group of investors, which includes Snoop Dogg and Eminem. Currently sitting atop the App Store rankings in the United States, the UK, Brazil, Germany and Australia – alongside around 50 other countries. In Germany the app climbed 559 places, according to data presented by Triller chief executive Mike Lu, to hit the top spot. Part of that is Triller capitalising on negative headlines about TikTok in each of those countries, but it’s also the might of some of the names it’s attracted.
As rumours began to fly about TikTok’s future, the app’s biggest names, including Charli D’Amelio, signed up. Josh Richards, the 18-year-old founder of social media talent agency TalentX Entertainment, who also has more than 20 million followers on TikTok, joined Triller as an investor and the app’s chief strategy officer.
“After seeing the US and other countries’ governments’ concerns over TikTok – and given my responsibility to protect and lead my followers and other influencers – I followed my instincts as an entrepreneur and made it my mission to find a solution,” he said when joining the app. He also took along two other big TikTokers represented by TalentX, Noah Beck and Griffin Johnson, who have nearly 12 million followers of their own on TikTok.
Triller is well placed to take advantage of any gap in the market should TikTok disappear. “They already have existing deals with music labels because some musicians are investors in Triller,” says Timothy Armoo, founder of Fanbytes, a social media company that runs the ByteHouse, the UK’s first ‘TikTok house’. “Because of that, you have music as the backbone of the platform.” Deals with music labels will help the app’s videos live off platform, and head off any copyright headaches.
It’s barely been live for a week, and still isn’t officially launched, but Clash Video has managed to gain 200,000 followers, according to its co-founder, Brendon McNerney. McNerney is a Vine alum, and decided to make Clash a creator-centric app that includes all the features the creator believes people would need to produce high-quality videos.
It’s a halfway house app, with videos no longer than 21 seconds, but includes a raft of similarities to TikTok: the For You page equivalent is called ‘Now Serving’. However, it steps away from the idea that users would want to use music in the background of their videos, instead relying solely on original audio that the poster includes while recording the video.The company is also including monetisation tools that are both typical of these sorts of platforms – a function called Drops is an in-app currency that viewers can use to offer tips to creators – and atypical. Clash is offering some creators a share in the company – and with it, any profit that it eventually makes.
Dom Hofman kicked off the short form video craze when he established Vine in 2013, and his long-awaited follow-up to the app, which was closed by Twitter in 2017, looked like it had missed the boat because of TikTok’s success. Among many users, TikTok was considered the outright successor – never mind the spiritual one – to Vine, but Byte, which launched just before Christmas, may have the last laugh.
Despite a launch that gained plenty of discussion on Twitter but didn’t initially translate into downloads, Byte has seen a resurgence, and is currently sitting second on many App Store charts. It’s been embraced by Alt TikTok (a collection of users who tend to post oddball videos that are layered full of in-jokes), who have adopted the app because of its long lineage back to Vine and the origins of short form video, and the quirky spirit of comedy that original Vine creators and Alt TikTok share.
“Byte’s got the hype primarily because of the ex-Vine founder, but I’ve played around with it,” says Armoo. “I don’t think it’ll last. It’s very low-level content. Maybe that’ll change in the long run, but at the moment they have a lot of work to do.”
Conspiratorially minded individuals point to the fact that Facebook-owned Instagram has a new product launching across some of TikTok’s biggest markets as evidence that one of the biggest beneficiaries of a ban on the Chinese-owned company could be Mark Zuckerberg.
The Facebook founder has previously called TikTok a threat to Facebook in private conversations leaked to journalists, and a threat to the West in public statements. Facebook’s failed short form video app, Lasso, flopped when it was launched in a number of countries including the US, but was quickly replaced by Instagram Reels, which could be a more significant competitor – particularly if it inherits Instagram’s massive userbase.
“It’s very similar to TikTok,” says Armoo. “The benefit is they already have an in-built audience from Instagram and can just easily shift people over. Perhaps the only consideration for creators is that they have to create content in-keeping with the rest of their Instagram persona, as opposed to another platform where there isn’t that much pressure to do that.”
The best of the rest
There are a whole raft of other platforms waiting in the wings, too. From Rizzle to Likee, Dubsmash to Zynn (which recently returned to App Stores after being banned for paying for new users), each has different things to offer users.
However, barring an outright ban, TikTok still holds the trump cards. It’s now the established short form video app, and the place users log into when they want to be entertained. It also has one of the most potent algorithms around, a proprietary secret fine-tuned by engineers working for TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. Few others, even Facebook, have been able to match it.
For creators who could have been lured away from the app, it has recently promised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on funding to allow them to be paid for doing their work. And its scale still far outstrips many others. Its next-biggest competitor is Triller, which just crossed 50 million monthly active users worldwide in June – around half the number TikTok has in the United States alone.
“As an advertiser, it’s exciting to see a variety of communities and platforms growing,” says Gahan. “In the last few years there has been an over-reliance on Facebook’s platform. The space could benefit from some disruption. In the end it may end up being a winner takes all in the end, but right now it isn’t the case.”
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