As The Clock Ticks On TikTok, Rivals Like Clapper Try To Make A Mark

As TikTok fights a new law requiring a divestiture from its Chinese owner, smaller rivals may be reaping some of the benefits.

One is Clapper, the short-video app launched in 2020, which saw a fourfold increase in downloads as Congress moved to pass the TikTok legislation and four two weeks afterward, according to its founder, Edison Chen. Clapper has been averaging about 200,000 new weekly downloads.

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President Joe Biden signed national security legislation on April 24 that requires that TikTok’s owner, China’s ByteDance, to divest its social media platform within a year or face a ban on app stores in the United States. TikTok, meanwhile, has filed suit to stop the new law, citing the First Amendment.

Clapper averages about 300,000 daily active users and 2 million monthly active users, a fraction of the audience for TikTok.

While Chen doesn’t see Clapper as a direct competitor, the company has made a pitch to users and creators amid the tumult in the short-form video. Among other things, the company noted that its main office is just outside of Dallas, and that they “store our user data in a US-based Cloud system.” User data “stays in our system, on lockdown: we never sell or share our creators’ information or share it with a third party.” Lawmakers had cited fears that the Beijing government could access user data as a rationale for passing the TikTok restrictions.

Clapper also distinguishes itself by appealing to an older audience — Gen X and Gen Y. The app, which has no ads, requires users to be 17 and older. It also includes livestreams and chat, among other features.

“TikTok is targeting more of the younger generation, especially below 25. I saw there’s a possibility of a more mature” user base, Chen said. “They also want to enjoy the short video format, but a majority of the social media platforms, they are targeting the younger generations.” The idea, he said, was to give a space “for people where their voice is being heard and valued and they are being protected.”

The community guidelines include a range of prohibited behavior, with the notice, “there is a reason why this is a mature app. Don’t act like a kid.” That includes harassment, bullying, identity-based attacks, racism, impersonation, or threats, advocation or provocation of violence. Clapper has been building its content moderation, including from AI.

Clapper also puts an emphasis on communities of interest, rather than on what is being liked or trending, on areas ranging from BikeLife to GhostHunting. One of the functions allows users to filter posts by location, not just on who they follow.

“Compared to TikTok, we are still in the very early stage, because they have a billion monthly active users,” Chen said. “So we are more like a virtual community targeting more for mature Gen X and Y.”

The challenge for Clapper and other short-video apps may be one of scale, as it has been for rivals to Twitter like Mastodon and Blue Sky.

Caitlin Chin-Rothman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that she believes that if TikTok were forced to exit the U.S. market or sold to a different owner, rivals could benefit “whether that is Meta or Snapchat or smaller ones like Clapper.”

That said, “none of these other apps are exact substitute for TikTok,” noting that for larger influencers, it is harder to switch to other apps if they have built up a massive TikTok user base. “It is really hard to migrate,” she said.

That could be why Clapper has sought what it sees as an older, underserved audience.

Clapper’s pitch to creators is with a monetization structure via membership programs and tips, rather than reach and virality.

Chen, a Chinese immigrant who moved to the United States in 2011 and completed his MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, said he raised startup funds from some angel investors in Dallas, and then $3 million raised from venture capital after the launch. He said that they have since reached break even.

Clapper takes a portion of a transaction when creators sell goods during live streams, along with a portion of subscriptions. Clapper collects 5% of live stream sales of goods and 15% from subscriptions and tips.

Chen said that it is far more lucrative for creators than on TikTok and other apps, noting that creators are able to monetize more quickly through the shared revenue model, “as opposed to other platforms that only allow them to monetize based on performance and view count.” TikTok creators have to amass 10,000 followers before they can start tapping into a fund that pays them for videos, based on number of views.

“We are more believers of a creator economy, which relies more on creators themselves to monetize their content and create valuable content, and then we incentivize them to keep doing that, and also they will receive a very good portion of the revenue,” Chen said. “Right now, it is very hard for them to monetize their content, and some creators may have over 1 million followers and lots of views [of their videos] but they cannot make money.”

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