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

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A two-year-old French photo-sharing app is earning the highest form of adulation from Big Tech’s social media titans: copycat.

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

It also inspires 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 phone’s front and rear cameras. The move comes as Instagram has confirmed it is working on a similar feature, called IG Candidate Challengesand weeks after Snapchat introduced 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 struggle of those Goliaths to copy the core features of an app that doesn’t even have a way to make money still underscores the uphill battle upstarts face just to survive.

“The fear in the headlines is that this will become the next TikTok,” said Mark Shmulik, an analyst at Bernstein who covers internet platforms. “So everyone scrambled to release their own version” in hopes of avoiding a competitor before it goes mainstream.

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New and lively social apps are not uncommon; many don’t last. But the speed of BeReal’s rise in recent months puts it in select 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 analytics firm Apptopia, which uses models. statistics. to estimate the popularity of applications. This year, however, it shot up to some 56 million downloads, with the United States becoming its biggest market. Its iOS app was downloaded approximately 11 million times in August alone, making it the world’s most downloaded non-game app for that month, according to Apptopia’s calculations.

That growth trajectory of the “hockey stick” it’s on par with Snapchat in 2011 and Clubhouse in 2020, said Apptopia VP Adam Blacker.

Instagram copied Snapchat’s famous Stories feature after Snap refused to sell to parent company Facebook, but Snapchat continued to innovate and grow. By contrast, Clubhouse, the social audio app that became a sensation during the pandemic lockdowns, lost its momentum as coronavirus restrictions eased and larger rivals, including Twitter, rolled out similar features.

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

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Users receive a notification on their phones once a day, at an unpredictable time chosen by the app, informing them that it’s “Time to BeReal.” They then have just two minutes to take a photo, which will show the view from their phone’s front and rear cameras. Late posts and replays are allowed, but frowned upon; While the app doesn’t show popularity metrics like friends or likes, it does show your friends how late your post was and how many times you reposted the photo.

The resulting photos are, compared to a typical Instagram feed, aggressively mundane. Many show careless users cooking, driving, working on their computers, or just lying in bed looking at their phones. Critics have derided the app as “bored”; advocates say that’s it just the point.

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

Most of BeReal’s features seem relatively easy to duplicate, Shmulik noted. So if its appeal lies primarily in its smart and fun product design, the app may have a hard time holding its own against bigger rivals.

TikTok Now looks almost like a clone of BeReal, copying both the dual camera mode and the idea of ​​inviting everyone to take a photo simultaneously every day. Instagram hasn’t launched Heartfelt Challenges, but screenshots detected by a developer I suggest that it will also work very similar to BeReal. Meanwhile, Snapchat embraced the dual camera idea, but it is not the daily notice.

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

While BeReal’s default view shows only your friends’ posts, a “Discovery” tab allows you to browse recent public BeReals from users around the world. Unlike TikTok’s “For You” page, whose vaunted customization algorithm fills your feed with the videos that are likely to keep you hooked, BeReal makes no effort to display popular or relevant posts. To go through it is to be sure that the people of Norway, Croatia and the Canary Islands lead a daily life as ordinary as yours.

BeReal declined to comment for this story. In a media fact sheet, the company says its philosophy is “to create an honest and fun place for people to share their lives with friends.” He adds, “We want an alternative to addictive social media that fuels social comparison and portrays life with the aim of amazing influence.”

The BeReal social media app promises reality. With food, that’s not easy.

TikTok, owned by ByteDance, the deep-pocketed Chinese parent company, grew in part by spending heavily on ads for its app on rival platforms, including Instagram and Snapchat. bereal has Raised money from top venture capital firmsbut so far it seems to be growing more through word of mouth, thanks in part to a Ambassador Program intended to drive growth on college campuses.

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

On Friday, singer Harry Styles was asked by a fan to wear his BeReal during his concert at Madison Square Garden. He complied, and videos and photos of the meeting. went viral on other social platforms — although not on BeReal, which does not have a mechanism to amplify popular content.

There is one aspect of BeReal that Big Tech can’t replicate: not being part of Big Tech (at least not yet). If people really are using it as an antidote to TikTok addiction, Facebook impersonality, or Instagram performative pressure, it might have staying power after all. , struggling to copy the next popular app that comes along.


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