Back in 2012 when ByteDance was founded by a then 29-year-old Zhang Yiming who saw mobile devices were key in how information would be consumed in the future, investors were skeptical that a news aggregator app would compete and be profitable against what already existed. Well, it did. ByteDance is currently valued at more than $75 billion and is recognized as an AI tech leader. Its success can be attributed in large part to the artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that deliver customized content feeds to its users.
ByteDance’s AI-Powered Products
The product ByteDance is most known for is Toutiao, literally translated as “headlines,” but often referred to as the “Buzzfeed with brains.” It is a cross between a search engine and social media platform that delivers personalized content to each of its 120 million daily active users thanks to the AI algorithms that power it. Rather than create its own content, Toutiao offers a continuous stream of content from other online resources.
The company strategically expanded to include mobile video and other apps to extend its influence beyond Toutiao. TikTok, known as Douyin in China, is a platform that allows users to create and share 15-second videos and is designed for the “new generation of creators.” In August 2018, ByteDance also merged the musical.ly app into TikTok. Also under the ByteDance video-product umbrella are Zigua Video, one of China’s most popular video platforms for professional and individual video creators, and Vigo Video, called Huoshan in China, that provides a platform for people to share stories and showcase their talent along with easy-to-use video editing tools and special effects. News Republic, TopBuzz and BuzzVideo are other ByteDance products that provide users with platforms to discover, enjoy and share content.
Powered by AI and Machine Learning
Whether it’s BuzzVideo or Toutiao, all of ByteDance’s products use artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver content that users want. The company’s intelligent machines use computer vision and natural language processing technology to understand and analyze written content, images and videos. Then, based upon what the machines know about each user, they deliver the content it believes each user would want. As a user interacts with the content by taps, swipes, time spent with each article, comments and more, large-scale machine learning and deep learning algorithms continue to learn about a user’s preferences to refine its content delivery for the future. The end result is a high-quality content feed based upon each user’s preferences and interests. As more content is accumulated by the system, the better the algorithms get to enhance the content experience.
Since the underlying technology that powers ByteDance’s systems isn’t limited by linguistic or cultural barriers, the company has expanded beyond China. Currently, its global footprint includes China, Japan, South Korea, India, Europe, Brazil, North America and Southeast Asia.
AI Innovation Lab
ByteDance has received accolades for being a top AI innovator from CBInsight who recognized the company on its 2018 AI 100 List as well as from Fast Company, who placed it on its most innovative companies list. In 2016, it founded its AI Lab, a research division led by Wei-Ying Ma, formerly of Microsoft Research Asia. The Lab’s primary focus has been on developing innovative technologies to enhance ByteDance’s content platforms. Just this year, ByteDance and U.S. chipmaker Intel announced their collaboration for another AI innovation lab to develop AI applications. Intel’s software and hardware expertise will complement ByteDance’s data processing capabilities and help provide for its massive computing and storage needs.
Dedicated to Staying the Leader
While not always recognized outside of China, ByteDance is committed to staying a leader in AI innovation not only in China but ultimately in the world. The company continues to invest and acquire other global content providers. It plans to integrate its AI expertise into these new acquisitions to make them even more valuable to end-users. It also recruits tech leadersaway from its competitors with unbelievable salaries—in some cases raises of 50 percent. Despite competition from China’s three tech giants (Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent) and some challenges with the Chinese government that caused Toutiao to be shut down for noncompliance with the government’s news and social media regulations which include promotion of “the core values of socialism,” it plans to wield its incredible machine-learning platform for content to continue its dramatic growth.
Will it become the world’s No. 1 online content destination? If it succeeds in infiltrating the West, it’s got a pretty good shot.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.