YouTube’s clone of TikTok, “YouTube Shorts”, is currently rolling out to the US. The feature launched in India in September and was first noticed on US devices by XDA Developers. Like TikTok, Shorts allows users to create and share bite-sized one-minute videos, and users can swipe between them on the mobile app.
The YouTube Shorts section appears in the mobile apps section of the YouTube home screen and has a “beta” label for now. It works exactly like TikTok, launching a full-screen vertical video interface and allowing users to swipe vertically between videos. As you would expect, you can like, dislike, comment and share a short video. You can also tap a username in the Shorts interface to see all of that user’s shorts. The YouTube twist is that shorts are also regular YouTube videos and appear on traditional channel pages and subscription feeds, where they are indistinguishable from regular videos. They have the normal YouTube interface instead of the swipey TikTok interface. This seems to be the only way to watch these videos on desktop.
A big part of TikTok is its video editor, which allows users to create videos with tons of effects, music, filters, and variable playback speeds that add to the signature TikTok video style. The YouTube Shorts editor seems almost monotonous by comparison, offering only speed options and some music.
TikTok only has ~40 million users in the US, but globally, according to App Annie, it is expected to reach 1 billion users by 2021. The majority of those users come from TikTok’s native China, which has 400 million daily active users.
YouTube is the world’s largest video platform, and the site’s plan to take down budding competitors with a new video format is almost always to clone them. YouTube did this the most in 2015 when it launched YouTube Gaming, a livestream gaming platform along the lines of Amazon’s Twitch.tv. The standalone YouTube Gaming interface was discontinued after four years, but the live streaming and chat features caught on with several communities, and there is still a small live gaming community on YouTube. In 2017, YouTube released its photocopiers on Snapchat and created YouTube Stories (originally launched as “YouTube Reels”), which allow channels to create short update videos that disappear after seven days. Now it focuses on TikTok with these one minute videos. Facebook has also gone after TikTok with Instagram Reels.
YouTube Shorts first launched in India in September – a smart move, given that TikTok has been banned in India since June. With no competition from the incumbent in India, YouTube Shorts has taken off in the country, with YouTube recently announcing that Shorts gained “more than 3.5 billion daily views”. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and that got it (and 100+ other Chinese services) banned in India. TikTok was also attacked by the Trump administration and for a while we expected it to be bought by Oracle. After losing the election, the Trump administration lost interest in TikTok and now it looks like the company can continue to operate in the US.
List image by Getty Images/NurPhoto