YouTube’s clone of TikTok, “YouTube Shorts,” is rolling out to the US as we speak. The feature launched in India this September and was first spotted on US devices by XDA Developers. Just like TikTok, Shorts lets users make and share bite-sized, one-minute videos, and users can swipe between them on the mobile app.
The YouTube Shorts section shows up on the mobile apps section of the YouTube home screen and for now has a “beta” label. It works exactly like TikTok, launching a full-screen vertical video interface, and users can swipe vertically between videos. As you’d expect, you can like, dislike, comment on, and share a short. You can also tap on a user name from the Shorts interface to see all the shorts from that user. The YouTube twist is that shorts are also regular YouTube videos and show up on traditional channel pages and in subscription feeds, where they are indistinguishable from normal videos. They have the normal YouTube interface instead of the swipey TikTok interface. This appears to be the only way to view these videos on desktop.
A big part of TikTok is the video editor, which allows users to make videos with tons of effects, music, filters, and variable playback speeds that contribute to the signature TikTok video style. The YouTube Shorts editor seems nearly featureless in comparison, offering only speed options and some music.
TikTok only has ~40 million users in the US, but worldwide, it’s expected to hit 1 billion users in 2021, according to App Annie. The majority of those users are from TikTok’s native country of China, where there are 400 million daily active users.
YouTube is the world’s biggest video platform, and the site’s go-to plan for swatting down upstart competitors with a new video format is almost always to clone them. YouTube most famously did this in 2015 when it launched YouTube Gaming, a livestream gaming platform in the vein of Amazon’s Twitch.tv. The standalone YouTube Gaming interface was shut down after four years, but the livestreaming and chat features caught on with several different communities, and there is still a small live-gaming community on YouTube. In 2017, YouTube set its photocopiers loose on Snapchat and created YouTube Stories (originally launched as “YouTube Reels“), which let channels create short update videos that disappear after seven days. Now it’s targeting TikTok with these one-minute videos. Facebook has also gone after TikTok with Instagram Reels.
YouTube Shorts first launched in India in September—a smart move, since TikTok has been banned in India since June. With no competition from the incumbent in India, YouTube Shorts has taken off in the country, with YouTube recently announcing Shorts was getting “more than 3.5 billion daily views.” TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, and that earned it (and 100+ other Chinese services) a ban in India. TikTok was under attack from the Trump administration, too, and for a time we were expecting it to be purchased by Oracle. After losing the election, the Trump administration lost interest in TikTok, and now it seems that the company will be able to continue operating in the US.
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