TikTok vs. Instagram

Connie Chan:

Rather than asking users to tap into a video thumbnail or click into a channel, the app’s AI algorithms decide which videos to show users. The full-screen design of TikTok allows every video to unveil both positive and negative signals from users (positive = a like, follow, or watching until the end; negative = swipe away, press down). Even the speed at which users swipe a video away is a relevant signal.

Instagram, on the other hand, uses AI as a tool instead of the actual product. Although AI helps determine the recommended videos shown in one’s Instagram’s explore feed, the thumbnail presentation gives the platform less clear signaling of likes and dislikes. If someone didn’t click into a thumbnail, is it really because they wouldn’t like that video?

Zuckerberg famously describes TikTok as “almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram.” That TechCrunch article goes on to characterize TikTok relative to Instagram:

TikTok isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life. It’s about inventing characters, dressing up as someone else and acting out jokes. It’s not about privacy and friends, but strutting on the world stage. And it’s not about originality — the heart of Instagram. TikTok is about remixing culture — taking the audio from someone else’s clip and reimagining the gag in a new context by layering it atop a video you record.


If Zuckerberg approaches TikTok as merely an algorithmic video recommender like Explore, Facebook will miss out on owning the social entertainment feed. If he doesn’t decisively move to challenge TikTok soon, its catalog of content to remix will grow insurmountable and it will own the whole concept of short-form performative video. Snapchat’s insistence on ephemerality makes it incompatible with remixing, and YouTube isn’t nimble enough to reinvent itself.