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By now, anyone who thought that a U.S. government ban on TikTok would actually happen has finally accepted the fact that TikTok is more popular than ever. If anything, the ongoing pandemic has made TikTok even more valuable as a way of connecting with socially distanced classmates and workmates via brief video clips. And that might be why YouTube is now actively rolling out what can best be deemed a “TikTok killer.” With Shorts, YouTube hopes to capture the same type of creativity, ingenuity and passion now found on TikTok.
A short word about Shorts
So what is Shorts, exactly? In many ways, Shorts is the same thing as TikTok, with just a few minor adjustments. With Shorts, users can upload videos that are a maximum of 15 seconds each. And, just like TikTok, there are options to stitch together video clips, add in music and integrate all sorts of cool video effects. As YouTube explains the decision to roll out Shorts, it’s all about lowering the bar for creators and making it easier than ever before to share videos. You might not be up for creating a detailed dance tutorial video, but you can surely upload a brief clip of yourself dancing along to Ariana Grande, right? And, in fact, Ariana Grande (@arianagrande) is now one of the biggest names on TikTok, with over 24 million followers.
Shorts is still not available in the United States, but it is coming soon. Initial experiments with Shorts overseas have been remarkably successful, and there’s no reason to assume that the experience in the U.S. will be any different. For example, Shorts originally launched in India in September 2020, and now YouTube says Shorts is getting 3.5 billion views each day worldwide. No doubt, the built-in YouTube audience is so huge in the United States that getting users to watch new Shorts will be a relatively small ask. If you’re already watching music videos via YouTube, you’ll also (presumably) want to watch Shorts featuring the same music and a few cool dance moves. Even better, Shorts is Made in the USA, while TikTok is Made in China. So it’s easy to see how TikTok users might decide to migrate over to Shorts as a sort of patriotic move to buy and support American businesses.
The copycat social media business model
Taking a big picture view, the new Shorts offering is yet another in a long line of copycat imitators that have attempted to take on TikTok. In 2020, for example, Instagram rolled out Reels as a TikTok competitor. And, earlier, Facebook rolled out a copycat imitator called Lasso. The fact that TikTok is still alive and kicking is perhaps testament to the fact that first-mover advantage still matters in the world of social media.
But first-mover advantage won’t stop other rivals from trying to take on TikTok. In the same way that rival after rival tried to take on Snapchat when it first burst onto the scene, we’re likely to see the same thing with TikTok. First Lasso, then Reels, and now Shorts. If Shorts fails to make a big splash, then we’ll likely see another offering from the Google/Facebook duopoly, or perhaps even a new offering from Apple, given that company’s long and storied past with music, entertainment and online creators.
So perhaps the big question now is whether the copycat social media business model, in which a large entrenched competitor (in this case, Google/YouTube) simply rolls out the exact same offering in order to take out a rival, will continue to work. We all saw how things played out with Snapchat: Instagram began to roll out more and more functionality (such as Stories) that resembled the functionality found on Snapchat, and now it’s the case that nobody is really talking about Snapchat anymore.
The future of TikTok
So keep a close eye on what’s happening now with TikTok and all of its copycat imitators. Even if the U.S. government was not able to shut down TikTok, YouTube might be able to do so. And that might not be a bad thing easier, given the fact that legitimate concerns continue to circulate about TikTok, privacy and the company’s links to government surveillance efforts based in China.