BeReal Photo-Sharing App is the Right Kind of Boring

If social platforms can be said to have had good old days, it was when people were still signing up to see if their friends were there, and to figure out why – those early moments when their potential was felt but not yet described. That’s what’s happening now on BeReal, a new platform where people post photos for their friends, along with a few crucial twists.

Once a day, at an unpredictable time, BeReal notifies its users that they have two minutes to post a pair of pictures, one from each phone camera, taken simultaneously. The only way to see what other people have posted that day is to share your own. You can post the two-minute window closes, but all your friends will be notified that you are late; You can retake your photo of the day, but your friends will know that, too. Your friends can respond to your posts with something called “RealMoji” – basically a selfie reaction, visible to all of your connections. All of the photos disappear the next day.

Other platforms experiment with manipulative gamification. BeReal is a game. Although its rules are simple – post, now – the message is mixed. Don’t be too hard on yourself, just post whatever, It suggests, clock ticking. And then in a whisper: But don’t be a try-hard. (BeReal did not respond to email or Twitter requests for comment.)

As a result, the typical BeReal feed features photos taken in class, at work, while driving or getting ready for bed. There are lots of people making funny or bored faces while doing fun or boring activities. It’s nice! Or at least not miserable, which is worth a lot these days.

Right now, BeReal feels more like a group activity than a full-fledged social platform, a low-stakes diversion that, despite its direct demands, doesn’t ask for much. It’s a randomly scheduled social break from your day but also from your other feeds, where scrolling and posting are drifted from leisure to labor or worse, as The Wall Street Journal reported last year in a story about the toll taken on Instagram for teenage mental health. General Chat Chat Lounge

One of BeReal’s founders is a former GoPro employee, and it markets its experience as a return to rawness and authenticity, but, at least to this user, it can feel more gauzy and nostalgic, like joining one of the reproductions of the experience. dominant social networks when they all still felt like toys. Look, there are my friends, this is sort of fun, we’re doing this specific thing together. What could go wrong?

BeReal, which is based in Paris, was founded in 2020, and by April of this year, it has been installed an estimated 7.41 million times, according to Apptopia, an analytics firm. The app has been covered over the past several months by student newspapers, which have noted its aggressive use of paid campus ambassadors; In March, Bloomberg reported that the app was “trending at colleges.”

The company raised about $ 30 million in venture funding last year, according to Pitchbook, and a recent report from Insider says the next round of funding is expected to be much larger.

Buzzy new apps pop up all the time. Part of the appeal of using them is never knowing which one will stick. The chance that an app might become something significant makes it enticing; novelty and unpredictability head off the feeling that, Oh no, here we go againGeneral Chat Chat Lounge The much higher likelihood that a given platform will explode or pivot out of existence gives you permission not to worry too much about what you are doing there and where it might lead. It’s the best of all worlds, and it doesn’t last long.

My tender example of signing up for services that would end up altering the course of history was heavily feature desktop computers; I am, for the purposes of this conversation, old. But when it comes to social networks, nostalgia strikes fast and young.

“Posting on Instagram these days, there’s such a process,” said Brenden Koo, an undergraduate at Stanford. His parents followed him on Snapchat, which he suggested was “reaching its peak.” He joined BeReal in December after hearing about it from a friend. He appreciates the fact that it is temporary, low effort and “situational.” It’s less of a replacement for anything than social media extracurricular.

“Even college students find it to be a little kitschy,” Mr. Koo, 21, said.

His classmate Oriana Riley, 19, agreed that the app should be less than hers. “I think the once-a-day aspect of BeReal makes it feel a lot healthier than other social media use,” Ms. Riley said. “It feels less entrapping than other social media does.”

BeReal is absolutely not an anti-social-media project – it is a commercial social photo-sharing app that is striving to gain a largely familiar paradigm within users of critical mass. Most apps expect users to generate revenue eventually, through advertising, commerce and other forms of engagement.

BeReal is currently ad-free, and its terms of use prohibit users from posting on their own. But it’s a start-up, and one that has raised funds from some of the same firms that invested more than a decade ago on Facebook and Instagram – another app that tapped into hazy nostalgia, only by giving users film-like photo filters instead. of taking them away.

What BeReal offers is a fresh version of an experience that has been tainted or worn out elsewhere. But most social apps want the next big thing, not a tribute to the last one. The cozy new app that Ms. Riley is helping her feel as “close to her friends” is her investors’ next hope for a big payday.

If Instagram or Snapchat notified all of their users daily that they had been posting for two minutes, it would be perceived as desperate spam; If TikTok demanded its users share a video before seeing anything else posted that day, as BeReal does, it doesn’t feel like foster trust or intimacy, but rather like a breach in service hacking growth. Randomly timed check-ins are fun between friends; At scale, they are surveillance.

That ‘s not to say a larger platform won’t mimic or try to buy BeReal if it continues to grow: Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter now have been encouraging users to post less self-consciously with features like Close Friends and Twitter Circle. They yearn for the good old days, too.

BeReal is blunt but makes its points well: If you spend enough time in the spaces that demand you to be interesting, you eventually become boring. Expecting to see unexceptional posts from your friends makes users more generous with each other, and with themselves. The photos of keyboards, sidewalks, pets and children, desks and walls and plenty of screens, all combined by poorly framed faces, may not feel completely new or sustainable. But for now, for some, they feel like a relief.

For Context is a column that explores the edges of digital culture.

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