Made in China = Cool!

I wasn’t looking to add a new stream of addictive content to my media life. I think of myself as a content producer, not a consumer. When I see people in line waiting, all looking down at their phones, I don’t want to be one of them.

But I do see myself as someone who tries to keep up on what is happening in China. And that inevitably led me to Tik Tok (Douyin) — the newest iteration of micro media designed to hook You. Yeah, You. Tik Tok doesn’t serve up slop designed to hook everybody. It learns Really Fast exactly what slop hooks You.

There are two major back stories here. The bigger one is about China and what it now means to be a product made there. The other bigger one is about Artificial Intelligence and what it means when AI is now part of a product. China and AI — you tell me which is the bigger story.

People who follow China Tech refer to its first generation of giants as BAT, meaning Baidu (search), Alibaba (e-commerce), and Tencent (gaming, social media).

The next generation has emerged and one of the fastest growing is ByteDance, basically a short-form content platform with a difference. Whether it is news stories, humor, songs, or videos — something that knows what you want better than you do yourself is driving the process, a Machine-Learning system that responds to feedback, most of which you don’t know you’re providing.

Short form video has been around for a long time. Douyin, as the Tik Tok app is known in China, is ByteDance’s entry and it has been doing the job better since it was launched in September, 2016.

I’m not the target demographic and I deviate in many characteristics from most of the content provider/sharers. The AI could be great, but with nothing there for me in the first place, what’s the use? That was my assumption as I got started two days ago.

It’s easy. I’m not good at stuff but this one, man, you just download the app and it starts delivering little videos. Mostly they featured what looked like 20 year olds to me. Dancing funny or singing something strange, nothing that interested me at all.

Easy also means easy to move on to the next one, swipe up. I can do that.

After 10–12 losers, I finally saw one about someone making something on a potter’s wheel that was kind of cool. So I tapped twice, and watched it to the end (20 seconds). I watched another ten and Liked two. Then I exited my new addictive content. I had invested about five minutes.

I came back to Tik Tok the next day and I actually liked, and then Liked, the first little video it showed me. It was an older Chinese woman preparing an exquisite looking meal. The video was nicely produced and edited, not amateurish. I watched that one until the end, then stayed with Tik Tok for another two to three minutes.

I was curious and drawn into the process. I think I was divided internally. Part of me didn’t believe it could work for me and part of me wanted it to. I wanted to feel Machine Learned. Did that predispose me to like and then Like content? Predisposed or not, Tik Tok’s batting average was better on Day Two, almost half were little pieces I actually enjoyed.

Today is Day Three and the damn thing is hitting every one out of the park. I have spent less than ten minutes, including downloading and setting up the app, and Tik Tok is consistently serving up the right short videos for me. Could I have clung tenaciously to the belief that it won’t work and, given my bad attitude, hate everything on the screen? Maybe, but if anything I think my desire to experience cutting-edge, sophisticated, fine-tuned AI as a Thing in my life was stronger than any Tom-Exceptionalism.

Made in China hasn’t always signified cutting edge or sophisticated. That just changed. Tik Tok has been the most downloaded app in the world since the middle of 2018. With Douyin, ByteDance is approaching one billion users just in the short video category.

Outside-China version? There haven’t been many international brands originating in China. Tik Tok moved first to Indonesia in 2017, where it was an immediate hit. It is catching on throughout southeast Asia. Now, even Old Guys in the US like me have heard about it and got curious enough to see what all the noise is about. I get it.

Maybe I will get into the habit of watching Tik Tok every time I’m waiting in line somewhere, unless i’m already listening to a podcast. I don’t find it addicting. I just like it at the right time — with the right content!

Tik Tok is not going to change my life.

Increasingly, products Made in China, frequently incorporating AI, will touch all of us in dozens, maybe hundreds, of different little ways that taken together will be life changing. Chinese companies with Chinese Founders and CEOs, Chinese Engineering personnel, and Chinese Internet Brand Managment experts are already the leaders in many aspects of AI and their lead is growing because in China Bigger doesn’t mean Slower — it means Faster.

You want to feel Fast? Take the Tik Tok test.

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Tom Nickel

Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos