First it was Vine, then Yik Yak, then HQ Trivia: Mobile apps that shot up in downloads and took the digital world by storm. Almost just as suddenly, they all fell from public favor and off the top charts.
TikTok, the latest app to skyrocket in popularity, recently unseated Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the top free app in Apple's App Store. As of Nov. 6, the app ranked first among photo and video apps in daily iPhone downloads in the U.S., according to industry research firm App Annie, a global provider of mobile data and insights.
TikTok users create and post short videos, occasionally with artistic filters and always set to music. Videos can earn hundreds of thousands of likes, garner followers for the poster and land on public feeds. It's something like a mix of Vine, Snapchat and Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app that sold to TikTok's parent company last year and merged with TikTok this summer. It's the sort of gamified social app that hooks younger demographics, at least at first.
Gaming apps and social apps are the most likely to "come in very quickly and leave that kind of flash in the pan," Lexi Sydow, a markets insights manager at App Annie, told CNBC.
"Part of the appeal with a social networking app is that network effect, the more friends and family you get on the app itself, the more benefit you can derive from the app and that kind of increases that stickiness," Sydow said.
Lauren, a 29-year-old YouTuber who asked her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, spent hours on TikTok the first time she downloaded it. The app opens onto an endless feed of videos. Just swipe up and you're watching another, and another.
"The majority of what I saw was just people lip-syncing songs or comedy acts, cool editing cuts to beats of a song, animals being funny or kids just being their weird selves," she told CNBC. "Most made me laugh, some made me cringe and a couple made me question the platform. But I mean that's pretty much the internet to me in a nutshell anyway."
Lauren said she came across sexualized or dark videos on TikTok. She also witnessed some online harassment of posters, but said it accounted for a "tiny fraction" of the videos she saw. The app learns a user's preferences through the videos they "like" and customizes a personal feed.
Most users are quick to call the app addictive.