BeReal, the anti-Instagram, tops app rankings despite crashing issues

BeReal, a social media app dubbed the anti-Instagram, has grown in popularity in recent weeks despite numerous complaints that it crashes at a critical time.

The app, which requires everyone on the platform to take a photo within a two-minute window each day, often runs into problems when everyone tries to upload their spontaneous photos at the same time. Failure to upload your image within the time limit results in a “late” tag of public shame.

Far from deterring users, however, the app took the top spot in the US on Apple’s App Store for three days this week. It saw 1.7 million installs in the week of July 11, the biggest weekly gain ever, according to digital analytics platform Sensor Tower.

According to Arun Lakshmanan, associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management, it’s common, especially among social media companies, that when demand suddenly increases, the infrastructure is strained. “The faster an app is able to grow, the more popular and stable it is likely to become,” he said.

BeReal’s boom echoes the early success of Instagram and Twitter, when platform issues were common due to user overload. These apps have adapted and survived, but in a time when so many social media apps are vying for people’s attention, BeReal has yet to prove that it can be more than a passing fad.

The French app has been around since 2020, when it was founded by Alexis Barreyat and Romain Salzman. BeReal said it received $30 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and New Wave, with participation from DST Global and others. Insider reported that BeReal is raising $85 million in new capital, led by DST Global, which would value the company at $600 million.

After gaining popularity in France, the app started to take off among college-age users in the United States earlier this year. Its appeal, according to many users, is its intentional opposition to the ultra-curated aesthetic of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms.

On BeReal, people only post once a day, prompted by a push notification telling them it’s BeReal time, framed by two yellow emoticons. With one click, the app takes two photos, one from the front and back cameras simultaneously.

But for many people, this is where things go wrong. They may have to close and restart the app multiple times, or if they are able to take a photo, the upload will take too long, resulting in the dreaded “overdue” tag. Users can’t see what their friends post until they post themselves, so the issues prevent them from using the app.

In the first two weeks of July, there was a 254% increase in the number of negative reviews for BeReal for performance and bugs, according to data intelligence platform Apptopia. In May, reviews citing “negative” or “mixed” performance and “bugs” accounted for 56.4% of total reviews. BeReal declined to comment.

Despite the technical frustrations, people keep coming back for their daily post. BeReal users stayed with the app at higher rates than the top 10 social apps, according to figures from data.ai, a consumer and market data platform. For the month of May, the percentage of users who are still with the application after 7 days is almost 50% at BeReal, compared to 37% for the other applications. After 30 days, these numbers stabilize at 35% and 34%.

One user, Brianna Fox, a 19-year-old University of Michigan student who uses the pronouns she/they, allegedly tries to take a photo but instead sees her face tinted purple and multiplied into a kaleidoscope-like grid, a normal iPhone camera sound effect does not have. When friends also had technical bugs, they joked that Fox passed it on to them. Yet Fox continues to post daily.

“The only reason I would say I keep using it is because it’s funny,” Fox said. “There are no filters like Instagram or Snapchat. It’s more candid, and I like it more.

Omer Cayir, a 22-year-old law student in London, also posts daily on BeReal. He started using it in April, and after a few weeks he saw issues such as the caption or the whole message being deleted. For about a month he didn’t get the notification that it was time to post. Cayir said it was frustrating, but he was happy to deal with it as he was still in the honeymoon phase with the app.

“There was a week or so where it felt like a bit of a chore,” he said, “but luckily the app started fixing itself in no time and started getting more exciting again. “

Not all users are in love. Ben Boehlert, a 22-year-old research assistant in Cambridge, Mass., said that half the time when he gets the “Time to BeReal” notification, he doesn’t care, and the other half, he tries and fails to post. Several days he does not see the notification because it is in the middle of the working day.

“It made it a bit unusable,” he said, “which is a shame because it’s cool.”

Fox, Cayir and Boehlert all got on the app after friends persuaded them to join. Lakshmanan said when people tell their friends about the app, it creates a network effect that can help the app take off. But the platform needs to invest in becoming more usable so that people’s behavior takes root, the professor said.

With the injection of capital and “a bit more investment” in product and infrastructure, the issues should be resolved in time, Lakshmanan said. “Now whether that will go the way of Facebook or Twitter is an open question.”

Lance B. Holton