Algorithmic giant wheel sails into the fog: Bytedance’s 100,000 employees are trapped in the data, facing a survival test in half a year

On the first day of joining ByteDance, R&D staff Liang Shuang felt an invisible pressure.

After browsing the documents for several hours, he was pulled into several program groups without warning. This is a complex communication across cities. Countless strange avatars popped up in the group, swiping the screen to report the progress of the project… When the work at hand came to an end, the clock had already pointed to 12 o’clock in the morning.

Since then, Liang Shuang’s 24 hours have been cut into pieces: Sitting in an online car-hailing car and video chatting with his girlfriend in a different place, and immediately connecting to a temporary team meeting when he gets home; , instantly enters the working state; even on statutory holidays, the beating information on Feishu can make him forget the festive atmosphere in a few seconds.

At 9:00 p.m., the ByteDance office building in Caohejing, Shanghai is still brightly lit, and it looks extraordinarily dazzling in the dark park. The hurried employees lower their heads and reply to the messages on their mobile phones. The revolving door of ByteDance seems to separate the two time and space.

“One year in the byte, three years in the world.” Many ByteDance employees expressed to Times Finance the company’s extraordinary operating speed.

A family member of a ByteDance employee found that since joining the company, the other party seems to have disappeared from the circle of friends. His Internet activity trajectory is centered on Feishu and Douyin. During working hours, the interval between reply messages is usually more than three hours , the two sides had to face the embarrassing situation of time and space dislocation for a long time. “I went to bed after he got off work, and I went to work early in the morning, and he was still resting.”

In the golden age of mobile Internet development, ByteDance has achieved the goal of other Internet giants for more than 20 years. Behind it is the uninterrupted physical and mental support of 100,000 employees. According to sources, ByteDance’s annual revenue in 2021 will be approximately US$58 billion, a year-on-year increase of 70%, equivalent to approximately RMB 367.8 billion.

During this process, ByteDance relied on algorithms to create a huge business empire. The rise of Toutiao subverted the underlying distribution logic of old portal websites. The explosive growth of Douyin harvested more than half of the country’s population, and some new businesses like Like an asteroid, it revolves around the bright star Douyin.

However, after getting used to the wealth impact brought by the algorithm, ByteDance has gradually been constrained by the technical school. On the one hand, its extreme belief in algorithms limits its breakthrough in diversified fields. On the other hand, the 100,000 The daily work of employees is disassembled into the ultimate assessment indicators, causing them to only see the data in front of them, but not the new continent in the distance.

This huge Internet ship that has been racing all the way has finally sailed into a fog, looking around in a daze to find the next direction.

Addiction code set by Zhang Yiming

During the 5 hours in the library, Mu Mu, a third-year student, looked at her mobile phone no less than 20 times. She frequently opens the software of a white note, stays in each short video for up to 30 seconds, and slides her fingertips to the next video quickly. Such repetitive actions usually last for more than 30 minutes.

“I use the screen for more than 12 hours a day, and half of it is spent on Douyin.” Mu Mu likes beauty and clothing videos. After watching a video, she often unconsciously collects and likes it. An entertainment space dedicated to her.

Mu Mu’s life is being permeated by Douyin. Her song list is dominated by Douyin Divine Comedy. Under the bombardment of repetitive videos, she bought a bunch of 9.9 yuan Yiwu small commodities, and even the course learning was transferred from the vertical APP. to Douyin.

Until the gap in reality dragged her out of the world of algorithms, Mu Mu discovered that friends with comparable high school grades succeeded in graduate school, but she was still at the crossroads of life and missed the critical period of rapid academic progress.

So, Mu Mu and the Douyin algorithm started a cat-and-mouse game. Mu Mu tried to delete Douyin many times, but always downloaded it again within 24 hours. The funny jokes and fresh outfit videos in Douyin called She returns to the world constructed by algorithms.

It was no accident that Mu Mu fell into the algorithmic vortex.

Back in the middle of 2016, Zhang Nan and his team moved into the second floor of the low-rise building in AVIC Plaza, and started a period of entrepreneurial time day and night. This is a team of more than ten people. Apart from Zhang Nan, the only leader is Ren Lifeng who left Baidu. Most of the other members are newcomers to the workplace.

Just two or three months later, a phenomenal app was born here: Douyin. From the beginning of 2017 to the summer of that year, Douyin’s DAU increased from 300,000 to 10 million, an increase of dozens of times in half a year.

Douyin was born from Zhang Yiming’s intuition for algorithms. In 2015, he noticed that short video content on Toutiao APP accounted for more than graphics and texts, reaching more than 60%. He believed that short videos can also be transformed by recommendation engines.

Different from the short-lived Xiaokaxiu and Miaopai, Douyin added the universal weapon of recommendation algorithm. At that time, most short video apps fell into a growth dilemma soon after they became popular due to the homogenization of content.

The popularity of Douyin is undoubtedly an algorithm-driven victory. At the same time, ByteDance has come under the spotlight of major Internet companies and has become a priority for first-class college graduates. Liang Shuang said frankly that he was attracted by the high salary of ByteDance. At that time, the business of the established big manufacturers tended to be stable, and ByteDance was still developing in a prosperous direction. “Byte gives 20% higher income than other big companies.”

The magic brought by the algorithm recommendation is still in effect. According to Jiguang Big Data, in the third quarter of 2022, the per capita daily duration of Douyin will reach 140 minutes, ranking first in the industry. Nearly 700 million people are sucked into the entertainment created by ByteDance every day. square.

Decision makers only trust the data

Even within ByteDance, Douyin is an absolute dominator.

In this huge App factory, not everyone’s projects can enter the center of the business empire, and most people revolve around projects that are on the verge of death.

Liang Shuang changed businesses three times during the three years of ByteDance, and only one business survived to the end. Most of the projects died quietly before they came out. “There are still hundreds of failed apps behind Douyin, Toutiao and TikTok, and some projects with an ROI (return on investment) lower than 0.8 can basically be declared eliminated.” Liang Shuang said.

Bytedance product Gang Lina had a short honeymoon period with the company, and the entire business line was valued by the project leader. After a meeting that affected the fate of the business, Lina felt the taste of being promoted to the cloud, and the resources she could touch expanded from the city where she was located to the whole country.

“Cross-departmental communication alignment has also become a lot easier, and other departments are willing to prioritize this project.” Until this honeymoon period was ended by another powerful force.

Inside ByteDance, which started out relying on algorithms, “data worship” is spreading. After Toutiao overtook on a corner today, ByteDance formed a relatively fixed monetization path: use algorithms and funds to feed traffic to new projects, make it a hit, generate scale effects, and then monetize the traffic.

Douyin user growth employees told Times Finance that when the company makes strategic decisions, it usually uses an algorithm model to calculate the output ratio of the project, and then uses data to verify whether the project should continue. Zhang Nan, the creator of Douyin, is also deeply influenced by algorithmic thinking. She once disclosed ByteDance’s methodology for talent selection, using NLP technology to extract information in a structured way and form labels one by one to complete the analysis of millions of resumes. iterate.

In the process of promoting the project, Lina was repeatedly reminded by the department leaders that the data should be preset before the implementation of the plan, and even how to use the data to continue to “paint cakes” and tell stories after the results did not meet expectations.

In the end, Lina still did not escape the fate of being identified by algorithms and data. “Projects that cannot be verified in two months need to be withdrawn immediately, and employees must quickly move on to the next project. Basically, they face a survival test every six months.” In Lina In my eyes, this APP factory is staging cruel fights every day. Employees grab territory without setting boundaries. The project owner (leader) who can fill up the data is promoted, raises salary, enjoys the results, and fails to lead the team many times. Come to the brink of life and death.

Two months after joining the company, Huang Wei caught up with the company’s heavy investment in the education track. Overnight, more than a dozen products went hand in hand, and the team quickly grew from dozens of people to tens of thousands at its peak. Uncertainty has become the background color of business development, and those projects that did not improve quickly fell away. For example, the trial period of GOGOKID, the first educational project of Byte, was only half a year. It was decided to start the project in October 2018, and it will start in March of the following year layoffs.

“It’s like a gust of wind blows, and some products will be kicked out if they don’t see much effect after a month of launch.” Huang Wei told Times Finance.

“The style of decision makers is not to believe in intuition, but only to believe in data, especially for projects driven by algorithms. Only through layers of verification can the effect of large-scale operation be achieved.” Zhou Hai, algorithm engineer of Toutiao, told Times Finance. “During the peak period of business development, the algorithm department has a great voice and can often determine the strategy and functions of the product, and the product and business departments rarely intervene.”

According to Zhou Hai, each experiment of the ByteDance algorithm engineer is divided into extremely detailed. In addition to the A/B test before the product goes online (referring to the comparative experiment of different strategies, and the optimal solution is selected according to the results), there is also Pay attention to multi-dimensional recommendation indicators. This series of actions is to tap the source of income and hidden value.

A little time off is a red flag

All the data-oriented byte beats accurately calculate the output value of each employee. Chen Bin feels like an outdated product that has been proven to be unable to create value for the company.

In the last week of February, Chen Bin was notified by the leader to go to the conference room for a meeting. The space of hundreds of square meters was crowded with people, including personnel and business leaders present, and there was a tense atmosphere in the air. After talking about the compensation, everyone began to hand in their badges and computers one after another. The whole process took no more than an hour. The speed of Byte layoffs is as efficient as recruiting.

In Chen Bin’s memory, ByteDance’s calculation of employees’ working hours is also included in a set of welfare mechanisms. In order to get a rental subsidy of 1,500 yuan from Bytedance, Chen Bin moved into an apartment less than a kilometer away from the company. Through the glass windows of the room, he could see the bright blue sign of the office building, which made it difficult for him to thoroughly Get out of the stressful state of work.

The moment he walked out of Byte’s office area, Chen Bin heaved a sigh of relief. He uninstalled Feishu immediately, feeling that the world had finally become quiet. In the past year, Chen Bin’s daily work was pushed away by thousands of Feishu messages.

As ByteDance bid farewell to the high-speed growth period, it is difficult to re-enact the war of grabbing talent in various business lines. Since it is in the company’s non-core business department, in the second half of last year, Chen Bin vaguely noticed that the scope of the project’s operability was gradually shrinking.

“In Byte, being idle for a while is a dangerous signal. It is impossible for the company to accept projects that only invest in and fail to achieve results. They must either adjust the direction or replace people. Only by chasing business output value every day can they feel safe.” Chen Bin Said to Times Finance.

Xiaotian in the operation position has also experienced a life fully dominated by the Byte management system. He received an urgent call from a project colleague at three or four in the morning, which has become a customary thing for Byte employees. Xiaotian tried to resist Feishu’s control and tested the limit of the team’s patience. After not replying to the message for more than 5 minutes, an urgent call popped up on the page, and he was finally forced to join a temporary meeting.

In Xiaotian’s view, being on time for the company’s countless meetings is like a curse that cannot be broken. Before going to bed every day, he would subconsciously check Feishu news, trying to recall all the details of the progress of the project, including whether requirements were missed and how to complete the set data.

“It seems that employees can freely choose whether to work overtime, but if you don’t participate in any meetings after get off work, you can easily be marginalized by the team and then become a member of the layoff.” Xiaotian told Times Finance, “A new employee was early I slept in and missed a meeting, and got badly approved the next day.”

Not only that, the work track of employees in the background will be recorded one by one, including the working hours of each time period and the number of meetings attended. “Most people are like workers on an advanced assembly line. As long as the upstream and downstream are running continuously, you can only follow along, and you are constantly being monitored and controlled by the company.”

The most dramatic scene happened on the night before Xiaotian got married. He was bombarded with multiple Feishu messages from 11:00 pm until 2:00 am. resignation” idea.

“When the wages were paid at the end of February, the atmosphere in the entire work area was not very good, and the assessment and bonuses of a group of people were affected.” A Byte employee confessed to Times Finance. Not long ago, the employees of the company received an internal letter at the same time. The words “the goal was not achieved” poked a group of people’s sensitive nerves.

He believes that the upward management mechanism makes each employee bear the burden of the company’s business growth, and the progress of the big goal can be fully reflected in the employee’s personal income.

Escaping the impenetrable data black box

After sitting on the bench for half a year in the marginal business, Liang Shuang decided to leave ByteDance, a talent filter.

With the continuous adjustment and change of business lines, the marginal benefits of crazy involution are getting lower and lower, but the red light of health has been repeatedly lit. In the latest physical examination, Liang Shuang had 11 abnormal indicators, and he had to stuff all kinds of health care products in the office drawer.

In fact, under the savage growth without boundaries, ByteDance’s triumphant business has also been backlashed by algorithms. The next explosive product is delayed, and the ceiling of Douyin’s growth has been mentioned many times by the outside world. ByteDance Had to break into the hinterland that others have cultivated for many years.

When confronting Taobao live broadcast, the Douyin algorithm once again took on the role of detonating topics and creating traffic. Every once in a while, the algorithm waves its magic wand and introduces a new top player. In 2020, Luo Yonghao will stand out in the Douyin live broadcast room; in 2021, Zhang Ting and various stars will become the new protagonists of the live broadcast room; in 2022, Dongfang Xuan and Xiao Yang will take over the baton of traffic.

“Douyin can show users the hottest topical characters in almost all directions. If you watch too much, it is easy to become a potential fan of the new top trend under the bombardment of information.” Mu Mu is well versed in the routine operation of the platform, and she constantly Provide interesting content, and on the other hand, send mainstream hot topics to users.

In the first month when Dong Yuhui became popular, Mu Mu opened the Douyin homepage, and the first thing that came into view was Dong Yuhui’s poetic depiction of the future. In addition, there were short videos explaining Dong Yuhui’s success.

However, the honeymoon period between Douyin and top anchors always comes to an abrupt end. Dongfangxuan became the first head anchor who wanted to escape the constraints of Douyin. The outside world speculates that it has something to do with the decline in Douyin’s live broadcast data. Yu Minhong wrote on his personal official account: “The bustling business model established on the basis of external platforms has a strong vulnerability. To lay a solid foundation for long-term development, we still have a long way to go.”

Yu Meng, the person in charge of a health tea brand, has seen the impermanence and uncertainty of algorithms. After entering Douyin e-commerce, the team discussed and launched popular products that had been verified by other e-commerce platforms, but the product sales suffered from Waterloo. “According to past experience, the best-selling products on Tmall will at least not fail to sell on other platforms. However, after testing the water on Douyin a few times, the sales volume is only a few thousand yuan a day.”

Later, Yumeng concluded a rule that products not selected by the Douyin algorithm are invalid promotions, and only when there are similar blockbusters on the market is the best time to enter the market. “There is a new tea drink that is very popular on Douyin. We have also developed a similar variety and invested the same promotion fee. It sold millions in the first week.”

In Yumeng’s view, Douyin’s algorithm magnifies the cruelty of industry competition several times. Every promotion is like a gamble. Success is only a small probability event, and more often it has to face fruitless results. Facing the black box of the algorithm, Yumeng chose to reduce the amount invested.

“On Douyin, even the top anchors have traffic anxiety, and Taobao Live has relatively little control over traffic, and the anchor’s personal IP will have a greater voice.” An observer of the live broadcast industry told Times Finance.

In the field of local life, ByteDance has not yet launched a strong offensive. Food delivery services still rely on third-party delivery teams and cannot pose an effective threat to competitors. Entering the local life sector is more like a pathfinding with the help of traffic.

Tang Xiang is an employee of a chain roast duck restaurant. His company has more than 40 branches in Beijing. He told Times Finance that the Douyin group buying delivery service has been launched in the store for about a month. At present, there are about a dozen orders per day, each order is around 100 yuan, and the sales volume is one-tenth of that of the Meituan platform.

“Douyin’s entertainment attributes are relatively strong. Placing orders by relying on video planting often prolongs the life cycle of the order, and users open Meituan mostly based on just-needed scenarios.” A Meituan employee is still optimistic about Douyin’s offensive. “The layout of Douyin in multiple regions is not complete, and the personnel investment in local promotion is far less than that of Meituan.”

The reality is that ByteDance’s talent structure is fluid, and they must adapt to ByteDance’s survival rules like a chameleon. However, this does not mean that all employees are highly compatible with the project. Once the heavy-weight local life business starts to run, ByteDance is bound to face a new chapter of staff expansion or staff cleaning.

“During the two years in Byte, I carried my computer on my back when I went shopping, so that I was shocked to find that the computer could actually be carried without me after I left.” A former employee said with emotion on social media.

Two months ago, Mu Mu moved Douyin out of the phone interface. She ushered in another important exam in her life. The period of the postgraduate entrance examination was long enough for her to have a complete rebirth. In the mutual aid group for quitting Douyin, there are more than 200 severe Douyin addicts. They have regained their sense of order in life through monitoring and checking in.

“The happiness in the Douyin world is only temporary, and I want to regain control over time.”

(The interviewees in this article are all pseudonyms.)

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