The biggest names in social media are vying for dominance over the newest entrant.
The social media kings of Big Tech are showing the highest kind of flattery to a two-year-old French photo-sharing app: mimicry.
BeReal, an app that reminds users to take and share a brief photo from wherever they are once each day, is dominating the app store with a social networking experience that puts impromptu encounters ahead of image-conscious curation. The software concurrently utilizes the front and back cameras on your phone to produce a post that blends a candid selfie with whatever is in front of you.
It’s also inspiring imitators. TikTok, the latest major platform to respond to BeReal’s surge, announced a new feature called TikTok Now this week, which will provide users with daily prompts to share impromptu photos or short videos using the phone’s front and rear cameras. Instagram has confirmed it is working on a similar feature called IG Candid Challenges, and Snapchat has debuted its own dual-camera mode.
BeReal’s success demonstrates a desire among social media users for more authentic, intimate forms of expression, and it demonstrates that Davids can still disrupt a sector dominated by global Goliaths. At the same time, those Goliaths’ scramble to copy core features of an app that doesn’t even have a way to make money yet highlights the uphill battle that upstarts face just to survive..
“The incumbents’ fear is that this will become the next TikTok,” said Mark Shmulik, a Bernstein analyst who focuses on internet platforms. “So they’ve all scrambled to launch their own version” in the hopes of catching a competitor before it becomes popular.
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Buzzy new social apps are common, but many fail. However, the rate at which BeReal has risen in recent months places it in exclusive company.
BeReal, which was founded in January 2020 by former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat, did not take off immediately, with only 2 million downloads in its first two years, mostly among French users, according to the analytics firm Apptopia, which uses statistical models to estimate app popularity. This year, however, it has surpassed 56 million downloads, with the United States becoming its most important market. According to Apptopia, its iOS app was downloaded an estimated 11 million times in August alone, making it the most-downloaded nongaming app in the world for that month.
According to Apptopia Vice President Adam Blacker, the “hockey-stick” growth trajectory is comparable to Snapchat in 2011 and Clubhouse in 2020.
After Snap refused to sell to parent company Facebook, Instagram famously copied Snapchat’s signature Stories feature, but Snapchat continued to innovate and grow. Clubhouse, the social audio app that became a sensation during pandemic lockdowns, on the other hand, lost steam as coronavirus restrictions eased and larger rivals such as Twitter rolled out similar features.
With its addictive feeds, polished content, and professional influencers, BeReal, like Snapchat before it, presents itself as a refreshing alternative to the big social media platforms.
Snapchat is still popular among teenagers. However, its business is struggling to mature.
Users receive a notification on their phones once per day, at an unpredictability determined by the app, informing them that it is “Time to BeReal.” They then have two minutes to take a photo that shows the view from both their phone’s front and rear cameras. While the app does not display popularity metrics such as friends or likes, it does show your friends how late your post was and how many times you retook the shot..
When compared to a typical Instagram feed, the photos that result are aggressively mundane. Many depict unkempt users cooking, driving, working on computers, or simply lying in bed staring at their phones. Critics have called the app “boring,” but supporters argue that’s exactly the point.
“They’ve certainly caught lightning in a bottle with an idea,” said Shmulik, a Bernstein analyst. Now comes the difficult part: maintaining growth in the face of fierce competition from far larger platforms that can offer comparable features to existing user bases that dwarf BeReal in size.
Shmulik observed that the majority of BeReal’s features appear to be relatively simple to replicate. If the app’s appeal is primarily based on its clever and fun product design, it may struggle to compete with larger rivals.
TikTok Now appears to be a near-clone of BeReal, emulating both the dual-camera mode and the idea of prompting everyone to take a selfie at the same time every day. Candid Challenges has not yet been released by Instagram, but screenshots discovered by a developer indicate that it will function similarly to BeReal. Meanwhile, Snapchat adopted the dual-camera concept but not the daily prompt.
BeReal posted the “eyes” emoji on its Twitter account on Thursday, the day TikTok announced TikTok Now. Both TikTok and Instagram declined to comment for this article.
While BeReal’s default view only displays posts from your friends, a “Discovery” tab allows you to browse the most recent public BeReals from users all over the world. Unlike TikTok’s “For You” page, which fills your feed with the videos most likely to keep you hooked, BeReal makes no attempt to surface popular or relevant posts. Scrolling through it reassures you that people in Norway, Croatia, and the Canary Islands live ordinary lives just like yours.
BeReal has declined to comment for this article. According to a media fact sheet, the company’s philosophy is “to create a candid and fun place for people to share their lives with friends.” “We want an alternative to addictive social networks that fuel social comparison and portray life with the goal of amassing influence,” it continues.
BeReal, a social media app, promises authenticity. That’s not easy with food.
TikTok, which is owned by the deep-pocketed Chinese parent company ByteDance, has grown in part by heavily advertising its app on rival platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. BeReal has received funding from major venture capital firms, but it appears to be growing primarily through word-of-mouth, thanks in part to a “ambassador” program aimed at accelerating growth on college campuses.
A popular Twitter account previously known as “Songs that go hard” rebranded on Sept. 8 as “Best BeReals,” tweeting amusing or surprising BeReal posts from public accounts, indicating the growing interest in BeReal. According to the account’s owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the account’s followers more than doubled in four days, from 125,000 to 325,000.
On Friday, a fan requested that singer Harry Styles take her BeReal to his show at Madison Square Garden. He agreed, and the encounter’s videos and photos went viral on other social platforms — but not on BeReal, which has no mechanism for amplifying popular content.
One aspect of BeReal that Big Tech cannot replicate is the absence of Big Tech (at least not yet). If people truly use it as an antidote to TikTok’s addictiveness, Facebook’s impersonality, or Instagram’s performative pressure, it may have staying power after all. Perhaps it will live long enough to become one of the incumbents, scrambling to replicate the next hot app that emerges.