TikTok vs. Instagram Comments (UX Analysis)
How TikTok modified Instagram’s ‘comments’ UX, increasing anonymity and closing the gap between comments and content.
When going from concept to UI design, I always start by identifying existing products that champion the use case at hand. I then use those products as a starting point before making thoughtful, user-centered tweaks.
TikTok appears to have followed a similar process with its comments section, which looks very similar to Instagram’s but with a few subtle — yet impactful — changes. In this post, I will analyze some key UX differences between Instagram and TikTok’s comment sections. (Note that when I refer to Instagram, I am not talking about Instagram reels.. don’t get me started on those.)
But first, to give meaning to the design differences, we must understand how the climates of Instagram and TikTok differ (see my article ‘Why TikTok is a safer space than Instagram’). In short, various design differences on TikTok lend to a safer space for self-expression. This translates not only to TikTok videos, but also comments. Whether a TikTok be comedic or even political, the comments section serves as an extension of the content, where commenters build upon the content.
Because richer content lends to richer comments, there will often be differences in opinion in a comments section, in which case users can effectively vote with their likes. In this use case, the user is likely to desire anonymity and the ability to compare the number of likes between comments/opinions. The design of TikTok’s comment section brilliantly tailors to these differences.
Here are some of the key UX differences between TikTok and Instagram comments sections:
- Anonymous liking
- On Instagram, anyone can see who’s liked a comment. Just tap the number of likes on any given comment and you’ll navigate to a list of all of the ‘likers’.
- On TikTok, only the poster of the comment can see who’s liked it. When you tap the number of likes (coupled with the heart icon), you effectively ‘like’ the comment yourself. There is no way to navigate to a list of ‘likers’.
Analysis: In allowing users to like comments anonymously, TikTok enables users to express their opinions without repercussions. This, I would postulate, makes users more likely to ‘like’ a comment. And, as I previously posed, users do in fact care about like-counts, especially when there are differences in opinion. Thus, prompting users to like comments and ‘cast their vote,’ adds great value to the experience of reading comments.
- On Instagram, the number of likes that each comment has are sandwiched in between the timestamp and ‘reply’ button, blending-in with the two.
- On TikTok, the like count stands out: consistently right-aligned and united with the ‘like’ function.
- TikTok’s design enables users to see how many likes a comment has more quickly/efficiently. I hypothesize that, with TikTok’s relatively richer comments section, users care more about how many likes a comment has — as they desire to know which are the funniest or most widely-held reactions. As such, making it easier to identify the like count importantly reduces friction in the UX of reading comments.
3. Interaction / Architecture
- Instagram’s comment section takes you away from the media and into a new screen that slides in from the right. It often takes a second to load.
- TikTok’s comment section slides in from the bottom as a modal overlaid over 75% of the video (which continues to play in the background)
Analysis: I hypothesize that allowing users to access a feature as a modal over the content rather than a screen separate from the content lends to a less intimidating interaction, which would enable a higher click-through rate. (If anyone knows of an existing cognitive bias/heuristic that supports this, let me know)
If my theory holds, TikTok’s decision to display comments in a modal (1) make the user more likely to click into the comments section, thus (2) making them more likely to engage with comments, which then (3) drives the value of comments, and in doing so the (4) value of a single TikTok.
Thus, I would recommend TikTok’s interaction design to Instagram and other social medias. However, it only works with TikTok’s unique scroll design, where each post (or TikTok) populates the entire screen. Luckily Instagram is on track to copy that as well.
4. Visual hierarchy (aka what “stands-out”)
- On Instagram, the username is #1 in the visual hierarchy*, placing more symbolic emphasis on who has commented than what they are saying. *We see that the username is the same size as the comment, plus it is bolded. I don’t think this was intentional, but I do think it’s impactful.
- On TikTok, the comment is #1 in the visual hierarchy*, placing more symbolic emphasis on what people are saying than who’s saying it. *We see that the comment font is larger and higher contrast than the username.
Analysis: I would hypothesize that TikTok’s prioritization of comment > commenter allows for a slightly stronger sense of anonymity among commenters, while Instagram’s design leaves users feeling a tiny bit more exposed as their usernames are put on blast. In order to encourage users to comment, I’d recommend that Instagram and other products adopt TikTok’s approach.
4. Liked by creator
TikTok uniquely displays when a comment is liked by the creator of the video. This promotes the perception of the comment section as an intimate, interactive extension of the content itself, as opposed to far-removed book club.
In conclusion, it must first be understood that the nature of comments are unique on TikTok: serving as a rich extension of the content itself, often full of critical thinking, humor, and controversy. As such, anonymity and like-counts are more important to the user, and TikTok’s user-centered design tailors to this. Thus, while TikTok’s comment sections may appear similar to Instagram’s at a glance, when you look closely, you’ll notice that there are a handful of small but meaningful, user-centered tweaks.