Being in a new place is hard. You don’t know where to go out, what to do when you are bored and where to meet new people. Hell, you don’t even know where to get your groceries from. So what do you do? You ask someone who has been there for a while or better yet you ask the internet. How do you ask the internet? You Google it. Right? Well, not anymore. Apparently, on an average, stats say that you would rather “TikTok it”.
TikTok is a short video sharing platform that is all the rage with us Gen-Z. Something about the app just draws people to it. However, there are perils to any app being an everything app (I’m looking at you, X). This case however is different to that of others. TikTok by itself is not trying to be a search engine. It is a short video sharing platform. However, it is evolving into a search engine. And that is a problem, plus it is not hurting the business. Can we do anything about it?
I will die on this hill, but the way we interact with the web is undergoing or has undergone a fundamental shift. We are replacing text with video, with companies to the crowd and we are coming to value more and more the opinions of the crowd. On an average, people are now more likely to trust a random stranger on the internet than a company. I’m not the one to ask you to blindly trust a company, but I’m also not the one to ask you to blindly trust a random stranger on the internet, especially one who might have a vested interest in you trusting them. Okay, that escalated quickly. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Recent trends show that people are more likely to search for something on TikTok than on Google. TechCrunch reported this in July of 2022 and it has only gotten worse since then. People are more likely to search for “How to make a cake” on TikTok than on Google. Now, I am no “Googler” myself, but you can probably tell that Google is not the happiest about it. TechCrunch reported that TikTok is eating into core Google products like Search and Maps.
So, what this essentially means is that an average person is more likely ask TikTok for something like “Places to visit in New York” than Google. Now, is is problematic for a number of reasons that we will soon be getting into, but since I like to spread a little positivity, let’s start with the good.
Good in a way
TikTok has a very vibrant community and with a vibrant community comes a lot of content. The content, moderated or not, is a great way to get a feel of a place. If you want to visit a place to eat at for example, it is more likely that you will trust an actual person physically present at the place than a company or a half hearted snarky review on Google.
TikTok also feels much more accessible than Google. It is much easier to search for something on TikTok than on Google. You immediately get bombarded with a lot of content and you can choose what you want to see. Whereas on Google, you have to sort of dig through the results to find what you want. This is not a problem from Google per se, but it is a problem with the way we interact with the web. TikTok on the other hand, has gaudy thumbnails and attractive people to draw you in. You can immediately see what you want to see and you can choose to see more of it.
However, you cannot understate the impact that TikTok has on the way most people interact with the web. So, it is possible that TikTok offers a much more personal touch to the age old problem of finding stuff on the web. Moreover, TikTok has a vertical video format that hooks the user in and keeps them engaged. So, with finding the perfect place to eat at, you also get a little bit of entertainment while getting ready to go out.
Good is not always better
So, yes searching on TikTok make sense to a certain extent, but you cannot declare something better just because it is good in some aspects. With every merit usually come two demerits. So, let’s get into the demerits of searching on TikTok. First up, the biggest advantage of searching on TikTok is also its biggest disadvantage. Your search results are crowd sourced and curated by the company’s algorithm. Now these two factors though might seem small are actually huge. Let’s start with the crowd sourced part.
People making content on TikTok are not experts and they are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing it for the views and the money. So, they are more likely to make content that is more likely to get views. So, from the start, you are introduced to a bias. The bias of the content creator. Now, it is not secret that the way influencers make money is by promoting products. So, can you really trust them when influencers say that a certain place or a certain product is good? Remember all the influencer crypto scams? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Now, don’t take it to the exact scale of crypto scams, but you get the point. Influencers are not the most trustworthy people on the internet.
So, let’s say I am small business owner and I want to promote my business. Now, I essentially two ways to go about advertising my business. I am either going to pay a company to advertise my business or I am going to pay an influencer to advertise my business. Which one do you think is more likely to give me a better return on investment? The influencer of course. This is because of the way TikTok has this unique way of making you feel like you are a part of the community. It builds and eats parasocial relationships. So, you are more likely to trust an influencer than a company. That is because you know that influencer. You have seen them grow and you have seen them interact with the community. They are good, perfect people with the perfect lives. Right? Right!?
Well no, they are not. They are just like you and me. They are just people who are trying to make a living. The Markup actually did a great piece on how TikTok creators are treated by the algorithm. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. It is a great insight into the life of a TikTok creator. So, tiktok creators are all tied to the algorithm that is in turn tied to them to make content. It is a vicious cycle that is hard to break out of.
I am not asking you to trust the company either. You need to be skeptical of anything that you see on the internet.
Online Echo Chambers
Ever shout into a canyon and hear your voice echo back? Well, that is what happens on recommendation algorithms. Recommendation algorithms are intrinsically designed to show you more of what you like. They don’t gauge if what they are showing you is good or bad. They just show you more of what you like. You cannot do anything about this, because there is nothing much you can do. If you put a predefined bias into a system, you are essentially censoring the system. Don’t use a recommendation algorithm and what is the point of the system?
Recommendation algorithms are intrinsically designed to show you more of what you like.
So, essentially, every time you search for something on TikTok, just like you shouting into a canyon, you are going to get an echo. The echo may sound different, but at the end of the day, it is just your voice. It is just your bias. It is just your opinion. Let’s get back into our little “place to eat” example.
When you Google a place to eat, you are going to get a lot of results. You are going to get a lot of opinions. You read the reviews and you make a decision. This as we discussed earlier is a problem. It is a problem because you have to dig through the results. However, isn’t it better to form your own opinion than to just take someone else’s opinion? When you search for something on TikTok, you are not forming your own opinion. You are essentially passing someone else’s opinion as your own.
This could also be potentially harmful when searching for sensitive and personal topics. You are more likely to get an echo of your own opinion. Sensitive topics are not always black and white. Hence, having a diverse set of opinions is important. You cannot get that on TikTok. You are going to get your own bias. Wanna know why? Because you are the one who is searching for it. You are more likely to click on a video, there are many videos, that aligns with your opinion. So, you are going to get more of that. That is just the way recommendation algorithms work. You cannot do anything about it.
Google’s search algorithm on the other hand is designed to take a different approach. It is designed to show you a diverse set of results. However, it will show you a echo chamber of advertisements. That is a problem of it’s own that deserves a whole other article.
The web is just a reflection of society. It is a reflection of the people who use it. So, if you are going to use TikTok to search for stuff, you are going to get a reflection of the people who use TikTok. Specialized search engines like Google are designed to show you a diverse set of results.
You can still probably use TikTok to search for stuff, but you need to be aware of the bias that you are going to get. I have to admit, TikTok and other social media platforms are great for finding specific things. Like for example, fashion from an influencer or a recipe from a chef. However, be aware of the algorithm’s bias and don’t take it as the absolute truth. You need to be skeptical of everything you see on the internet. Including this article.
With that being said, I hope you enjoyed this new format of article that I am trying. These are well researched articles, put condensed into a short format. Hence, you can easily read them in a few minutes. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider sharing it with your friends and family. It would mean a lot to me. If you have any feedback, please let me know by contacting me. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading, hope you have a great day.