December 3, 2020

A guide to the TikTokish apps that want to be the next TikTok

Last week, Alessandro Bogliari wouldn’t have imagined that anyone posed a serious threat to TikTok....

Last week, Alessandro Bogliari wouldn’t have imagined that anyone posed a serious threat to TikTok. Yes, there were imitators and competitors out there, but Bogliari, who runs a social media agency called the Influencer Marketing Factory, thought the app was so successful that there was no way it would be overthrown in the near future. But a lot can change in just a few days on the internet. 

When US president Donald Trump said on Friday that he was “banning” TikTok from the US, creators on the app, going live to their fans en masse and pleading with them to follow them on Instagram and YouTube instead. Although Trump’s declaration turned out not to be quite true (TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, now has 45 days to sell the app’s American operations before a possible ban, and is talking with Microsoft to do so), the ensuing chaos accelerated something that was already in motion: the rise of a wave of TikTok competitors. 

“Everyone is in a war trying to get the majority of these people,” Bogliari says. 

Assuming a deal goes through, TikTok’s dominance is likely still safe. The app is uniquely appealing for its recommendation algorithms, for the features it offers creators to help them make videos and collaborate with others, and for its ability to launch nearly anyone into at least temporary viral fame—something that is harder to achieve on other social media platforms. But that could change as its future hangs in the balance.

There are four apps that seem to be the main potential threats to TikTok’s dominance, each with different audiences, features, and challenges. Here’s a rundown of each. 

Byte

What it is: Byte launched earlier this year as resurrection of Vine, the short-form 6-second video platform that was shut down by its corporate owner, Twitter, in 2016 (Vine is the inspiration for every other video app out there right now, including TikTok.) Byte’s creator Dom Hofmann, who was also one of the founders of Vine, teased Byte as a sequel to the beloved app during its development. 

byte by @SymphonicRon

What it’s like: If TikTok absorbed the internet’s latent Vine energy to fuel its culture, without necessarily elevating or crediting the Vine creators responsible for it, then Byte became the place where some of those creators and fans actually ended up. @SymphonicRon, a 29-year-old musician who grew a modest following on Vine is now on Byte, in part, because it provided an opportunity to earn some income off of his work through its audio licensing program, he said in an interview (he doesn’t use his full name online, and asked to go by his handle for privacy reasons for this article.) He heard about it from fellow former Viners. 

But Byte was a pretty quiet place, @SymphonicRon said, before TikTok came under scrutiny of the US government. “There weren’t that many people there. The most popular posts were getting 300 likes,” he said. Now, things are getting a lot more interaction, as TikTok users flood in, and the actual content that does well on the platform has “”definitely changed” in just a few days. 

Who it’s for: Bogliari described Byte as the least threatening to TikTok’s dominance of the contenders out there, but that might be because of the same things that make Byte fun to be on. There’s a lot of art and music, and a lot of humor subgenres that are kind of similar to Alt TikTok. It’s niche, and maybe that’s the point. 

Reels 

What it is: Facebook, which owns Instagram, has a history of copying the features of other successful social media platforms and absorbing them into its own products. Reels is the latest attempt to do that, working within Instagram, and allowing users to create 15-second, looped videos. There’s a tab in explore that leads to a feed of Reels content, much like TikTok’s “For You” page.

What it’s like: Reels launched on Wednesday in the US after a test run in some international markets. When I scrolled through my feed, the content felt a lot like Straight TikTok, or the part of TikTok where you see a lot of dance videos by 20-something influencers who live in giant LA mansions. But TikTok has had more than a year to learn my personal interests, and get to the point where it knows I want to see, well, this on my “for you” page.  It’s perhaps unfair to expect Reels to match that understanding.

Malick Mercier, a 21-year-old student journalist at Ithaca College who was asked by Instagram in 2018 to cover the March for our Lives rally for the platform, was one of those granted early access to Reels last week to help populate the feed for its launch. A lot of the early content on Reels, he says, might be shaped by what Instagram told early adopters in a phone call about what was working during their international test runs. Reels videos, Instagram told them, tended to succeed when they focused on “things that work on Instagram anyway” like dancing, “fluffy cute dogs,” and visual videos that “transcend language” for an international audience. Fashion was another big area that succeeded.

That could change as more users start playing with Reels, creating content without those guidelines and figuring out if it has an audience there.

Who it’s for: Reels already has a huge potential userbase because it’s part of Instagram. And it’s a pretty good clone of TikTok, says Bogliari. “I personally like it, I think it’s pretty similar to TikTok.” It’s missing some features, but those are easy to copy. Bogliari argued that Reels would be a truly viable threat to TikTok if it manages to attract Gen Z back to Instagram and promotes Reels better than it did IGTV, a previous attempt to attract video-viewing audiences.

Instagram also has some huge cultural differences to TikTok,  Mercier noted. “TikTok has gotten to be a lot of activism, and a lot of distinct voices,” he said. “Instagram isn’t the same thing.” People are more professional on Instagram, more careful about their self-presentation. Even though TikTok isn’t exclusively full of Gen Zers, it’s felt like a relatively safe space for that generation to talk to each other. Instagram is more intergenerational at this point.

“They’re not worried that some 40-something who is hiring them is going to check their TikTok,” Mercier quips. In fact, he guessed that older generations might feel more comfortable trying out short-form video on Instagram, an app they already use, as opposed to TikTok, which is always a bit of a weird place to be if you’re over 25. 

Triller 

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

What it is: Triller has been around since 2015, when it launched as a tool for creating personal music videos without actually needing to learn how to edit like a professional. But in recent weeks, it’s become perhaps the most aggressive challenger to TikTok’s dominance, hitting No 1 in the app store over the weekend as news of TikTok’s potential ban spread. It’s also recruited away some of TikTok’s most popular influencers, who now post to Triller dancing in Triller-branded merch. Oh, and it recently sued TikTok for patent infringement. 

What it’s like: Triller feels like a more polished TikTok, which is maybe in part due to the app’s promotion of the celebrities they’ve attracted away from TikTok. It’s also because Triller appears more focused on its AI-editing features than it is on their recommendation and search, the latter of which play a huge role in what makes TikTok feel special. Given its origins, Triller is also just much more music focused. 

Who it’s for: Among other things, Bogliari said that Triller is good for brands, since the platform already has deals with many major record labels. 

It could potentially become the main home for TikTok influencers looking to jump to another app with similar features and a willingness to invest in them. The question is how many will actually leave? Although it hasn’t happened yet, Bogliari said that Triller is likely hoping for a “domino effect.” Now that a few TikTok stars have left for Triller, others may be more willing to follow, bringing their millions of fans along for the ride. 

TikTok isn’t just sitting back and letting apps like Triller poach their stars, however: it announced last week that it will support US creators with more than $1 billion in funding over the next three years through a new creator fund. 

Clash 

What it is: Clash, like Byte, has its roots in Vine culture, co-founded by former Vine super-user Brendon McNerney. As Tubefilter noted, the app also saw a burst of new downloads after Trump’s TikTok comments. Clash has one big distinctive feature from all the other apps on this list, including TikTok, however: it seems to prioritize finding ways for creators to monetize their content right away.  

What it’s like: Because the app is still in beta, and only available on iPhone (I, sigh, only have an Android phone), this is the only app on the list we haven’t been able to personally try out. But Bogliari described it as full of “Vine energy,” and the most similar to TikTok in feel of all the contenders. 

Who it’s for: Creators who want to make money off their content right away, and fans who want to support their favorite internet celebrities. McNerney told TubeFilter that Clash wasn’t created explicitly to be a TikTok competitor, but instead to fill a void in how creators can actually earn a living off what they do. 

 “I saw TikTok take off and hoped that it was going to bring some sort of tools or some sort of atmosphere that would help creators more,” he says. “Definitely seen a lot of creators grow, but never saw something that was truly for creators that actually helps them make a living, and helps them do what they want and chase those dreams.” 

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