We know about drill: Snapchat adds Stories feature, Instagram catches it. TikTok becomes too popular, Instagram turns to short format video. Now, here’s another one for the list. This week, Instagram quietly added a feature to its TikTok clone wheels called Dual, which lets you record with both the front and back 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 employees Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau, BeReal markets itself as the anti-Instagram. At a different time each day, you’ll receive a notification telling you it’s “time to BeReal” (a phrase that’s become a meme in its own right). From the time the alert goes off, you have exactly two minutes to take a picture of whatever you’re doing at that moment, and you have no choice but to use both the front and back cameras. The idea is that this randomness will generate authenticity, but in practice it just means we see lots of pictures of our friends on their laptops or watching Netflix.
Instagram Dual is a clear rip-off of BeReal, but BeReal has also been criticized for copying Frontback, a short-lived app that boasted users such as Jack Dorsey, Ashton Kutcher and the Prime Minister of Belgium. As the name suggests, Frontback allows you to take pictures with the front and rear cameras of your phone at the same time. Twitter expressed interest in buying the app, but the company raised venture capital funding instead … and eventually folded. Like so many social media startups, Frontback failed to retain user interest beyond its flash-in-the-pan popularity.
BeReal is like Wordle
Instagram is clearly ripping off BeReal, not Frontback, but it seems like Instagram is missing the point as to why people even like BeReal. While the dual-camera feature is fun, BeReal is perhaps more like Wordle than it is like Instagram or Frontback (which other authors have also pointed out). BeReal isn’t so much about the photos as it is about the daily ritual of sharing something with your friends. Sure, it’s not that important that a friend had pad thai for dinner last night, but it’s fun to share a moment of the day with them nonetheless. That friend probably doesn’t care if I got Wordle in four or five tries today. But we’ve all gotten into the habit of sharing our Wordle results with each other because it’s an easy, discreet way to stay in touch, even if we just respond with a thumbs-up reaction.
“Wordle is just 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 other people’s, but it’s this really comforting way to let other people know you’re thinking of them. It is a shared experience.”
BeReal has been widely criticized for not being authentic. If you miss the daily two-minute window, there’s really no penalty for it, so it’s not that hard to just wait until you’re at a nice lunch, instead of your messy desk, to share your life . And when you’re using the app authentically, chances are you’re probably not doing anything that interesting. But BeReal isn’t really about the authenticity spectrum.
The Wordle craze proved that we have an appetite for online social experiences that are inherently non-addictive. There is one Wordle per day and after you complete it, you are done. And on BeReal, you and your friends are all limited to one post a day. Even if you check your feed two or three times to see if someone has posted a new BeReal, it’s still probably less than opening Instagram or Twitter or TikTok. It’s refreshing. You really can’t feel FOMO on BeReal…unless your friends post that they’re hanging out without you, an anxiety as old as MySpace.
BeReal’s rookie status versus Instagram’s identity crisis
BeReal may be topping the App Store charts now, but the app still has a fight to become a social media mainstay. First, it’s pretty buggy right now – even if you see the daily push notification as soon as it goes out, you might not even be able to post in the two-minute window, as it can take a long time for the 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 essentially broadcasting where you live, since friends can see your location on a map. Plus, it’s possible we could get sick 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 reportedly has over 2 billion monthly active users. According to statistics from Apptopia, BeReal has been downloaded 7.67 million times year to date, representing 74.5% of lifetime installs. With that, BeReal pulls ahead of Dispo, another venture capital darling that also positions itself as an alternative to Instagram (CEO Daniel Liss even cast some shade with Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri today).
Originally co-founded by now infamous YouTuber David Dobrik, Dispo 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 where you take 20 selfies before choosing the “best” one to post. BeReal has somewhat similar functionality – if you retake the photo, your friends can tell – but the basic concept of the apps is quite different, despite their shared goal of authenticity.
It’s been a bad week being a Meta leader. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri got slammed for trying to defend recent tests on Instagram that make it feel like a knock-off TikTok. When Meta reported disappointing quarterly results last night, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that recommended content will make up even more of our Instagram and Facebook feeds next year. The public sentiment seems to be that people miss an era of Instagram when we could actually see our friends’ posts instead of algorithmically recommended reels from strangers. But that era of Instagram and users’ picture-perfect posts is how we ended up with apps like Dispo and BeReal that continue to try to create a sense of authenticity.
It’s hard to say who wins here: the glitchy, slightly boring BeReal, or the tried-and-true Instagram, an app we all hate and yet can’t help but use?
As fun as TikTok can be, people can only take so many endless, algorithmically generated content feeds. It’s always been tough to the point of impossible for a startup to take on Instagram, but if there was ever a good time to capitalize on the growing angst about the app, it’s now.