Note: This is not a response to the any recent politically charged events on the app. This is solely a reflection on the recent migration from TikTok, its effects (particularly on Byte culture), and what it means for the future (as such, when I say “Byte culture” I’m meaning it as it was before this migration).
I have some observations I’d like to express about the recent TikTok fiasco, since it seems to be coming to an end. I feel like these observations are important things to consider, given the more recent news that TikTok may actually get effectively banned in the United States. We were lucky to receive a preview of it, because now we have some gap time to fully consider where we want Byte and the Byte community to go - compared to another, significantly larger and more permanent, wave of TikTok users migrating over - as well has how we’d like to respond to this.
I’ve done my best to separate my observations from my thoughts on them - so that you can clearly see what I see, form your own opinion, and then see what I think about it as well. As with all thoughts and observations, context is the most important thing to have. So, in order to provide as much context as possible, let’s start from the beginning:
When Byte first came out, it was like a second chance to experience the legendary early days of YouTube that I had missed out on as a kid. People were trying to figure out just what exactly to do with this empty canvas they had been given - not only content-wise, but community/culture-wise as well. It quickly became clear that people wanted this to be something totally new - rather than inherit that which was established by Vine.
What followed, was the development of something the modern internet has not seen in many moons. Byte became an overwhelmingly positive and supportive place. As if that wasn’t incredible enough, Byte remained one of the few places (the only, as far as I’m aware) that hasn’t been tainted by politics. Sure, you could infer a majority of the population was likely liberal - but politics nearly never infected forum posts or Byters’ content. Even when a brave soul made a political post, but usually didn’t gain much traction. It’s as if on some level, whether conscious or not, the community recognized this and intentionally tried to keep it out, so that the community could be as open and accepting as possible. But I digress: the main point is that Byte fostered a unique positive and supportive community that was filled with potential and excitement to be something new.
What was perhaps most surprising about this culture, is that as people joined and Byte grew, this culture was not only preserved, but amplified. This is in direct contrast to how most sites evolve. Typically, as a site grows, it ends up adopting the homogenized internet culture, and splinters into subcultures once a critical mass of hype is reached. As the hype dies, the subcultures still exist, but develop some unifying/common attributes. Twitter would be the perfect example of this, however, going into specifics is for another time.
Historically, Byte culture has had an interesting relationship to TikTok culture. There are a fair amount of people who mirror content between the platforms. For some, this is simply a way to source new TikTok followers, however this has always been transparent, and often not well received (not to say Byters at large gave negative attention to this practice, in fact negativity is often called out and disavowed by the community at large - but rather, they simply didn’t give any attention to these people). For others, this is a way to transition from TikTok to Byte, which serves as a more appropriate medium for their content. Others still, simply want to expand their content to a new platform. With the latter groups, whatever content gets mirrored to Byte usually fits in perfectly with the content expected on Byte.
One thing that has always made Byte significantly more unique than any other platform, is the degree and speed of responsiveness from the developers to the community. Concerns are addressed nearly immediately. Feature requests are heard, and often swiftly adopted. Now sure, yes, this is much easier to facilitate with a smaller platform - but even compared to other small platforms (or other platforms when they were small), this level of community-developer interaction is nearly unheard of. This is, perhaps, one of Byte’s greatest strengths. However, it may also facilitate the downfall of the Byte we’ve all come to know.
I want to make one thing very clear. This is not a criticism of Dom, the developers, or anyone else involved in the administration of Byte. At the end of the day, Byte is a business - not just a business, but a new business - and as such, the people running the business must do that which is necessary to grow the business into something not only financially viable, but profitable. As a social media company, the most important way to do this, is by growing your userbase.
However, I have very little stake in Byte as far as business is concerned. Yes, I would be quite sad if they closed their doors, but my ability to create is not tied to Byte’s existence. There will always (eventually) be another platform. That being said, I do have a vested interest in Byte’s community. A majority of the enjoyment of a platform stems from the community that it fosters. If enjoyment is diminished, there’s not much of a reason to stick around.
I would also like to make it clear that I’m not stating that gloom and doom is here or that the end is nigh. Rather that the forthcoming analyses/observations are merely out of concern that they may be indicators of Byte’s trajectory in the future.
As we are all well aware, not too long ago there were rumors that TikTok would be banned in the United States. This caused a massive influx of TikTok users. However, the influx was not a proportional sample of TikTok at large, but rather a handful of specific communities from TikTok came here (and presumably other TikTok communities went elsewhere). At least, that’s what I’ve gathered happened from various posts/comments.
So excellent - Byte got new users! This is exactly what we all wanted - new users, fresh content, and a wave of vitality for the app. We accepted them with open arms. We all knew this would probably be a temporary situation, as the rumors inciting migration were purely speculations based in panic (at the time). However, we hoped that some of them might choose to stick around, regardless of what ultimately happened with TikTok.
Now I’m not even going to address the generational “drama” that ensued. I get that it’s mostly just part of the humor of the communities that came here. I’m also not going to touch on many Byters feeling like they have to change things up in order to stay relevant now - that’s just part of being in entertainment. Besides, both are totally out of scope for the purpose of why I’m writing all of this.
When the new users came, they came with a pretty significant list of demands and complaints.
Some of which, while not entirely fair, were understandable: Byte is very well done, but of course, it’s newer so it’s not as feature-rich as TikTok yet. Naturally, the people who came here from TikTok felt limited by this perceived “lack” of features.
This did light a fire under the devs, and they put out an amazing amount of polished features / changes in a very short amount of time. Regardless of opinions about the changes, some serious kudos are in order - its quite an achievement what they did within that brief timeframe.
However, when being responsive shifts into being reactionary, concern is warranted. While the Byte community welcomed the newcomers, those in charge catered to them. This is evident in the new types of content that got promoted by Byte, as well as by the drastic change in idiolect of the notifications sent by Byte and the Tweets posted by the official account. It doesn’t take a language expert to see that the language pattern shifted to very explicitly match that of the newcomers.
I am by no means implying that they did so without thinking/caring about the ramifications on the established Byte community (as the established community is obviously something they care heavily about). However, when acting in a reactionary manner, some things are inherently overlooked - specifically the ripple/snowball/non-immediate effects of those actions.
For just one example, will mainstream people who check out this app now see it as a platform for niches, other than a generalized one (similar to the fate of Tumblr)? I don’t know, it’s significantly too early to accurately make any predictions. However, assuming they continue to add channels, and the niches end up blending with the plethora of other categories, I’d say we have nothing to worry about (which, seems to be the trajectory they’re on). But again, I digress.
We got very lucky this time. Nearly all the changes were very good, and some long awaited. A large amount of the newcomers appreciated the Byte community’s hospitality, and now want to stay. Some, not many, but some of the newcomers even did try to integrate with the Byte culture, while keeping qualities from their niche/generation. Furthermore, as expected, the situation does seem to be temporary and things are on track to return to nearly normal (for the time being).
However, what raises concern with me is how quickly they switched gears to catering to a new demanding group whose presence we all (including the incoming group) figured would most likely temporary. Instead of trying to host both cultures or foster a meshing between them, those in charge fully embraced the incoming culture. What can we expect to happen if this occurs again, but with a group that intends on permanent residence, and/or that more directly contrasts the existing Byte culture. Will they again switch gears to serving this new culture? If so, where is the line? At what point will the protection of the existing Byte culture come before an incoming one, if such a point exists?
The reason all this concerns me, is that I know that those in charge do care about Byte’s culture - they’ve historically done a phenomenal job of fostering it and letting it develop however it develops (that is to say, they’re not engineering the culture for us). This then leads to a disconnect between what I know and what I’m seeing occur on this platform.
A disconnect between action and character is always difficult to diagnose. Sure, it’s easy to default to accusations of action being truth and the character being a falsehood - but it’s not always that simple. Context is important. Looking at the full context, it’s quite clear that those in charge legitimately care about Byte’s culture. So, I don’t have a diagnosis - I’m not even going to speculate or hypothesize one. I lack information, and even if I had that, I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to dictate to the administration what they “had” to be thinking.
Byte’s culture is something worth preserving. Of course, culture evolves and changes all the time, and on the internet that process occurs significantly faster than in offline-culture. However, as culture goes through its natural changes, the core of the culture is remains mostly unchanged. The core of Byte’s culture, what makes it so unique - as I said before, is something that basically doesn’t exist anywhere else on the internet. Take a moment to think about that. Of all the millions of websites that exist with a significant active userbase, hardly any (if any at all) are as positive, supportive, and encouraging as Byte culture.
The internet is a dark place with only pockets of light. The fact that Byte’s community has been so overwhelmingly good for so long is an anomaly. Unfortunately, culture is not a self-sustaining force. It has to be maintained and cultivated by the people in it - just for it to remain in passive existence. In the face of competition, culture must even be fought for - for if it is not: it will fall.