BEIJING — A Chinese internet company that serves up homemade break-dancing videos, dishy news bites and goofy hashtag challenges has become one of the planet’s most richly valued start-ups, with a roughly $75 billion price tag. And it has big plans for storming phone screens across the rest of the globe, too.
北京——一家提供业余霹雳舞视频、八卦新闻报道和傻乎乎的标签挑战的中国互联网公司,已经成为这个星球上最有价值的初创公司之一,估值大约为750亿美元。它还制定了一个席卷全球其他地方的手机屏幕的宏大计划。
You may not have heard of the company, Bytedance. You may never have used any of its breezy, colorful apps. But your nearest teenager is probably already obsessed with Musical.ly, the video-sharing platform that Bytedance bought for around $1 billion last year and folded into its own video service, TikTok.
你可能没有听说过这个叫字节跳动的公司。你可能永远不会使用它那些轻松愉快、丰富多彩的手机应用。但是你身边的青少年可能已经在沉迷于Musical.ly了,这是去年字节跳动以10亿美元收购视频分享平台,并且将它融入了自己的视频服务TikTok。
“Frankly, it’s meaningless stuff,” said Dong Yaxin, 20, a college student in Beijing who says he is active every day on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. Bytedance says that more than half a billion people worldwide use Douyin or TikTok at least once a month.
“说白了,拍一些没有意义的东西。,”20岁的北京大学生董亚欣表示,他每天都在使用TikTok的中文版抖音。字节跳动表示,全球有超过5亿人每月至少使用抖音或TikTok一次。
Cute pet videos. Lip-syncing to pop ear worms. Glossy digital effects ...
可爱的宠物视频。对口型演唱流行入脑金曲。漂亮的数字特效……
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... and people who are very good at doing the robot.
……以及非常擅长跳机器舞的人。
“There isn’t such a strong sense of purpose on Douyin,” Mr. Dong said. “That’s actually what’s so good about it.”
“抖音的目的性没有那么强,”董亚欣说:“这个反而我觉得是一个很好的地方。”
But even for a purveyor of fluff, crossing the tech world’s most treacherous divide will not be carefree. There are two major internets right now: China’s and the rest of the world’s. Beijing’s tough rules on content and operations have long made China difficult, even impossible, terrain for American internet companies.
但即使对于肤浅娱乐的传播者来说,跨越科技界最危险的鸿沟也不会是无忧无虑的。现在世界上有两大互联网:中国互联网和世界其他地区的互联网。对于美国互联网公司来说,北京对内容和运营的严格规定长期以来令中国成为一个困难、甚至是不可能的地带。
Those rules have also largely penned in homegrown titans like Tencent, whose overseas expansion plans have been hamstrung by the unique demands of catering to China’s online population.
这些规则也在很大程度上制约了腾讯等本土巨头,其海外扩张计划因迎合中国网民的独特需求而受挫。
So far, Bytedance — which recently secured $3 billion in new funding from SoftBank and other heavyweight investors — has found a rare measure of success in both internets by doing things a little differently.
到目前为止,字节跳动最近从软银(SoftBank)和其他重量级投资者那里获得了30亿美元的新资金,它通过稍微有些不同的做法找到了在两个互联网取得成功的罕见方式。
For one, it is making no pretense to be bridging the two digital realms.
首先,它没有假装要弥合两个数字领域。
Users of Douyin are entirely walled off from users of TikTok and vice versa; the better to manage the material that people in China can see. Beijing’s tightening controls have made these decidedly un-fun times to be in the business of fun.
抖音的用户完全与TikTok的用户隔离,反之亦然;这样能更好地管理中国人能看到的素材。北京的紧缩控制措施使这些相当无趣的事情进入了这个靠玩乐挣钱的产业。
Video game companies, celebrity gossip bloggers and live-streaming stars have all been through the wringer recently as the government works harder to stamp out cultural content that it deems unhealthy or unwholesome. The crackdown has not spared Bytedance — the authorities ordered the company’s joke-sharing app offline in April this year.
视频游戏公司名人八卦博主和直播明星最近都在遭受磨难,因为政府更加努力地消灭它认为不健康的文化内容。打击行动也没有放过字节跳动——当局在今年4月下令,让该公司的笑话共享应用程序下线。
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The company has also crossed borders with relative ease by focusing on light, affirming fare, and on attracting young — very young — users. But the Chinese Communist Party is not alone in having discovered a sordid side to Bytedance’s platforms.
该公司还通过专注于轻松、积极的内容,以及吸引年轻——非常年轻——的用户,从而相对轻松地越过边界。然而,看到字节跳动平台肮脏一面的不只是中国共产党。
Both before the company bought Musical.ly and since, horrified parents and others have reported finding adolescent users showing off suggestive dance moves on the app, mouthing lyrics about rough sex and worse. Police in Britain have investigated reports of adults propositioning children through Musical.ly.
在该公司购买Musical.ly之前和之后,都有惊恐的父母和其他人报告,发现青少年用户在该应用程序上展示有性暗示的舞蹈动作,说出带有粗暴性行为和更糟糕内容的歌词。英国警方调查了成年人通过Musical.ly向儿童提出猥亵要求的报告。
Bytedance added new privacy settings and parental controls to TikTok in June. But if the company, which declined to comment for this article, cannot expand its ability to manage such issues at the same rapid clip at which it is drawing new users, its products could become the bane of many more parents and governments in many more countries.
字节跳动在6月份为TikTok添加了新的隐私设置和家长控制。但是,如果该公司无法扩大管理此类问题的能力——公司拒绝为本文发表评论——同时又在迅速吸引新用户,那么其产品可能会在更多国家成为家长和政府的麻烦。
Their children might not care.
孩子们可能不会在乎。
Kang Sae-eun, 14, an eighth grader in Seoul, loves watching other young South Koreans on TikTok. There’s the girl who makes crazy faces, and the excellent dancer. There’s the cool girl with short hair — real “girl crush” material, she said.
14岁的姜世恩(Kang Sae-eun,音)是首尔的一名八年级学生,她喜欢在TikTok上观看其他年轻的韩国人。有个很会做鬼脸的女孩,还有一个优秀的舞者。她说,有一个很酷的短发女孩——绝对是能“迷倒”女孩那种。
They are funny and uninhibited, Sae-eun said. And best of all, they are regular kids like her.
姜世恩说,她们很有趣,不受约束。最重要的是,她们是像她一样的普通孩子。
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“It is much harder for young people like elementary school students to become famous on the better-known platforms, like YouTube, Facebook or Instagram, all of which I also use,” she said.
“对于像小学生这样的年轻人来说,在YouTube、Facebook或Instagram这样的知名平台上成名更困难,所有这些我也都在使用,”她说。
Sae-eun said she didn’t realize that TikTok was made in China, which raises what might be the most interesting question about Bytedance: How did a company that is further democratizing self-expression come out of sternly undemocratic China in the first place?
姜世恩说,她并没有意识到TikTok是中国的,这引起了关于字节跳动的最有趣的问题:一个在推动自我表达民主化的公司,是如何从一个极度不民主的中国诞生的呢?
Bytedance, which was founded in 2012, did not set out to dominate the market for bite-size videos. For many years, the company’s best-known product was not Douyin but a news aggregator called Jinri Toutiao, which uses machine learning to figure out what users like, then feeds them more of it.
字节跳动成立于2012年,一开始并不是为了主导短视频市场。多年来,该公司最知名的产品不是抖音,而是一个名为今日头条的新闻聚合器,它使用机器学习来弄清楚用户喜欢什么,然后更多地提供它们。
In China, few media outlets command much loyalty among readers. That means an aggregator is a valuable and timesaving way to figure out what to read.
在中国,很少有媒体向读者要求很大的忠诚度。这意味着新闻聚合器是一种有价值且省时的方法,可以找出想阅读的内容。
After a while, though, Beijing realized that an app that gave people exactly what they wanted ended up giving them a lot of not-very-wholesome stuff.
不过,过了一段时间,北京意识到有一个应用程序给了人们他们想要的东西,最后却给了他们很多不那么健康的东西。
Last December, after China’s internet regulator accused Toutiao of spreading “pornographic” information, Bytedance halted updates to several sections of the app and removed or suspended hundreds of content creators. A few months later, Toutiao was temporarily removed from app stores for unspecified reasons. And Bytedance’s joke-sharing app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down entirely.
去年12月,在中国互联网监管机构指控今日头条传播“色情”信息之后,字节跳动暂停了该应用程序的几个部分的更新,并删除或暂停了数百个内容创建者。几个月后,由于不明原因,今日头条暂时从应用商店中删除。字节跳动的笑话共享应用程序内涵段子完全被关闭了。
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In a lengthy letter of apology, the company’s founder and chief executive, Zhang Yiming, vowed to increase the number of employees moderating content to 10,000 from 6,000.
在一封很长的道歉信中,该公司创始人兼首席执行官张一鸣发誓要将管理内容的员工人数从6000人增加到一万人。
“The product went astray, and content appeared that did not accord with core socialist values,” Mr. Zhang wrote.
“产品走错了路,出现了与社会主义核心价值观不符的内容,”张一鸣写道。
By then, Bytedance had another rising star in its stable.
但那时,字节跳动的马厩里又有了一颗冉冉升起的新星。
Douyin was not even Bytedance’s first video app when it was released in 2016. But in the somewhat arbitrary, mildly mysterious way in which these things happen, it became huge.
抖音在2016年发布时甚至不是字节跳动的第一个视频应用程序。但是,在这些事情发生的过程中,它以某种随机而又有些神秘的方式,开始变得庞大。
The app is engineered for swift, maximal addictiveness.
该应用程序专为快速而最大化的成瘾而设计。
Open Douyin or TikTok and you are plunged right into a video. Swipe up to get another, each refresh of the screen providing a dopamine jolt. The videos fill your phone display entirely, blocking the clock at the top and preventing you from seeing how many hours you have spent watching puppies and comedy skits and synchronized dancing.
打开抖音或TikTok,你就会直接进入一段视频。手指向上滑动就可以获得另一个,每次刷新屏幕,都是一阵多巴胺快感。这些视频完全填满了你的手机显示屏,挡住了顶部的时钟,让你无法看到自己花了多少小时观看小狗、喜剧小品和群舞。
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Satsuki Hatashita, a 20-year-old college student in western Japan, has been hooked for months. She now knows not to use the app before taking a shower. “I wouldn’t be able to shower for a long time, until I finally stopped watching TikTok,” she said.
日本西部20岁的大学生畑下五月(Satsuki Hatashita,音)已经连续数月迷恋这个应用。她现在才明白,洗澡之前不要使用这个应用。“我会有很长一段时间无法去洗澡,直到我终于停止看TikTok,”她说。
She, too, was surprised to learn that the app was Chinese.
她也惊讶地发现这个应用是中国的。
People like Ms. Hatashita have given Bytedance confidence in its march overseas. The company has opened offices in Japan, Brazil, India, the United States and beyond.
像畑下这样的人给了字节跳动向海外进发的信心。该公司已在日本、巴西、印度、美国及其他地区开设办事处。
Still, Chinese staff stationed in China oversee significant aspects of Bytedance’s international apps. They even produce some culturally specific content, such as push notifications suggesting videos to watch. The company is hiring speakers of more than a dozen languages, including Portuguese, Polish, Malay and Arabic, for positions in China, according to an online posting.
字节跳动国际应用的重要方面仍然由驻留在中国的中国员工负责。他们甚至会制作一些针对不同文化的内容,例如建议观看视频的推送通知。据在线发布的消息,该公司正在招聘十几种语言的使用者,包括葡萄牙语、波兰语、马来语和阿拉伯语。
An episode this year points to the importance, for Bytedance, of having people on the ground in at least one area: government relations.
今年的一件事让字节跳动明白,至少在政府关系这个领域,在当地有人办事是很重要的。
In July, the authorities in Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok for hosting what they called “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy.” The Indonesian government had contacted TikTok’s Singapore office to give a few days’ warning. But it didn’t receive a response until after the app was shut down, Rudiantara, Indonesia’s minister of information, said in an interview.
7月,印度尼西亚当局暂时屏蔽了TikTok,因为它提供他们所谓的“色情、不恰当的内容和亵渎行为”。印度尼西亚政府联系了TikTok的新加坡办事处,发出了几天的警告。但是,印度尼西亚信息部长鲁迪安塔拉(Rudiantara)在接受采访时表示,直到该应用被关闭后,政府才收到回复。
Bytedance’s recent hires suggest that it wants to avoid similar incidents. Instagram’s head of public policy for the Asia-Pacific region, Helena Lersch, recently resigned to become Bytedance’s director for global public policy. Facebook’s public policy leads in Indonesia and Japan recently left to join Bytedance, too.
字节跳动最近的招聘活动表示,它希望避免类似的事件。Instagram的亚太地区公共政策主管海伦娜·莱尔施(Helena Lersch)最近辞去职位,担任字节跳动的全球公共政策主管职务。最近,Facebook在印度尼西亚和日本的公共政策主管也加入了字节跳动。
Before Douyin took off, China’s internet didn’t have a reigning social platform dedicated to short, easy-to-make videos. In the rest of the world’s internet, where Instagram, Snapchat and others are already popular, TikTok faces stiff competition.
在抖音腾飞之前,中国的互联网并没有一个专注于简短、易于制作的视频并且独占鳌头的社交平台。在世界其他地方的互联网上,Instagram,Snapchat和其他类似平台已经很受欢迎,TikTok面临着激烈的竞争。
For Tao Ni, a 25-year-old newspaper reporter in eastern China, Tencent’s messaging app WeChat has already become more of a tool for work than a fun way to kill time. Weibo, a popular Twitter-like platform, can be wearying. But not Douyin, Ms. Tao said.
对于中国东部25岁的报纸记者陶倪来说,腾讯的消息应用程序微信已经成为一种工具,而不是一种消磨时间的有趣方式。微博是一个类似Twitter的流行平台,它可能会让人厌倦。但是陶倪说,抖音却绝对不会。
It’s because each video is so short, she said, that she can end up spending hours on what amounts to channel-surfing. “Anything longer than 15 seconds, and I might start to feel tired.”
那是因为每个视频都很短,她说,她最终可能花费几个小时浏览各个频道。“超过15秒的就可能会觉得疲劳。”