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Dubsmash, no match for TikTok, dies quietly after a run at viral fame

Dubsmash, launched in 2014, may be remembered as an earlier and ultimately much less successful version of TikTok, the global short-form video phenomenon. After Dubsmash took off with teens and musicians alike in the mid-to-late 2010s, Reddit Inc. acquired the app in December 2020. Now, not much more than a year later, Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash after absorbing much of its functionality.

In the early years of Dubsmash, celebrities flocked to the app. In 2015, Rihanna teased the release of her single “Better Have My Money” by posting a preview on Dubsmash. Also that year, Selena Gomez and Jimmy Fallon played around with the app on the comedian’s show.

Dubsmash, which made it easy to lip-sync to music and audio clips, racked up hundreds of millions of downloads. It also once claimed that 25% of all Black teens in the U.S. were on its app. It was a hub for creators of color, said Gigi Harville, who manages more than a dozen creators as chief executive of the Paul Harville Group, a social media talent management company. “That was their outlet.” The app became a hotspot for street dancers posting their moves, she said. Those dances would later go viral on other apps. “It was a platform Black creators and Black dancers were able to have,” Harville said.

When Reddit acquired Dubsmash, the app was drawing more than 1 billion video views per month, and about 30% of users logged in daily to make videos. In the acquisition announcement, Reddit Chief Executive Officer Steve Huffman said the two platforms could “coexist and grow as we learn from each other.” Dubsmash head Suchit Dash added: “We want to continue our journey to bring best-in-class video products to our users, and now Reddit users.”

At the time, Harville had hoped Reddit would buoy Dubsmash, which was already facing fierce competition. It didn’t work out that way. “I was a little sad when they said it would be dead,” she said.

Against China-based ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok, Dubsmash was no match. Dubsmash saw 408,000 downloads in December 2019, a year before it was acquired by Reddit, according to the analytics firm — tiny compared with TikTok’s 4.5 million. In December, that figure had dropped to just 63,000 downloads for Dubsmash, compared with 4.6 million for TikTok.

This week, according to announcement on Reddit’s blog, Dubsmash will go dark entirely. It will no longer be available to download on Apple or Google’s app stores, and the app will stop working for existing users. “Combining forces has been a perfect match,” Huffman said in the post about Dubsmash’s demise. “Dubsmashers can continue connecting with each other at r/dubsmash.”

Michael Sayman, who worked on Instagram Stories at Facebook as Dubsmash took off, said that he had kept close tabs on the app during its rise. At the annual VidCon conference, Sayman said, “I remember seeing all the young teens, tweens, running around, and one of the products they were using was Dubsmash.” Now, he perused the app’s listing on the Apple App Store and saw a product that was a shell of its former self. “‘Great alternative to TikTok if you cosplay,’ That’s one of the top reviews with the most thumbs up,” Sayman said. “To see it be reduced to that type of framing, was there anything they could’ve done differently in the past to avoid this?”

Paris Simone, a 19-year-old TikTok creator, has fond memories of the app. “I was in high school and it was the app of the school,”

Simone said. When they had spare time, she and her friends would set up their phones in the corner of an empty room and learn dances off Dubsmash. She said she’s disappointed to watch the app shut down. Dubsmash gave her a place to watch other Black creators become successful, and helped her gain confidence in her dance skills.

“That was definitely the first place where people would go and dance and just have fun with friends,” Simone said. “It was the blueprint for a lot of apps now, and I feel like it’ll always live on.” Simone now has a more than 2 million followers on TikTok.

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