What is BeReal and why is TikTok, Instagram trying to copy it?

A two-year-old French photo-sharing app earns the highest form of flattery from Big Tech’s social media titans: imitation.

BeReal, which prompts users once a day to take and share a quick photo wherever they are, tops the app charts with a social media experience that prioritizes spontaneous connections over image-conscious conservation. The app uses your phone’s front and back cameras simultaneously, resulting in a message that overlays a candid selfie over an image of whatever is in front of you.

It is also a source of inspiration for imitators. This week, TikTok became the latest major platform to respond to the rise of BeReal, announcing a new feature called TikTok Now that will give users daily prompts to share impromptu photos or short videos, using the cameras. front and back of the phone. The move comes as Instagram confirmed it was working on a similar feature, called IG Candid Challenges, and weeks after Snapchat launched its own dual camera mode.

BeReal’s success reveals an appetite among social media users for more authentic and intimate forms of expression, and shows that Davids can still shake up an industry dominated by global Goliaths. At the same time, the rush of these Goliaths to copy basic functionality from an app that doesn’t even have a way to make money underscores the uphill battle that upstarts face just to survive.

“The incumbents’ fear is that this will become the next TikTok,” said Mark Shmulik, an analyst for Bernstein which covers internet platforms. “So they all rushed to launch their own version” in hopes of getting rid of a competitor before it went mainstream.

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Buzzing new social apps are not uncommon; many do not last. But BeReal’s rate of rise over the past few months puts it in good company.

Launched in January 2020 by French founder Alexis Barreyat, a former GoPro employee, BeReal didn’t take off immediately, racking up just 2 million downloads in its first two years, mostly among French users, according to the company. Apptopia analysis, which uses statistical models. to estimate the popularity of applications. This year, however, it exploded to some 56 million downloads, with the United States becoming its number one market. Its iOS app was downloaded around 11 million times in August alone, making it the most downloaded non-gaming app in the world that month, according to Apptopia estimates.

This “hockey stick” growth trajectory is on par with Snapchat in 2011 and Clubhouse in 2020, said Apptopia vice president Adam Blacker.

Instagram is famous for copying Snapchat’s Stories feature after Snap refused to sell to parent company Facebook, but Snapchat has continued to innovate and grow. By contrast, Clubhouse, the social audio app that caused a stir during the pandemic shutdowns, lost momentum as coronavirus restrictions eased and bigger rivals including Twitter rolled out similar features.

Like Snapchat before it, BeReal presents itself as a refreshing alternative to the big social media platforms, with their addictive feeds, polished content, and professional influencers.

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Users receive a notification on their phone once a day, at an unpredictable time chosen by the application, informing them that it is “Time to BeReal”. They then only have two minutes to take a photo, which will show the view from their phone’s front and back cameras. Late releases and revivals are allowed but frowned upon; Although the app doesn’t show popularity metrics such as friends or likes, it does show your friends how overdue your post was and how many times you reposted the photo.

The resulting photos are, compared to a typical Instagram feed, aggressively unremarkable. Many show neglected users cooking, driving, working at their computers, or just lying in bed looking at their phones. Reviewers called the app “boring”; its defenders say that is just the point.

“They certainly caught lightning in a bottle with an idea,” Bernstein analyst Shmulik said of BeReal. Now comes the hard part: continuing to grow amid fierce competition from much larger platforms, which can offer similar functionality to existing user bases that eclipse BeReal in terms of scale.

Most of BeReal’s features seem relatively easy to duplicate, Shmulik noted. So while its appeal lies primarily in its clever and fun product design, the app may struggle to hold off its bigger rivals.

TikTok Now almost feels like a BeReal clone, copying both the dual camera mode and the idea of ​​having everyone take a picture simultaneously every day. Instagram hasn’t launched Candid Challenges, but screenshots spotted by a developer suggest it will also work very similarly to BeReal. Snapchat, meanwhile, has embraced the dual camera idea, but not the daily prompt.

Thursday, the day TikTok announced TikTok Now, BeReal posted the “eyes” emoji on his Twitter account. Both TikTok and Instagram declined to comment for this story.

While BeReal’s default view only shows posts from your friends, a “Discover” tab lets you browse recent public BeReals from users around the world. Unlike TikTok’s “For You” page, whose vaunted personalization algorithm fills your feed with the videos most likely to hook you, BeReal makes no effort to surface popular or relevant posts. To travel it is to be reassured that people in Norway, Croatia and the Canary Islands lead daily lives just as mundane as yours.

BeReal declined to comment for this story. In a media backgrounder, the company says its philosophy is to “create a candid and fun place where people can share their lives with friends.” He adds, “We want an alternative to the addictive social networks fueling social comparison and portraying life in an effort to accumulate influence.”

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TikTok, which is owned by deep-pocketed Chinese parent company ByteDance, has grown in part by spending heavily on ads for its app on competing platforms including Instagram and Snapchat. BeReal has raised funds from major venture capital firms, but so far appears to be growing more by word of mouth, in part through an “ambassador” program aimed at fueling growth on college campuses.

In a sign of growing interest in BeReal, a popular Twitter account previously known as “Songs that go hard” was rebranded on September 8″Best BeReals“, tweeting funny or surprising BeReal messages from public accounts. In four days, the number of followers on the account more than doubled from 125,000 to 325,000, according to the account owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Friday, a fan asked singer Harry Styles to take his BeReal during his concert at Madison Square Garden. He complied, and videos and photos of the encounter went viral on other social platforms – but not on BeReal itself, which has no mechanism to amplify popular content.

There’s one aspect of BeReal that Big Tech can’t replicate: not being part of Big Tech (at least not yet). If people really use it as an antidote to TikTok addiction, Facebook impersonality, or Instagram’s performative pressure, it may last after all. Maybe he’ll even live long enough to see himself become one of the titular ones, scrambling to copy the next hot app that comes along.

Lance B. Holton