YouTube’s TikTok clone, “Shorts,” is out of beta and should roll out to everyone in the US by next week. Shorts are 15- to 60-second videos that, on mobile, launch in a full-screen, vertical video interface that users can swipe between. Shorts are just an alternative interface for YouTube videos, and on the desktop site or on a channel page, Shorts appear as regular videos in the normal YouTube interface.
A big draw for TikTok is the video editor, which comes with all sorts of effects, music, filters, and variable playback speeds. YouTube’s Shorts editor doesn’t have nearly as many features as Tiktok, but Google says that “over the next year, we’ll be releasing a ton of new filters and effects so you can get the vibe you want.”
Even if you don’t want to watch Shorts, the most noticeable change from this rollout will be a new “Shorts” tab in the mobile app. The tab will live in the bottom app-wide tab bar. This will give users a dedicated space to explore all the TikTok-type content people have been creating, and it provides a blazingly bright app-wide advertisement for the new feature. The bottom tab bar is premium real estate in the YouTube app—it’s present on nearly every screen of the app, and it elevates Shorts to the same importance level as “Subscriptions,” “Library,” and the home page. Previously, Shorts only appeared in an easily ignorable horizontal carousel on the home screen. Shorts will be taking the spot of the “Explore” tab, which shows trending videos. The Explore page has been demoted to the home page.
YouTube is the world’s biggest video site, and its go-to strategy for fighting any possible challengers is to clone them. Google tried going after Twitch with YouTube Gaming, and it cloned Snapchat Stories with “YouTube Stories,”—seven-day auto-expiring videos. This strategy has never been super successful (YouTube Gaming ended up closing down the standalone app), but cloning TikTok makes a bit more sense given that the app’s Chinese ownership makes it unpalatable to certain governments.
TikTok is banned in India, so with no competition, YouTube Shorts has taken off in the country, with YouTube announcing “more than 3.5 billion daily views” of Shorts there. Google almost had a similar situation in the US, back when the Trump administration was threatening to ban the app. With the transition to the Biden administration, though, those plans fell through, and the current administration has signaled it isn’t interested in banning TikTok.