I Spent a Week Using Only TikTok for Search

Google is supposed to in “Code Red” mode, committing resources and bringing in its co-founders to address perceived threats to its massively dominant search engine. The threat of the day is ChatGPT – an AI-powered large language model that also helps us write term papers and poetry, draft regulations, and make medical diagnoses. But in the search race, another car comes from behind. This is tiktok.

TikTok for search? you might ask. How could a jittery video app full of dancing teens, cat memes, food hacks, and convulsive stunts help you find a financial advisor, or a train schedule, or even search results for yourself? It depends on how you interpret “search,” but if you’re looking for less specific, more entertaining results — a search process more akin to social discovery — then TikTok plays a strong role. In 2021, content delivery network Cloudflare reported that Tiktok.com had overtaken Google as the world’s most visited web domain. And last year, a senior vice president of search at Google found that 40 percent of young internet users regularly turn to TikTok or Instagram to search. (TikTok hasn’t responded to requests about search trends.)

More evidence: When I posted on a WIRED Slack channel that I was going to try using TikTok search for a week, two younger co-workers who are generationally different from me said fwiw they are also searching for almost everything on tik tok. So on a recent Tuesday, I opened up TikTok and, in mild desperation, began my experiment with fast typing on the touchscreen.

day one

I’m not what you would call super active on TikTok. I follow a few dozen people and posted a video (cat). At times, I got sucked into the maelstrom of the app’s For You page, which shows videos that the TikTok algorithm determined I might like. One reason I don’t use the app often is due to security and privacy concerns. TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, recently admitted that some of its employees had 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 test a lot of apps.

I am fascinated by the use of TikTok search by my colleagues. It felt like there was a slight separation due to age before, but now it’s one big yawn and they’re on the oxygen up side and I’m on the tired side. Was my story old? The fact that I was out of college when Google went public or that I was in the room when Steve Ballmer yelled “Bing it!” and unveiled Microsoft’s new search engine, absolutely don’t believe me here.

The first thing I’m looking for is how to pair an AirTag, a gift given to me due to my habit of losing my keys. TikTok delivers here. I can watch the top video in the results for 31 seconds without ever having to scroll through the dozens of other videos in the results. And since it’s a living thumbnail, I don’t even have to tap the video to hear the audio. It’s quick and easy. That will be funny.

day two

I wake up and remember I have a job that involves a lot of thorough online searches. I open TikTok and look for specific information about Apple’s business, such as: B. the number of employees working in Apple’s retail stores. I can’t seem to find the answer to this, but I do discover a few helpful hacks (how to write off your $1,100 iPhone on your taxes so you only pay half) and parodies of Apple Store interactions (the “employee” apologizes waiting for an hour, six people are currently being helped and there are only 90 employees).

My editor literally says, “Let me google this for you.” As it turns out, TikTok isn’t a portal for 10-K reports on SEC.gov. It’s a portal to more TikTok.

Later that day, I reopen TikTok and it recommends an account called “oldloserinbrooklyn,” specifically this person’s predictions for 2023, which peaks at “Close more print magazines.” I’m not making this up.

https://www.wired.com/story/tiktok-search-google/ I Spent a Week Using Only TikTok for Search

Zack Zwiezen

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