The BeReal photo-sharing app is the right kind of boredom

If we can say that social platforms had their good old days, it was when people still signed up to see if their friends were there and t...


If we can say that social platforms had their good old days, it was when people still signed up to see if their friends were there and to understand why – those early times when their potential was felt but not yet. describe. That’s happening now on BeReal, a new platform where people post photos for their friends, with some crucial twists.

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

Other platforms are experimenting with manipulative gamification. Be real is a game. Although its rules are simple – post, now — the message is mixed. Don’t be too hard on yourself, post anything, he suggests, the ticking of the clock. And then in a whisper: But don’t be a badass. (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 who make funny or boring faces while doing funny or boring activities. It’s good! Or at least not miserable, which is worth a lot these days.

Right now, BeReal looks more like a group activity than a full-fledged social platform, a low-stakes diversion that, despite its outright demands, doesn’t ask for much. It’s a randomly planned social break from your day but also from your other feeds, where scrolling and posting has drifted from leisure to work or worseas the Wall Street Journal reported last year in an article about Instagram’s impact on teenage mental health.

One of the founders of BeReal is a former GoPro employee, and he markets his experience as a return to brutality and authenticity, but, at least for this user, it may feel more wispy and nostalgic, like a re-creation of the experience of joining one of the mainstream social networks when they all still felt like toys. Listen, there’s my friends, it’s kind of fun, we’re doing this specific thing together. What could go wrong?

BeReal, which is based in Paris, was founded in 2020, and as of April this year, it had been installed around 7.41 million times, according to at Apptopia, an analytics company. The app has been covered in recent months in student newspapers, which have noted its aggressive use of paid campus ambassadors; in March, Bloomberg reported that the app was “all the rage in colleges”.

The company raised about $30 million in venture capital funding last year, according to Pitchbook, and a recent report by Initiated says the next round of funding should be much bigger.

Buzzing new apps pop up all the time. Part of the allure of using them is never knowing which one will stick. The possibility that an application will become something important makes it attractive; novelty and unpredictability take away the feeling that, Oh no, here we go again. The much higher likelihood of a given rig exploding or disappearing means you don’t have to worry too much about what you’re doing there and where it might take you. It’s the best of both worlds, and it doesn’t last long.

My fond memories of signing up for services that would eventually alter the course of history are strongly marked by desktop computers; I am, for the purposes of this conversation, old. But when it comes to social media, nostalgia hits fast and young.

“Posting to Instagram these days is such a process,” said Stanford undergraduate student Brenden Koo. His parents follow him on Snapchat, which he says has “climaxed”. He joined BeReal in December after hearing about it from a friend. He appreciates that it’s temporary, low effort and “situational”. It’s less of a replacement for something else than a social media extracurricular.

“Even the students find it a bit kitsch,” said Mr. Koo, 21.

Her classmate Oriana Riley, 19, agreed that the app required less of her than others. “I think the day-to-day aspect of BeReal makes it much healthier than using other social media,” Ms Riley said. “It seems less captivating than other social media.”

BeReal is absolutely not an anti-social media project – it’s a commercial social photo-sharing app trying to gain a critical mass of users in a widely familiar paradigm. 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 their own. But it’s a start-up, and one that’s raised money from some of the same companies that invested more than a decade ago in 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 is now offering is a new version of an experience that has been tainted or worn down elsewhere. But most social apps want to be the next big thing, not a tribute to the last. The comfy new app that Ms Riley describes as helping her feel “close to her friends” is her investors’ next hope for a big payday.

If Instagram or Snapchat informed all of their users on a daily basis that they had two minutes to post, that would be understood as desperate spam; if TikTok asked its users to share a video before seeing anything else posted that day, as BeReal does, it wouldn’t look like a way to build trust or intimacy, but rather to a breach in the service of growth hacking. Random check-ins are fun with friends; on a large scale, they are surveillance.

That’s not to say a bigger platform won’t emulate or try to buy BeReal if it continues to grow: Snapchat, Instagram and now Twitter have encouraged users to post less consciously with features like Close Friends and Twitter Circle. They also yearn for the good old days.

BeReal is blunt but makes its case well: if you spend enough time in spaces that require you to be interesting, you end up getting boring. Expecting to see non-exceptional posts from your friends makes users more generous with each other and with themselves. Photos of keyboards, sidewalks, pets and children, desks and walls and lots of screens, all accompanied by poorly framed faces, may not seem entirely new or enduring. But for now, for some, they feel relieved.


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

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