This was a difficult blog to write .
As some of you who follow me on twitter know, I am a fan of short form videos. Recently I decided to give short video apps popular in India a try. I tried Roposo , MX takatak, Moj, and Chingari.
After a few initial hiccups I was able to use all platforms.
I am bullish about the bharat / India story and believe we are primed for India first innovations
My plan was simple:
Upload the same video on all platforms and get a sense of onboarding process, the speed, community, India specific features etc. I did not expect any major traffic. I also set my language as Hindi because I wanted to experience the whole deal.
The video I used was me reciting Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s punjabi poetry . It had no music, was not following any trends, and was in punjabi. I had low expectations
I uploaded my video on all and waited. Every short video platform would typically show your video to some users and based on their interaction it might decide to show it to more people. Since the user base IMO is fairly similar across all apps, I was not surprised to see more or less same response on all. A few 100 views, and a few likes on all platforms except chingari. On Chingari I had 10,000+ views and 100s of likes, curiously 0 comments.
After the initial euphoria died down(hey maybe I went viral), 0 comments started to bother me. How are these views counted? how are these likes assigned?.
How views are counted is supercritical and can make or break a platform. It can cause real damage. Remember when facebook was overcounting views? It was a big scandal
To test my hypothesis that these views were not really earned by me, I uploaded a completely blank video. To my utter surprise, it followed the same trajectory. Similar number of likes and views after almost the same time.
I tried uploading more blank or nonsensical videos, just to see if somehow some video deviated from the pattern, but failed to find any. I literally had a video with a 5 second black screen. I found no way to not get views and likes.
To my annoyance, my empty videos had slight higher views and likes than my poetry. Am I net negative 🙂
Videos eventually settled at 250K views and ~17K likes. It was super uncanney. I also hit 1M views. Am I a genius influencer?
So I did an experiment. I created another account on a different phone and uploaded the similar video on both my primary account and the new account. Same title, no effects, no music, nothing and I took a screenshot every few hours for 2 days. I took a total of 8 readings and here are the results. The videos were literally a few second shots of my pillow and titled “bilkul kuch nahi” (Translation: absolutely nothing)
Just to make it clearer, lets plot the above values on a chart. The line chart was so close for both videos that it hid one of the lines, and I had to make a bar chart
Unfortunately I could not take readings at hourly basis, because work and life 🙂
Since views do seem to flatten around 250K, I am sure if I keep going it may not be such a straight line and there would be a decay.
I then plonked these values into a linear regression analyser (even though on a longer scale it may not be linear) and here are the results. It was not a perfect match, but was close.
Note: Chingari does not tell you exactly how many likes or views a video has, it rounds them off. Eg 2.5k instead of 2543 . This makes regression difficult
I was also curious to see how likes vs views were behaving. Looks like they were a perfect match
The formulae was
Likes on a video = 71.71084*Views in thousands + 3.34218
To see if this formula holds up, I looked at all the videos on my account and tried to predict the number of likes based on number of views. It was pretty close
Unless they change something, this seems like a replicable phenomenon. If you are a creator, I would like to know if you see the same numbers for dummy videos(Good videos would of course have engagement)
Why is this important
A lot of bharat users are using short videos as source of fame and may make a decision to pursue a career as an influencer based on traction they are getting.
They may also be using this to decide if they should spend more time to create or not. Knowing if their fame is real is an important question.
A sudden burst of views may also make people rate you better, as evident from this comment from playstore .
Views and engagement are also key metrics for any advertiser and media company. A very high number may encourage a company to invest heavily on that platform and ignore others. This happened in case of college humor which pivoted to facebook native because of insane engagement it was getting. The engagement numbers turned out to be overestimated
Now I am NOT exactly sure why is this happening . Is this a new user boost? Perhaps a quirk of their targeting algorithm, maybe there are some users who like everything? Is this a normal trajectory for every video that has no engagement?
There are potentially alternate explanations and I would love to hear them.
What I can say is that it seems reaching millions of views on chingari app at the moment is a child’s play . Just upload almost anything and it might grow as per the formulas that I presented before. Even my own channel with useless videos has 1M+ views in a few days.
Do apps boost new users?
In the startup and product management world we call it a First run experience, and considerable effort is spent to make that as pleasant as possible.
Some companies do end up doing something special for the new user. This may include a boost in views by showing it to more people, but I have not seen this level of boosting.
This is also assuming that the numbers are all real. Actual people saw the videos and liked it.
In case numbers are not real, it is unethical and there is no excuse.
This does not seem a case for a New user. On my first account, which had 1M views, I uploaded 9 blank videos yesterday night. ALL of them have similar views and likes and the progression is still happening as predicted. Unless there is a different definition of a new user, this phenomenon does not seem to be limited to a new user
Things I did not check
When does the graph flatten : I presume it starts in day 3
Is there a trend in follow count