We know the exercise: Snapchat adds the Stories feature, Instagram grabs it. TikTok is getting too popular, Instagram is pivoting to short video. 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 your front and back camera at the same time. Visually, it looks extremely similar to BeReal, the two-year-old buzzing social app that’s currently #1 in the App Store.
Founded in France by former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau, BeReal presents itself as an anti-Instagram. At a different time each day, you’ll receive a notification telling you that 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 what you’re doing at that moment, and you have no choice but to use both cameras front and rear. The idea is that this randomness will generate authenticity, but in practice it just means that we see lots of photos of our friends on their laptops or while watching Netflix.
Instagram Dual is a clear scam from BeReal, but BeReal has also come under fire 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 lets you take photos with your phone’s front and back camera at the same time. Twitter expressed interest in buying the app, but the company raised venture funding instead… and eventually shut down. Like so many social media startups, Frontback simply couldn’t hold user interest beyond its flash-in-the-pan popularity.
BeReal is like Wordle
Instagram is clearly mocking BeReal, not Frontback, but it seems like Instagram is missing the point why people even like BeReal. While the dual-camera feature is fun, BeReal may be more Wordle-like than Instagram or Frontback (which other writers have also pointed this out). BeReal is not so much about photos as it is about the daily ritual of sharing something with your friends. Of course, it’s not that important that a friend ate pad thai last night, but it’s still fun to share a moment of the day with him. That friend probably doesn’t care whether I got the Wordle in four or five tries today either. 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 stay in touch, even if we only respond with a thumbs-up.
“Wordle is such an easy way to register,” Josh Wardle, creator of Wordle, told TechCrunch earlier this year. “Sometimes you just post your result, sometimes you can respond to others, but it’s a really heartwarming way to let others know you’re thinking of them. It is a shared experience.
BeReal has been widely criticized for not being genuinely authentic. If you miss the daily two-minute window, there’s really no penalty for that, so it’s not that hard to wait until you’re at a nice lunch, rather than your messy desk, to share your slice of life. And when you’re using the app authentically, chances are you’re probably not doing anything interesting. But BeReal isn’t really about the spectrum of authenticity.
The Wordle craze has proven that we have an appetite for online social experiences that are inherently non-addictive. There’s one Wordle a day, and once you’ve completed it, you’re 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 has posted a new BeReal, it’s probably less than you open Instagram or Twitter or TikTok. It is refreshing. You really can’t feel the FOMO on BeReal…unless your friends post they’re hanging out without you, an anxiety as old as MySpace.
BeReal’s rookie status against Instagram’s identity crisis
BeReal may top the App Store charts, but the app is still struggling to become a social media mainstay. For one, it’s pretty glitchy right now – even if you see the daily push notification as soon as it comes out, you might not even be able to post within the two-minute window, because it can take a lot of time to app to load when so many users are on it. Another concern is that, like on Snapchat, if you share your location on BeReal, you’re basically broadcasting where you live, since your friends can see your location on a map. Also, we might get tired of it, just like we did with Frontback – but then again, I still do Wordle every day.
Every few years, it feels like a new challenger emerges to challenge Instagram’s dominance, but it’s hard to compete with an app that is said to have over 2 billion monthly active users. According to Apptopia statistics, BeReal has been downloaded 7.67 million times since the beginning of the year, which represents 74.5% of its lifetime installs. With this, BeReal is ahead of Dispo, another venture capital darling that is also positioning itself as an alternative to Instagram (CEO Daniel Liss even cast some shade at the head of Instagram Adam Mosseri today).
Dispo, originally co-founded by 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 won’t be able to see your photos until the next morning. That way you can’t do that thing where you take 20 selfies before choosing the “best” to post. BeReal has similar functionality – if you retake your photo, your friends can tell – but the core concept of the apps is quite different, despite their common goal of authenticity.
It’s been a bad week to be a Meta Executive. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri has come under fire for trying to defend recent Instagram tests that make it look like a counterfeit TikTok. Then, as Meta reported disappointing quarterly financial results last night, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recommended content will make up even more of our Instagram and Facebook feeds next year. The public sentiment seems to be that people are missing an era of Instagram where we could actually see our friends’ posts instead of the algorithmically recommended reels from strangers. But this era of Instagram and perfect user posts is how we ended up with apps like Dispo and BeReal still trying to create a sense of authenticity.
It’s hard to say who will win here: BeReal, a bit boring, or the tried-and-true Instagram, an app we all hate and can’t stop ourselves from using?
As fun as TikTok can be, people can only take unlimited streams of algorithmically generated content. It’s always been difficult for a startup to take on Instagram, but if there ever was a good time to capitalize on the growing app angst, it’s now.