We know the drill: Snapchat adds Stories feature, Instagram captures it. TikTok becomes too popular, Instagram switches to short format videos. Now, here’s another one for the list. This week, Instagram quietly added a feature to its TikTok-clone Reels called Dual, which lets you record with the front and rear cameras at the same time. Visually, it looks extremely similar to BeReal, the vibrant two-year-old social app that’s currently # 1 in the App Store.
Founded in France by former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau, BeReal aims to be anti-Instagram. Every day at a different time, you get a notification telling you it’s “BeReal time” (a phrase that has become a meme in itself). From the moment the notification goes off, you have exactly two minutes to take a picture of whatever you are doing at the moment, and you have no choice but to use both the front and rear cameras. The idea is that this randomness will generate authenticity, but in practice it just means that we see a lot of photos of our friends on their laptops or watching Netflix.
Instagram Dual is a clear rip off from BeReal, but BeReal has also been criticized for copying Frontback, a short-lived app that boasted users like Jack Dorsey, Ashton Kutcher, and the Prime Minister of Belgium. As the name suggests, Frontback allows you to take photos simultaneously with the phone’s front and rear cameras. Twitter expressed interest in buying the app, but the company raised venture capital funds instead … and eventually shut down. Like so many social media startups, Frontback failed to hold user interest beyond its lightning-fast popularity.
BeReal is like Wordle
Instagram is clearly making fun of BeReal, not Frontback, but it seems that Instagram is missing the reason people like BeReal too. While the two-camera feature is fun, BeReal is perhaps more like Wordle than Instagram or Frontback (which other writers they also pointed out). BeReal is not so much about photos as it is about the daily ritual of sharing something with your friends. Sure, it’s not that important that a friend dined on pad thai last night, but it’s still fun to share a moment of the day with them. Even that friend probably doesn’t care if I took the Wordle in four or five tries today. But we’ve all gotten into the habit of sharing our Wordle scores with each other because it’s an easy and discreet way to keep in touch, even if we just respond with a thumbs-up.
“Wordle is such an easy way to check in,” Wordle creator Josh Wardle told TechCrunch earlier this year. “Sometimes you just post your result, sometimes you can respond to others, but this is a really comforting way to let others know that you are thinking of them. It is a shared experience ».
BeReal has been widely criticized for not actually being authentic. If you miss the two-minute daily window, there’s really no penalty for it, so it’s not that hard to wait until you’re at a good lunch, rather than at your messy desk, to share your slice of life. And when you use the app authentically, chances are you’re not doing anything that interesting. But BeReal isn’t really about the specter of authenticity.
The Wordle craze has shown that we have an appetite for non-addictive online social experiences. There is a Wordle a day, and after you complete it, you are done. And on BeReal, you and your friends are all limited to one post per day. Even if you check the feed two or three times to see if someone posted a new BeReal, it’s probably still less than what you’re opening Instagram or Twitter or TikTok. It is refreshing. You can’t really feel FOMO on BeReal … unless your friends post that they’re going out without you, an anxiety as old as MySpace.
BeReal’s rookie status against the Instagram identity crisis
BeReal may be at the top of the App Store charts now, but the app still has an uphill battle to become a mainstay of social media. For one thing, right now it’s pretty flawed – even if you see the daily push notification as soon as it goes off, you might not even be able to post in the two-minute window, as the app can take a long time to load when they’re there. so many users on it. Another concern is that, like on Snapchat, if you share your location on BeReal, you are essentially broadcasting where you live, as friends can see your location on a map. Also, it’s possible we get bored, just like we did with Frontback, but again, I keep doing Wordle every day.
Every few years, a new challenger appears to emerge to challenge Instagram’s dominance, but it’s hard to compete with an app that reportedly has over 2 billion monthly active users. According to Apptopia statistics, BeReal was downloaded 7.67 million times a year, accounting for 74.5% of its lifetime installations. With that, BeReal is overtaking Dispo, another venture capital treasure that is also positioning itself as an alternative to Instagram (even CEO Daniel Liss cast some shadow today to Instagram boss Adam Mosseri).
Dispo, originally co-founded by the now infamous YouTuber David Dobrik, aims to capture the feeling of using a disposable camera. You can take as many photos as you want, but you can’t see your photos until the next morning. That way, you can’t do that thing where you take 20 selfies before choosing the “best” one to post. BeReal has some similar features – if you take your photo, your friends can tell – but the basic concept of the apps is quite different, despite their shared goal of authenticity.
It was a bad week to be a Meta executive. Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has been betrayed for trying to defend recent Instagram tests that make him look like a knock-off TikTok. So while Meta reported disappointing quarterly financials last night, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recommended content will make up even more of our Instagram and Facebook feeds next year. Public sentiment seems to be that people miss an era of Instagram where we might actually see our friends’ posts instead of algorithmically recommended Reels by strangers. But that era of Instagram and user photo-perfect posts is how we ended up with apps like Dispo and BeReal that keep trying to produce a sense of authenticity.
It’s hard to say who will win here: the glitchy, somewhat boring BeReal, or the proven Instagram, an app we all hate and yet can’t help but use?
As fun as TikTok may be, people can only receive so many feeds of infinite, algorithmically generated content. It has always been difficult, bordering on the impossible, for a startup to tackle Instagram, but if there’s ever been a good time to take advantage of the growing anguish over the app, it’s now.