Where The Heck Did TikTok Come From?

By Pamela Connellan
on 24 January 2022

Over the past few years, TikTok has experienced amazing growth, disrupting the social media landscape and announcing late last year it now has over one billion users. How did this idea to use short form, user-generated videos come about and where did it all come from?

Whenever a new platform emerges, there’s a lot of sceptics out there waiting to see if it will last. Because TikTok is considerably younger than its top ranking competitors such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter – all of which have been around for over a decade – TikTok has become a big success story because it’s stayed popular and even grown a great deal in such a short space of time.

So where did TikTok come from?

Originally launched in 2017 by Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok merged with the lipsyncing app Musical.ly in 2018 and this gave it the reputation of being where you go to see some amazing short videos.

The app gave people what they wanted – quick, digestible content. But there’s more to its success than brevity. We can contrast it to the company Quibi, a short-format streaming platform that was launched in April 2020 after receiving almost $2 billion in backing from Hollywood film studios and investment companies. Quibi promised star-studded, professionally produced, mini-series with familiar names such as Jennifer Lopez and Liam Hemsworth. However, just months after launching, Quibi was dead in the water.  

But in the same year – 2020 – TikTok skyrocketed as the second most downloaded app in Australia in 2020 (only falling behind Zoom). TikTok even opened a local Australian office. It seems amazing – how did this app beat out the competition and capture audiences in an already saturated social media landscape? 

As Lee Hunter, general manager for TikTok Australia & New Zealand has said: “I’ve never seen a platform move as fast as TikTok… I come from a background where I was lucky enough to be involved with Google and YouTube… I thought that shit moved fast. I’m here to tell you that TikTok is on an incredible trajectory, very similar, only we’re getting there much, much faster.”

It’s the user-generated content which keeps TikTok alive 

It’s TikTok’s simple swipe function which makes it so addictive. This function allows you to scroll through videos quickly so you can find new content – similar to yes, that dating app, Tinder. If videos receive high engagement, they get shared to more people. This is a refreshing contrast to, say, Instagram or Facebook, where content has become more and more commercialised and paid for.  

There are some videos on TikTok which are professionally produced but you’re still likely to watch a video of someone talking to their phone from their couch or car. This glimpse into someone’s personal space, enabled by the ubiquity of smartphones with high-quality in-built cameras, makes TikTok videos and communities feel intimate, personal and authentic.

In fact, videos that look like highly-produced ads often don’t perform well on TikTok; the company has even created a mantra – “Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks” – to challenge brands to adapt with their users by being more creative and personal. 

The intimacy and immediacy of sharing videos has helped brands and individuals gain fans and followers at a much faster rate than other social media platforms. One brand – Australian beauty brand My Glow 2, attributes a large part of their recent growth in sales to their TikTok following. See their video below:


Reply to @myglow2 10K Whitsunday Wellness Getaway — Link in bio. ✨ #suprise #beauty #skincare #myglow2 #whitsundays

♬ Sun Bed – David Staniforth

TikTok can reach niches almost instantly

Unlike other social media platforms, the TikTok app does not seem to care if you have zero or low followers. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see people’s very first videos go viral. TikTok’s algorithm will push a video to its niche with surprising specificity. Most people browse TikTok’s recommendations which is known as the ‘For You Page,’ rather than the channels they’re subscribed to so they’re often finding new content and accounts. 

There’s a lot of creativity on TikTok. People will share short stories or creative tips. For example, you can watch short videos by Madelaine Turner, listen to photographer Greg Williams break down his latest Vogue portrait. Take a look at these TikToks below:


Show me your ingredients for how you #MakeYourOwnLuck this Holiday season @toryburch #GoodLuckTrainer #GoodLuckStories

♬ original sound – Madelaine

Maybe TikTok is not as different as we think it is

There’s some thought out there now that TikTok is more of an evolution of what’s come before it. So if we’ve had Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and we’ve adapted to these, then we are surely all simply adapting to the new sensation of TikTok, we’re adapting to it as well. Who knows what will be the next content creator which comes on the horizon in the future. 

For more from Women Love Tech about TikTok, visit here.

Related News

More WLT News