Short-form video app TikTok, the fourth most downloaded app in the world as of last quarter, is working on several new seemingly Instagram-inspired features — including a Discover page, a grid-style layout similar to Instagram Explore, an Account Switcher and more.
The features were uncovered this week by reverse-engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong, who published screenshots of these features and others to Twitter.
A TikTok spokesperson declined to offer further details on the company’s plans, but confirmed the features were things the company is working on.
“We’re always experimenting with new ways to improve the app experience for our community,” the spokesperson said.
The most notable change uncovered by Wong is one to TikTok’s algorithmically generated “For You” page. Today, users flip through each video on this page, one by one, in a vertical feed-style format. The updated version instead offers a grid-style layout, which looks more like Instagram’s Explore page. This design would also allow users to tap on the videos they wanted to watch, while more easily bypassing those they don’t. And because it puts more videos on the page, too, the change could quickly increase the amount of input into TikTok’s recommendation engine about a user’s preferences.
Another key change being developed is the addition of a “Discover” tab to TikTok’s main navigation.
The new button appears to replace the current Search tab, which today is labeled with a magnifying glass icon. The Search section currently lets you enter keywords, and returns results that can be filtered by users, sounds, hashtags or videos. It also showcases trending hashtags on the main page. The “Discover” button, meanwhile, has a people icon on it, which hints that it could be helping users find new people to follow on TikTok, rather than just videos and sounds.
This change, if accurately described and made public, could be a big deal for TikTok creators, as it arrives at a time when the app has gained critical mass and has penetrated the mainstream. The younger generation has been caught up in TikTok, finding the TikTok stars more real and approachable than reigning YouTubers. TikTokers and their fans even swarmed VidCon this month, leading some to wonder if a paradigm shift for online video was soon to come.
A related feature, “Suggested Users,” could also come into play here, in terms of highlighting top talent.
Getting on an app’s “Suggested” list is often key to becoming a top creator on the platform. It’s how many Viners and Twitter users initially grew their follower bases, for instance.
However, TikTok diverged from Instagram with the testing of two other new features Wong found that focused on popularity metrics. One test shows the “Like” counts on each video on the Sounds and Hashtags pages, and another shows the number of Downloads on the video itself, in addition to the Likes and Shares.
This would be an interesting change in light of the competitive nature of social media. And its timing is significant. Instagram is now backing away from showing Like counts, in a test running in a half dozen countries. The company made the change in response to public pressure regarding the anxiety that using its service causes.
Of course, in the early days of a social app, Like counts and other metrics are tools that help point users to the breakout, must-follow stars. They also encourage more posting as users try to find content that resonates — which then, in turn, boosts their online fame in a highly trackable way.
TikTok is also taking note of how integrations with other social platforms could benefit its service, similar to how the Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger apps have offered features to drive traffic to one another and otherwise interoperate.
A couple of features Wong found were focused on improving connections with social apps, including one that offered better integration with WhatsApp, and another that would allow users to link their account to Google and Facebook.
A few other changes being tested included an Instagram-like Account switcher interface, a “Liked by Creator” comment badge and a downgrade to the TikCode (QR code), which moves from the user profile in the app’s settings.
Of course, one big caveat here with all of this is that just because a feature is spotted in the app’s code, that doesn’t mean it will launch to the public.
Some of these changes may be tested privately, then scrapped entirely, or are still just works in progress. But being able to see a collection of experiments at one time like this — something that’s not possible without the sort of reverse engineering that Wong does — helps to paint a larger picture of the direction an app may be headed. In TikTok’s case, it seems to understand its potential, as well as when to borrow successful ideas from others who have come before it, and when to go its own direction.