The Ultimate Guide to ByteDance

5 min read.

In recent years, TikTok has sensationalized the Internet, becoming an important source of entertainment for many around the world. Yet, while TikTok has taken the Internet by storm, many are unaware that its parent company, ByteDance, is more than meets the eye. 

Founded by current CEO Zhang Yiming in Beijing in 2012, ByteDance has quickly become a frontrunner in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. All of its products and platforms are powered by the company’s intelligent machines, which utilize computer vision and natural language processing technology to analyse written content, images and videos. The machines are then able to identify and deliver content they believe each user would want, resulting in a highly personalised experience. The more a user interacts with the content, the more algorithms can be refined through machine learning and deep learning to deliver high-quality content that is uniquely catered to each user’s preferences and interests. This complex process explains why scrolling through TikTok and Douyin has become so addictive for many users, despite the fairly short duration of each video. 

Despite being newer to the game than competitors like Tencent and Sina, ByteDance has achieved astounding success in the industry. Business Insider reported that as of January 2020, ByteDance is valued at US$75 billion, making it the most valuable startup in the world. It has also received investments from some of the biggest VC firms globally, including SoftBank, Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic. Dedicated to staying a leader in AI in China and ultimately globally, ByteDance is definitely a company that all businesses, organizations and investors alike should keep tabs on in the upcoming years. We dive a little deeper into five of ByteDance’s top performing content platforms.

1. TikTok

In a short span of just two years after its release, TikTok has amassed over half a billion users, around 40 percent of which are outside China, becoming the first social media platform to have successfully won over users beyond their home turf. Its gateway into the international market can be attributed to ByteDance’s acquisition of the popular would-be rival app Musical.ly back in November 2017. TikTok merged with Musical.ly in August 2018 and the Musical.ly users’ accounts were migrated to TikTok. TikTok was then able to tap into Musical.ly’s considerable American audience at the time, which led to its successful segway into the U.S. market. Sensor Tower stated that TikTok’s popularity peaked in December 2018, achieving six million installs in the U.S. alone. Separately, a study conducted by Visual Capitalist revealed that it was ranked as the second most downloaded app in the world with almost 750 million global downloads in just one year. Powered by AI to deliver a customized feed for each user, TikTok has successfully gotten many of its users, especially young audience aged under 20, hooked on its amusing, creative and relatable content.

2. Douyin

Douyin (抖音) is essentially the Chinese equivalent of TikTok. Like TikTok, Douyin features Snapchat-like functions, where people can edit and add filters to 15-second videos before posting them online. Business Insider noted that its popularity skyrocketed following its launch in 2016, reaching 100 million users and 1 billion video views in just a year. In fact, the app has even spawned a phrase that is now commonly used to describe people who are glued to their customized Douyin feeds, “shua (刷) Douyin”, which translates to “scrolling through Douyin”. For many Chinese people, Douyin has become deeply embedded into Chinese internet culture and has seamlessly become a part of their daily lives.

3. Jinri Toutiao

Arguably the app that the company is best known for in China, Jinri Toutiao (今日头条,  or 头条 in short, which translates to “Today’s Headlines”) is a cross between a search engine and news platform, delivering customized content to its users on a daily basis, thanks to the AI algorithms that power it. The platform has gained widespread readership in the Chinese market since its launch; as of December 2017, Toutiao was dubbed “China’s most addictive news app” by Tech in Asia, boasting about 120 million active daily users who spend an average of 74 minutes on the platform each day. Despite only entering the market in 2012, Toutiao’s popularity has allowed it to become competitors with incumbent tech giant Baidu. Forbes said that Toutiao has often been dubbed as “Buzzfeed with brains” by the international community, signifying its ability to deliver informative news content in an engaging manner.

4. Xigua

Formerly known as Toutiao Video, Xigua (西瓜) Video originated as a short form video platform featuring a variety of video clips that were two to five minutes long on average. It has since expanded to include long form videos and currently allows content creators to monetize their videos if they reach a certain number of views. Described by chief manager Zhang Nan to become “China’s YouTube” in the near future, Xigua is definitely on the right track, boasting about 130 million active monthly users currently and overtaking that of other popular Chinese video streaming platforms like Bilibili, according to a study conducted by Business of Apps. Furthermore, Xigua has also cultivated many vloggers and video creators under its partnership with Vlog College, a free, seven-day online training program that teaches users video filming and editing techniques. Radii China stated that the program has allowed 600 over creators on Xigua to make over US$70,000 from the platform in 2018, some of them earning more than US$1.4 million a year.

5. Lark

In 2016, ByteDance ventured beyond video and news sharing apps, launching an app with Google suite-like office collaboration tools. Based in Singapore, Lark is an internal productivity app that features combined elements of Slack, Dropbox, Google Drive and Skype. Equipped with a chat function, a calendar and cloud storage for documents, Lark provides users with a one-stop platform for all their productivity needs without having to toggle between different platforms. With discussions of working remotely becoming a possibility even in the future, ByteDance hopes to diversify its revenue sources and has identified Lark to be an avenue promising long-term growth.

While these are five of the most popular apps owned by ByteDance, there are many others that cater to different user needs in similar ways using ByteDance’s leading AI technology, ranging from social chatting platforms to English-learning platforms.

To get a better sense of the full suite of products and services owned by ByteDance, refer to the infographic below.

Bytedance portrait