In their quarantine-instigated moments of introspection, some UNC students contemplate whether they've seen “two pretty best friends.” Others reminisce about the days when they could “look at all those chickens.”
While some would argue that they are very different platforms, both TikTok and the now-defunct Vine have managed to create huge, lasting presences on the internet by providing global audiences with access to a wide variety of short-form videos.
Vine was discontinued four years ago, while TikTok began in 2016 as a music video app. Since then, TikTok has evolved to include a variety of short videos shared by users.
Some students, like first-year Christian Nightingale, even had their own brief taste of TikTok fame.
“It happened so fast,” Nightingale said. “I made a video about us moving out in the fall, and I think it was probably like 24 hours after I posted it that it had like a million views. So if you just don’t check your phone for a day, a million people will see what you posted.”
Nightingale said she doesn’t consider herself to be an avid TikToker. In fact, she thinks something unique about platforms like Vine and TikTok is their ability to place everyday people in the spotlight.
“You don’t have to have a lot of followers for your videos to be seen by a lot of people,” Nightingale said. “And that keeps your 'For You' page more interesting because it’s not just the same four or five people over and over again.”
It’s no secret that short-form videos have become increasingly popular across many social media platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. Despite this, TikTok has managed to stay relevant for a long time, leaving many to question its longevity.
Livis Freeman, a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said he believes TikTok has done a great job sticking with its roots — whereas Vine’s downfall may be attributed to its team’s attempt to go bigger.
“For TikTok and similar apps to stay relevant, they don’t need to mess up the formula,” Freeman said. “A lot of times, these companies go wrong when they start to tweak it, and they try to make it better. They need to stick with what works and not try to be more than what they are.”
Freeman believes TikTok may also be more successful than Vine because it allows users to collaborate on and even share music.
Nowadays, short-form videos have become so popular that companies across the web are trying to get their share in the marketplace.
“One of the reasons why they’re participating is market share,” Freeman said. “They know the sheer volume of people that use TikTok or YouTube. If they even get five percent of the people using it, that’s still hundreds of thousands of people, and that leads to more advertising dollars. And if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.”
Because social media apps are always evolving and upgrading, for better or for worse, some students are able to stick to the platforms they are most comfortable with.
First-year Tate Blackburn said he prefers to use Instagram’s Reels to get his short video fix, largely thanks to the platform’s familiarity. But he still misses sharing Vine compilations with his friends.
“I feel like TikTok is as close as we have come to filling this void that we now have without Vine,” Blackburn said. “It’s not a perfect substitute, but some TikToks have Vine energy, and those are really satisfying. It reminds me that Vine lives on, in a way.”
Blackburn has fought the urge to download TikTok in hopes of keeping his screen time at a healthy level.
Even though he thinks TikTok has the potential to become a waste of time, he said that ultimately, short-form video platforms have had a net-positive effect on society.
“People can quote popular Vines or TikToks in everyday conversation or when meeting new people,” Blackburn said. “I think quoting Vines in fitting, funny situations is one of the most unique but awesome icebreakers.”
With limited social interactions during the pandemic, TikTok has allowed millions of users to come together online, whether to commiserate or celebrate, at any time of day and in any time zone.
For Blackburn, this unity makes all of his short-form-video-induced procrastination worth it.
“In the COVID age, when our world is as crazy as it is, both politically and biologically, I feel like TikTok unites our generation — as cliche as that sounds — to create, be creative and be funny,” he said. “It gives us a medium to share a laugh and interact with other people. I think it’s been a good thing.”
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