How Did AI Grow TikTok to a Billion Users?
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How Did AI Grow TikTok to a Billion Users?

Basty’s Notebook

Hi, everyone! My name is Basty, and I’m a data scientist and educator from Metro Manila. If there’s something I value so much, that is education. Education has allowed me to not only dive into the amazing world of code and data but also to encourage and inspire others to do the same. Read more about me here.

Outside of work and school, I love playing video games like Valorant and League of Legends. I also love listening to Broadway musicals (HAMILTON, DEH, TICK TICK BOOM ALL THE WAY!). Lastly, I LOVE watching Friends, New Girl, HIMYM, and The Big Bang Theory.

Now, let’s take a look at my notebook!

September 2023 Notebook Entry

There is no denying that social media has become a huge part of our lives. It’s a way for us to connect, reconnect, and get a glimpse of everyone’s daily life. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are probably the platforms that come to your mind first when you think of social media, but there is one platform that stands out with its vibrant and addictive nature—and that is TikTok. 

If you’re an avid or even a casual TikTok user, have you ever wondered how this platform captured your interest, and somehow makes you keep coming back to it? Ever wondered what’s the secret sauce behind its massive rise? The answer to that lies behind the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the magic of recommender engines. Let’s dive into how AI grew TikTok to a billion users. Let’s get started!

TikTok Craze

If for some reason, you don’t know what TikTok is, allow me to fill you in. TikTok is a social media platform where users create and share short video clips. It's the place where dance challenges, lip-syncing, DIY hacks, and adorable pets rule supreme. In just a few years, TikTok has gone from being an underdog to a global superstar, boasting over a billion users worldwide.

What made TikTok so special though? It's the sheer creativity and bite-sized entertainment that keeps users hooked. Imagine a place where you can watch a 15-second dance performance, learn a quick kitchen hack, or witness a cat playing the keyboard—all in rapid succession. On top of that, it has a user-friendly interface, a bunch of creative tools, and an ability to predict what will tickle your stomach next. Now while there are different factors that are attributed to TikTok’s success, AI is at its core. 

AI: The Hidden Star

I’m sure that by now you’ve had a similar experience already where you’re left wondering how TikTok or other social media platforms know that you’re in the mood to watch a certain video. Perhaps you didn’t know you were in the mood to watch a cat playing the keyboard, but you suddenly realize it as soon as it pops up in your feed. Well, this is where AI and TikTok’s recommender engine steps in. 

The recommender engine is the wizard behind the curtain. It uses a variety of machine learning techniques to curate a personalized feed for each user. This means that what you see on your TikTok feed is different from what your neighbor or your cousin sees, unless you both exhibit similar behaviors. It's like a magical recipe that serves you an irresistible content cocktail. But what’s in the recipe? You guessed it, it’s data! It consists of a combination of your interests, behavior, and preferences. 

The actual implementation of the algorithm behind it is quite complex, but the idea of it is understandable. Let’s try to break it down in two techniques, without being too technical:

  • Collaborative Filtering - This technique basically looks at what users similar to you are watching and liking. An example of this is through the K-Means algorithm, where it clusters different users into different groups based on different variables—such as your age and time spent watching a certain category of video. It then classifies you in a certain group and shows you videos that the group users mostly watch.

  • Content-Based Filtering - The idea is the same with collaborative filtering, but it analyzes the characteristics of the content you’ve engaged with to suggest similar videos. 

The Human Aspect

I hope that gives you an overview or a general idea of how TikTok’s algorithm works, and even understand how it keeps you coming back for more. Even though AI plays a vital role in TikTok’s success, let’s not dismiss the value of the platform’s human aspect. The platform itself lives on its content creators, and without them, there wouldn’t be anything to entice the users. While the AI behind it has mastered the art of understanding its users, it’s the real people that keeps TikTok’s content fresh and captivating. 

So, next time you find yourself scrolling through TikTok for hours, remember that it's not just your taste in content, but the combination of AI and people that keeps you coming back for more. Whether you're into dancing cats or life hacks, TikTok has got your back, one video at a time.

Never stop learning!