In the near future, digital avatars will become a critical representation of our real selves, as we interact more and more in wholly virtual spaces – which is why several platforms are now trying to come up with the best 3D avatar tools to better align people with their apps.
And now, TikTok’s throwing its hat in the ring, with the launch of its own avatar creation tools.
As you can see in the above video, TikTok’s Avatars, now available via the ‘Effects’ panel in the camera view, enable users to create their own custom character depictions for use across the app.
As explained by TikTok:
“Choose from an array of hairstyles, accessories, piercings and makeup, to create a TikTok Avatar that reflects your personal look and style. After your Avatar is ready, you can start recording videos. As you gesture and move, your Avatar will mimic your motion.”
The functionality is much like Apple’s ‘Memoji’, which enables you to use your chosen Memoji character as essentially a digital puppet, with the character moving in response to your actions when looking at the camera.
TikTok’s avatars are an almost direct replica of this, down to the cartoonish look – though TikTok’s characters also include a ‘miniature avatar’ functionality, which I suspect will end up being the primary use of the option, at least initially.
As you can see in this example, in ‘Miniature’ mode, you’ll be able to place your custom avatar as an overlay on your TikTok clips. That could provide a range of new creative use cases, with your digital character engaging with TikTok clips and remixes, or providing voice-over directions as a talking head.
Which could be interesting – but as noted, the real impetus here is staying in touch with the next phase of digital connection, and building avatar tools that will increasingly align with habitual usage shifts, while also helping to maintain connection with your presence in each app.
Both Meta and Snap are already exploring the sale of digital clothing for your virtual characters, while Meta, of course, is also looking to merge your Avatar over to VR, and eventually, its metaverse vision. Within this, users will become increasingly used to engaging via these depictions – which is why TikTok’s also looking to get in now, in the hopes that its users also become more attached to their in-app caricatures.
Though I suspect, eventually, it will come down to the most functional avatar creation tools, the most customizable and best looking, and the most universally available, with the capacity to take your character with you across apps and platforms.
Which is where dedicated creation tools like ‘Ready Player Me’ come into the frame.
Ready Player Me’s characters replicate the style of existing video game creation tools, like the player models available in ‘Fortnite’, and provide a lot more custom elements, which will likely make it a more appealing, engaging platform, if it’s able to align with the upcoming metaverse schema (i.e. its characters are transferable across various platforms).
We don’t know exactly how that’s going to work, because the systems haven’t been made as yet, but the best avatar tools will enable universal compatibility, so that the character you align yourself with on one platform is the same one you use in every other, helping to build that recognition and presence across digital spaces.
Meta is also working on its own photorealistic avatars, which are likely a while away yet.
And even when they are available, it remains to be seen whether users actually want to look like themselves online – or would they prefer a more customized, cartoonish variation that better represents how they choose to look?
I suspect the latter is more likely, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Meta eventually sought to acquire a tool like Ready Player Me to build out its avatar creation options, and increase appeal to younger users.
And given this, TikTok’s likely starting from well behind. But it has to start somewhere, with these initial avatar tools being the apps first step in its own metaverse shift.
TikTok’s new Avatars are available in the app from today.
TikTok Scales Back Live-Stream Commerce Ambitions, Which Could Be a Big Blow for the App
TikTok’s facing a significant reassessment in its business expansion plans, with the company forced to scale back its live eCommerce initiative in Europe and the US due to operational challenges and lack of consumer interest.
TikTok has been working to integrate live-stream shopping after seeing major success with the option in the Chinese version of the app. But its initial efforts in the UK have been hampered by various problems.
As reported by The Financial Times:
“TikTok had planned to launch the feature in Germany, France, Italy and Spain in the first half of this year, before expanding into the US later in 2022, according to several people briefed on the matter. But the expansion plans have been dropped after the UK project failed to meet targets and influencers dropped out of the scheme, three people said.”
TikTok has since refuted some of FT’s claims, saying that the reported timeline for its commerce push is incorrect, and that it’s focused on fixing problems with its UK operation before expanding, which is still in its roadmap. But the basis – that its program is not going as smoothly as planned – is correct.
TikTok’s UK shopping push has also faced internal problems due to conflicts over working culture and management.
Last month, reports surfaced that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance had been imposing tough conditions on its UK commerce staff, including regular 12-hour days, improbable sales targets, and questions over entitlements.
Now, it seems like the combination of challenges has led to a new growth dilemma for the app – which once again underlines the variance between Asian and western app usage trends.
Social media and messaging apps have become a central element of day-to-day life in several Asian countries, with apps like China’s WeChat and QQ now used for everything from purchasing train tickets to paying bills, to buying groceries, banking, and everything in between.
That spells opportunity for western social media providers, with Meta, in particular, looking to use the Chinese model as a template to help it translate the popularity of WhatsApp and Messenger into even more ubiquitous, more valuable functionality, which could then make them critical connective tools in various markets, solidifying Meta’s market presence.
But for various reasons, Chinese messaging trends have never translated to other markets.
Meta’s Messenger Bots push in 2016 failed to gain traction, and after its Messenger app became ‘too cluttered’ with an ever-expanding range of functionalities, including games, shopping, Stories, and more, Meta eventually scaled back its messaging expansion plans, in favor of keeping the app aligned with its core use case.
Meta then turned to WhatsApp, and making messaging a more critical process in developing markets like India and Indonesia. That expansion is still ongoing, but the signs, at present, don’t suggest that WhatsApp will ever reach the same level of ubiquity that Chinese messaging apps have.
Which then leads to TikTok, the world-beating short-form video app, which has seen massive growth in China, leading to whole new business opportunities, and even market sectors, based on how Chinese users have adapted to in-app commerce.
The Chinese version of TikTok, called ‘Douyin’, generated $119 billion worth of product sales via live broadcasts in 2021, an 7x increase year-over-year, while the number of users engaging with eCommerce live-streams exceeded 384 million, close to half of the platform’s user base.
Given this, you can see why TikTok would view this as a key opportunity in other markets as well – but as noted, Chinese market trends are not always a great proxy for other regions.
The decision to scale back its eCommerce ambitions is a significant blow to TikTok’s expansion plans, not only from a broader revenue perspective (and worth noting, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance recently cut staff due to ongoing revenue pressures), but also in regards to revenue share, and providing a pathway for creators to make money from their efforts in the app.
Unlike YouTube, TikTok clips are too short to add mid and pre-roll ads, which means that creators can’t simply switch on ads to make money from their content. That means that they need to organize brand partnerships to generate income, and on Douyin, in-stream commerce has become the key pathway to exactly that.
Without in-stream product integrations as an option, that will significantly limit creator earnings capacity in the app, which could eventually see them switch focus to other platforms, where they can more effectively monetize their output.
Which may not seem like a major risk, but that’s exact what killed Vine, when Vine creators called for a bigger share of the app’s revenue, then switched to Instagram and YouTube instead when Vine’s parent company Twitter refused to provide such.
Could TikTok eventually face a similar fate?
TikTok, of course, is much bigger than Vine ever was, and is still growing. But limited monetization opportunities could end up being a big challenge for the app – while it also continues to face scrutiny over its impact on youngsters, and the potential for it to be used as a surveillance tool by the Chinese Government.
In isolation, it may not seem like a major move, scaling back its eCommerce ambitions just slightly as it reassesses the best approach. But it’s a significant shift, which will slow down TikTok’s broader expansion. And it could end up hurting the app more than you, initially, would think.
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