The video is 34 seconds long and the camera follows a cat, who carries a tiger plush doll into a tiny clearing in the forest. I think that video is exactly how all good TikToks feels, like the ones Bourgeois makes about trains. You press play and nothing is explained to you, but everything is following its own internal dream-like logic. Like a portal to another dimension opens up, offers you a brief glimpse of something you never expected, and then closes.

Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick, who writes the excellent newsletter Garbage Day, sums up how TikTok feels perfectly.

I used to browse TikTok from the web site without an account for a few months. I’d go there on and off seeking a hit of joy and randomness. It wasn’t until I downloaded the app and created an account that I saw the true power of the app and its algorithm.

I know apps all use their own secret sauce to group you into buckets by their internal metrics. But I’ve never had an app actively try out different content on me to see what I responded to.

One day it was all ADHD.

One day was Books.

One day was girls dancing.

One portal opens. Another portal closes.

It was never 100% one thing or another but I would scroll through the 30-60 second clips, liking some or sharing with my wife, or just watching and seeing what was served up next. There was a definite theme to each session.

Clearly I was being served a particular set of content to see if I enjoyed it or not. As a result, I find myself in a weird little world that has both been completely built for me, but also broad enough I am consistently amused and delighted by what I see.

It’s not like other places that lumps me into a bucket and serves me the same kind of content all day. The Amazon “you bought socks, so we’re going to recommend to you… MORE SOCKS” problem. TikTok was honing in on my weird enjoyment of weird animal content.

And unlike Instagram where every 3rd or 4th post is an ad, there’s hardly any! There’s an ad when I first open the app I scroll past without giving it the time to finish. If you’re on the site too long there’s a video from Tiktok telling you to take a break. But it’s in the form of other videos. It’s seamless. I’m never taken out of the world Tiktok builds for me. Every now and again there’s a sponsored post from a creator, clearly tagged and obvious by the tone.

Despite being absolutely massive in scale, it doesn’t have the feel of a corporate, professional social network. Even the brands there are weird and wonderful. There’s a tone to Tiktok lacking elsewhere in social spaces at scale. The number of weird logos alone are the work of one creator who plays a perfect deadpan logo designer. The entire site is wrapped in whimsy where nothing is really as it seems and you never know what’s going to happen next.

Open a Portal and step through.

The duck (and friends). Pablo and his friends! (@lilquackers)

And the fish guy? Seriously, the first time I heard Bubba I lost it laughing. My wife stared at me like I had lost my mind. The ballad of Bubba and Brad is pure joy. The Goldfish Guy (@lukesgoldies) Poor Bubba. Brad always gets the best of him.

For a dose of comforting, warmth on a cold day, you should meet this buddy. Fritz and Donnybrook (@oldtimehawkey) He’ll make you a treat, share a pop with you and settle down for a movie or campfire.

There’s Stage Door Johnny (@stage_door_johnny) who deconstructs the English language and all of its weirdness. He also has a very pleasing accent.

I love the storytelling of Andrew (@andr3wsky).

Every time Kendahl Landreth (@kendahllandreth) comes up with her mom impression I lose it laughing.

Stacey ❤️ (@stacebookspace) delivers unhinged affirmations with a dose of book recommensations.

Ever seen a man feed humming birds out of his hand? Watch birdperson666 (@birdperson666) greet Hector.

For your Gen X news, look no further than Corrbette Pasko (@corrbette).

For wild and wonderful monologues, run, don’t walk over to Musings of a Crouton (@mr.mosebys_lefttit).

I love people talking about their process and have fallen in love with Jordan Hexem (@jordanhexem). He shows you the location vs. the shot. It’s wonderful!

When I need my Sports Ball news, I turn to Sports-ball news with Taylor! Taylor Page (@trashprince522)

This is a smattering of the accounts I follow and bring me joy. I don’t post. I’m here to watch and enjoy. There’s a culture on Tiktok of showing your work and explaining how videos were made. The ability to stitch (reply within the video) and duet (play multiple videos all together) open up a world that lacks the pristine polish of most social spaces. This allows for “conversations” between separate videos, a group of musicians to perform “together”, and getting to see multiple sides of a story.

The ability to interact with video within the video gives the entire site a more organic and feel. If Instagram is walking into an art gallery, then Tiktok is showing up at a pop-up art exhibit in the middle of a busy city with people on their way to work, stadiums and running out for coffee.

Portal opens. Portal closes.

If you’ve seen mention of a Bones Day / No Bones Day. Yup. The messiah is a 13 year old pug names Noodles who dictates the days.