How cutting-edge AI is making China’s TikTok the talk of town

Chinese video app TikTok is fast gaining popularity worldwide. Driving this success is the advanced technological capability of its developer, a company specializing in AI and big data analysis.

“TikTok” It is a social media video app from China that is taking netizens by storm. The basic concept involves users creating 15 second short videos and sharing them online. The app comes with a full array of resources to assist in the creative process, such as music, AR stamps and special effects, allowing users to craft videos to their liking.

Most of the content uploaded consists of simple jokes, comedy routines, singing and dancing, performed alone or with friends, and users are from the 18–30s age range.

Less than a year after its release in September 2016, TikTok was launching in countries such as Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Germany. Currently, their footprint spans 150 countries and regions.

As of this July, monthly active users have exceeded 500 million worldwide, and 300 million just within China. Apparently the service sees several million videos uploaded everyday. Influencer-type users coined “TikTokers” are already fast appearing on the scene, just like YouTubers who earn money through their videos and advertising revenue.

Developed by ByteDance

The company that developed and currently runs TikTok, ByteDance, was founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming in Beijing. Their other service, news curation app Toutiao, made headlines as it became one of the most widely-used in China. This year its registered users surpassed 600 million. It has already become China’s representative news app, with around 140 million monthly active users. The average daily viewing time of each user is between 54 and 65 minutes.

Following the consecutive successes of both Toutiao and TikTok, ByteDance’s employee base has grown to over 20,000. Along with their headquarters in China, they’ve opened offices across the world in Japan, the US, Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil and India.

With its currently scheduled fundraising round, ByteDance is also reportedly hot on the heels of Uber to possibly surpass it to as the most valued startup in the world at 72 billion dollars.

ByteDance is a company that deals in AI development such as machine learning and original algorithms. Their work also includes big data analysis for the understanding of user behavior, and each of their apps is an example where they’ve distilled these technologies into a product.

In the app Toutiao, that provides news sourced from around 5,500 different suppliers, AI is being used to filter and personalize large amounts of news to each reader, and with the help of ByteDance’s AI tool AI Lab a function that can create 400-word news articles in the space of 2 seconds has been successfully incorporated.

ByteDance also boasts more precise image recognition. A good example of this are the stamp filters in TikTok where the weather can be “controlled”.

These are popular stamps where the user can control virtual rain by holding up their hand to the camera and freezing the raindrops in space and time. Up till now, such mechanisms were difficult to realize in video apps — with infinite possibilities of what could be in the picture, the AI’s task of detecting human body parts (in this case, a hand) has not been easy. Plus, such highly advanced image recognition technology requires a large amount of computing power, putting the service beyond the capabilities of today’s smartphones. It was thanks to the development of the aforementioned AI LAB’s machine learning system that human body parts could be more efficiently detected, and in turn lead to the video app’s unique weather stamps.

The beauty of TikTok

Mix TikTok with the beauty industry and the results could be promising. TikTokers who garner popularity on the platform all tend to be particular about appearance and skillful at grabbing viewers’ attention. Also, the short film format results in more importance given to nonverbal communication, making it an ideal medium to convey your message to people of other languages.

Searching for hashtags on TikTok leads to many keywords related to makeup and beauty, and the corresponding videos feature quite elaborate designs. What stands out in particular are videos which show the transformation from no makeup to perfect makeup within a cool 15 seconds.

Michael Kors collaborated with TikTok, courtesy of Baidu

Similar to YouTube, it’s also possible to link with online stores, which sounds promising for companies to take advantage of through their own professionally-produced short films. Michael Kors recently collaborated with TikTok for the filming event The Walk. The event featured appearance by an influencer who boasts 4 million followers, and when they ran test videos of her wearing Michael Kors products and strutting down the street, it resulted in a ripple effect of over 40,000 TikTok users sharing the video.

So far ByteDance has acquired video app “musical.ly”, slideshow app “Flipagram” and news app “News Republic”, and is continuing to expand with its influence set to grow globally. The way we see it, their approach towards creating apps may capture the imagination of young people worldwide and is something with great potential to be harnessed by the beauty industry.

Translation: Ching Li Tor 
Original text (Japanese): Jonggi HA