Ever since TikTok came around, people have been trying to figure out what ‘makes it tick’, so to speak, more exactly, how its algorithm works.
Thanks to a new report from The New York Times, we might actually have gotten to the bottom of TikTok’s algorithm i.e what makes it so addictive and how it keeps you scrolling.
In spite of the report’s somewhat alarmist title, “How TikTok Reads Your Mind”, it’s not all that complicated, when you reduce it to its basics.
It all starts with a document created by the IT engineers that have made the platform into what it is today. This document, intended for for non-specialized employees in the IT sector, in order to allow them to understand the operating mechanisms of the platform, illustrates the tools that make TikTok work; it illustrates what criterias are used to establish which video is more suitable to pop up for you or some other user, and much more.
What TikTok’s algorithm does is that it prioritizes retention and the time spent on certain videos. It looks for the videos you’ve liked, comments you’ve made and just how much time you spent watching it. For example, it might not care much about a video you scrolled past almost immediately or only watched a few seconds of but if you do watch a video in its entirety, it will flag it.
The algorithm takes note of the tags of the video, as well as other information associated with it. If you rewatch it and like it, of course, those are nothing but green flags for the algorithm, which learns what each video is about and which ones you prefer.
Then, it just feeds you as many similar videos as it can find to keep you returning to the platform.
There’s nothing really all that extraordinary about it when you put it down so simply. TikTok spokespersons have had no difficulty in admitting that the document The New York Times based its report on is, indeed, true. The source that released it to the publication remained anonymous, though the company doesn’t seem too bothered about them.
The experts The New York Times consulted said that what is described in the document is actually pretty normal and that TikTok merely exploited the ‘traditional’ algorithm elements in order to develop them for its own success. Quite simply, TikTok – like other platforms – is trying to get the user to stay as long as possible on their feed. And to do so, it tries to understand what they like.
Even so, every once in a while, TikTok will still recommend you a video that has nothing to do with your interests or likes – however, they are not really random and are usually popular with a different demographic somewhere in the TikTokverse. So it’s not always the same old things and there is still some room left for discovery.
But at the end of the day, TikTok is not reading your mind: it just pays attention and reacts accordingly.