iPhone shows the TikTok logo on Prototopics iPhone shows the TikTok logo on Prototopics

TikTok’s long reign as the “everyone’s” app is finally slipping

Remember the star child application that helped everyone make it through the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021? The one that had billions upon billions of daily views and grew like wildfire? The one that single-handedly put shortform content at the top of nearly all creators radar? Well, that one is finally having its day (more like year) of reckoning.

For years we heard about unprecedented growth, followed by unheard of daily active users (the total numbers of using opening the app of a daily basis, which is how app success is usually measured). We saw creators put out videos that got over two billion views and saw people gain international fame for nothing more than pointing at random objects. Life was fun and the content was good. In that moment, they felt unstoppable – but like all good things, infinite growth turns finite and that is when the truth sets in.

2024 is when it started to fall apart. Engagement rates have fallen off a cliff, dropping 35% since the same time period in 2023. Why you may ask? There are a few potential ideas that we have, but this is entirely our speculation.

Attention Span has been decimated.

In 2004, the average attention span was found to be about 2.5 minutes. That is enough to give content a chance and either find the “hook” that catches your attention, or decide it isn’t for you. That same test was given in 2024 and we found that it has decreased to just 47 seconds. That is a 219% decrease in 20 years, or about 11% decrease per year. While we could attribute it to a number of factors, one of the most prevalent is the sweeping use of short form content.

Short form content has trained people through one simple swiping motion to remove things they don’t like from their point of view almost instantly. They are immediately served up something new and give the same opportunity to either watch, engage or swipe it away. To some that is just how it works, but for the well trained, you understand that that are micro-dopamine hits and if the dopamine doesn’t hit fast enough its on to the next attempt.

This repetitive motion of swiping away what we don’t like eventually trains your brain to remove all unwanted things from your viewpoint for good. The action of removing those and the curiosity of the next thing, in most cases a new video, create the rapidly deteriorating attention span that is plaguing the world as we know it. Pay attention to the beginning of every video and just like a book; you’ll notice the hook. It may be a rapid movement, a familiar sound or a scene that makes you curious. If you hook sucks, you move on. If its good you stay and that what feeds the algorithm.

Content wells have run dry.

A recent study shows that there are around 34 million TikTok videos upload each day. Obviously not all of them are going to be viral sensations, but the point is that there is a ton of content on the platform for consumption. With billions of videos already created, finding new ways to be edgy, funny, or educational has become very difficult. Many of these videos posted are just noise in a much larger ecosystem.

You’ll notice that some of the most famous tiktokers have resorted to changing their content entirely when they are no longer able to do the very thing that put them on the map. Entire communities that were at one time huge, have entirely disappeared. That is the ebb and flow of the internet, but points to a larger belief that short form content isn’t as easily created as it once was.

People have gotten bored or don’t care.

Its entirely possible that doom-scrolling has finally seen its ending in the crystal ball. People are realizing they are missing out on life, and getting wise to the fact that what is shown on tiktok is not their life. We see this in the form of a decline of “influencers,” but that is for another day. How many videos can someone truly watch about one topic before it goes stale? How many times can you go down a rabbit hole about the newest internet drama before it gets old? While there are people that can forever, I’d like to believe that as a society we are realizing this isn’t the purpose of life – watching other peoples lives.

While these ideas are simple hopes or beliefs that we have for humanity, the reality is that the numbers are down. Engagement has dropped and that’s okay. Maybe we should look at this as a win for humanity. With lower engagement, we can expect less time on the app, and even though the might go to another one, we can hope that eventually they will get off these apps all together. If this is a spot your in, put the phone down, pick up a book or go meet a neighbor. It can be a wonderful life on the other side of the screen.

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