For Gen Z, TikTok is the new search engine

Young people turn to TikTok when they need some information

Young people turn to TikTok when they need some information

Photo: Cottonbro/Pexels / Tecnoblog

When Ja’Kobi Moore decided to apply to a private high school this year in her hometown of New Orleans, she found she needed at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher. She had never asked for one, so she sought help.

“Teacher’s letter of recommendation,” she typed into the search bar of the TikTok.

Moore, 15, scrolled through TikTok until he found two videos: one explaining how to ask teachers for a letter of recommendation, and the other showing a template for one. Both were made by professors and were easier to understand than a survey result from the Google or a video of YouTubesaid Moore, who plans to talk to his teachers this month.

TikTok is known for its viral dance videos and pop music. But for Gen Z, the video app is increasingly also a search tool.

More and more young people are using TikTok’s powerful algorithm – which personalizes the videos shown to them based on their interactions with the content – to find information tailored to their tastes. This personalization combines with the feeling that real people in the app are synthesizing and providing information, rather than faceless websites.

On TikTok, “you see how the person really felt where they ate,” said Nailah Roberts, 25, who uses the app to look for restaurants in Los Angeles, where she lives. A long written review of a restaurant fails to capture its ambiance, food and drinks like a small clip can, she said.

The rise of TikTok as a discovery tool is part of a broader transformation in digital search. While Google remains the dominant search engine in the world, people are turning to amazon to search for products Instagram to stay up to date on trends and to Snapchat’s Snap Maps to find local businesses. As the digital world continues to grow, the universe of ways to find information within it is expanding.

Google noticed TikTok entering its domain. While the Silicon Valley company questioned that young people were using TikTok as a replacement for its search engine, at least one Google executive has publicly commented on the rival video app’s search capabilities.

“In our studies, something like 40% of young people, when looking for a place to have lunch, don’t go to Google Maps or the search bar. They go to TikTok or Instagram,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president at Google. , at a technology conference in July.

Google has incorporated images and videos into its search engine in recent years. Since 2019, some of your search results feature TikTok videos. In 2020, Google launched YouTube Shorts, which share vertical videos that are less than a minute long, and started including your content in search results.

TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, declined to comment on its search function and products that may be in testing. He said the app was “always thinking of new ways to add value to the community and enrich the TikTok experience.”

Doing a search on TikTok is often more interactive than typing something into Google. Instead of just scrolling through walls of text, Gen Z members gather TikTok video recommendations to identify what they’re looking for, watching video after video to curate the content. They then verify the veracity of a suggestion based on the comments posted in response to the videos.

This search mode is rooted in how young people are using TikTok not only to search for products and companies, but also to ask questions about how to do things and find explanations of what things mean. With videos typically under 60 seconds in length, TikTok returns what appears to be the most relevant responses, many said.

The rise of TikTok as a search tool could mean that more people are faced with misinformation and misinformation in the app, which can be amplified and spread even further, said Francesca Tripodi, professor of information and library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. . The platform has struggled to moderate misleading content about elections, the war in Ukraine and abortion.

TikTok’s algorithm tends to keep people in the app, making it harder for them to turn to additional sources for fact-checking searches, Tripodi added.

“You’re not really clicking anything that takes you out of the app,” she said. “This makes it even more challenging to verify that the information you are receiving is correct.”

TikTok has become a place to find information. The app is testing a feature that identifies keywords in comments and links to fetch search results for them. In Southeast Asia, it is also testing a feed with local content, so people can find businesses and events close to them.

Building search and location features will likely further strengthen TikTok – which is already the world’s most downloaded app for 18-24 year olds, according to Sensor Tower – among young users.

TikTok “is becoming a one-stop shop for content in a way it wasn’t in its early days,” said Lee Rainie, who directs internet and technology research at the Pew Research Center. / TRANSLATION LÍVIA BUELONI GONÇALVES

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