Personal Perspective

ByteDance AI Strategy


ByteDance's playbook seems to contain two elements:

  1. Move into a market with a massive amount of content.
  2. Extreme personalization via content understanding and user understanding.

This view was illustrated in their homepage1, where they mention effortless content discovery and a virtuous cycle of AI. Their two flagship products TouTiao and TikTok, all played according to this playbook.

It's rumored that Bytedance examines more features of videos than other companies. If you like a video featuring video game captures, that is noted. If you like videos featuring puppies, that is noted. Every Douyin feed I examined was distinctive. My friends all noted that after spending only a short amount of time in the app, it had locked onto their palate. To help a network break out from its early adopter group, you need both to bring lots of new people/subcultures into the app—that's where the massive marketing spend helps--but also ways to help these disparate groups to 1) find each other quickly and 2) branch off into their own spaces.2

The whole approach is premised on the internet/mobile being able to deliver ridiculous amounts of content, even for a very specific niche. ByteDance spends exorbitant sums on marketing to attract content creators and consumers from every niche in existence. Excellent content creation tools assisted by recent advances in AI technology, coupled with clever engagement tricks and explicit feedback mechanisms, lead to a flywheel spinning faster and faster.

Mobile, though, is defined by the Internet, which is to say it is defined by abundance…So it is on TikTok, or any other app with user-generated content. The goal is not to pick out the hits, but rather to attract as much content as possible, and then algorithmically boost whatever turns out to be good…The truth is that Katzenberg got a lot right: YouTube did have a vulnerability in terms of video content on mobile, in part because it was a product built for the desktop; TikTok, like Quibi, is unequivocally a mobile application. Unlike Quibi, though, it is also an entertainment entity predicated on Internet assumptions about abundance, not Hollywood assumptions about scarcity.3

  1. AI at Bytedance

  2. TikTok and the Sorting Hat — Remains of the Day

  3. The TikTok War