I Spent a Week Using Only TikTok for Search
Google is supposed to In “red codedeploy the resource and call in its mode Co-Founder to address perceived threats to its hugely dominant search engine. The current threat is ChatGPT—a AI support Large language models are also helping us write semester articles and poetry, draft medical regulations and diagnoses. But there is another car behind in the search race. That is TikTok.
TikTok to search? you can ask. How a sensational video app filled with dancing teenagers, cat memes, food hacks, and acrobatics can help you find financial advisors or train schedules or even search results for yourself? It depends on your understanding of “search,” but if you’re looking for less specific, more entertaining results—a search process more like social discovery—then TikTok is exert a powerful effect. In 2021, content delivery network Cloudflare reported that Tiktok.com surpassed Google is the most visited web domain in the world. And last year, a senior vice president of search at Google noted that 40% of young internet users are often turn to TikTok or Instagram to search. (TikTok has not yet responded to questions about search trends.)
More proof: When I shared on the WIRED Slack channel that I would try using TikTok search for a week, two colleagues who are younger than me in terms of generation said that they also search almost everything on TikTok. So on a recent Tuesday, I opened up TikTok and began my experiment, with the touchscreen typing fast with slight desperation.
The first day
I’m not what you would call super active on TikTok. I follow a few dozen people and I posted a video (cats). Sometimes I get caught up in the whirlpool of the app’s For You page, which shows videos TikTok’s algorithm determined I might like. Part of the reason why I don’t use the app much is due to security and privacy concerns. TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, recently admitted that some of its workers accessed the location data of American journalists to try to identify their sources (i.e. spy on them). Even with this knowledge, I still have a TikTok account because I have tested a lot of apps.
My colleagues’ use of TikTok search intrigued me. It seems like before there was a small difference due to age, but now it’s a big difference, and they’re on the oxygen side and I’m on the tired side. Is my story old? The truth is I was out of college when Google went on the floor or I was in my room when Steve Ballmer yelled “Bing it!” and reveal Microsoft’s new search engine, give me absolutely no credibility here.
The first thing I looked for was how to pair the AirTag, a gift given to me because of my habit of losing my keys. TikTok offers here. I can see the top video in the results, which is 31 seconds long, without having to scroll through dozens of other videos in the results. And because it’s a live thumbnail, I don’t even need to tap the video to hear its sound. It’s quick and easy. This is sure to be fun.
I woke up and remembered I had a job that involved a lot of thorough searching on the internet. I opened TikTok and searched for specifics about Apple’s business, such as the number of employees working in Apple retail stores. I can’t seem to find the answer there, but I discovered a few helpful tricks (how to clear your $1,100 iPhone from taxes so you only pay half) and parodies the Apple Store interaction (“staff” apologizes for the hour-long wait, six people are currently helping, and only 90 employees).
My editor said, literally, “Let me Google that for you.” As it turns out, TikTok is not the portal for 10-K reports on SEC.gov. It’s a portal for more TikTok.
Later that day, I reopened TikTok and it suggested an account called “oldloserinbrooklyn”, specifically this person’s 2023 predictions, topped with “more print magazines to close”. I don’t do this up.