A new social media app is sweeping through Gen Z — it’s called BeReal and it’s all about authenticity.
The Paris-headquartered startup was launched in 2020 by Alexis Barreyat, a former GoPro employee. And, seemingly out of nowhere, it scored a $30m funding round from American VC heavyweight Andreessen Horowitz in 2021.
But it wasn’t until this year that BeReal properly picked up steam — it has reportedly been downloaded more than 28m times since launch, and has 21.6m monthly active users.
As an avid social media user — of Instagram, to be exact — I was curious. How does BeReal work? Is it any fun? So when all my friends started talking about it, I decided to give it a try.
How does BeReal work?
BeReal is similar to Instagram in that you share a picture of yourself and can see your friends’ pictures — but that’s really where the similarities stop.
For starters, users are only allowed to post one photo a day, and the app dictatorially chooses when that post can take place. You also can’t see other people’s photos until you post your own.
The photos themselves are limited — you cannot edit them or add a filter — and the app automatically takes a picture from both the front and back camera, so you have a terrible selfie to match the view (mine, of course, are all stunning). You can also react and comment on other people’s pictures, but the feed is generally kept super simple.
My experience posting on BeReal
I have to come clean — I first downloaded BeReal to write about it back in June, but deleted it because I found it boring. But then my editor said “no, you still have to write about it”, so here I am.
The main reason I deleted the app was this: I, like many people, work at a desk all day. So I, like many people, do not have many memorable moments between the hours of 9am and 6pm. In my first week, almost all of the BeReal photo moments were during those hours.
I know this is the point — to show real life, and not a picture of a beach in Miami with a shitty filter over it — but honestly, how many pictures of my desk do you really want to see?
I could have posted a photo later, but users who post late are pariahs. They get marked with a scarlet letter — a passive-aggressive note attached to the image saying “[very-witty-and-funny-username] posted X hours late”.
This feature is presumably to stop you from jumping on a plane to Miami to get that beach shot. But I don’t need that kind of judgment in my life. I posted a photo, letting me look at my friends’ (no offence) boring pictures. Nice. Then I scrolled the “Discovery” feed, which enables you to see random users’ public posts.
So what did I think?
First, the positives: BeReal is very non-addictive.
Like many of my favourite apps and games — I personally think Goodreads is the best app, despite its terrible UI and the fact that it doesn’t work half the time, and is owned by Bezos — it really doesn’t suck up my time. The New York Times’ Wordle game, which can only be played once a day, is another example. The time I spend with BeReal is purposeful and brief, just how I like it.
I also really like how every single one of my friends on the app is someone I actually know. With Instagram, for example, I have no idea who most of the people on my feed are, or why I followed them in the first place. With BeReal, it seems almost impossible for there to be any sort of “influencing”, so I’m not constantly being hit with genetically blessed women pitching me flat-tummy-tea ads.
If I’m deeply and truly honest with myself, I don’t want to see something mundane on social media
Yet I still can’t seem to muster as much enthusiasm for the app as others. “I like that it’s a simple way to check in with friends, see that everyone is going fine and, most of the time, having just as mundane a day as you are,” one friend tells me. “I like the idea of a filter-free perspective... It’s like being a fly on the wall for a second, and I feel like it brings me closer to [friends],” another says.
But this is why I don’t think BeReal and I are made for each other. If I’m deeply and truly honest with myself, I don’t want to see something mundane on social media — even if it is from my friends. Like many people, I’m trying to break up with apps in general, so the few I invite in have to be pretty entertaining.
The argument here is that BeReal could replace Instagram, but it’s not really happening — while BeReal has infiltrated the top 10 apps on the US app store — knocking Facebook out — Instagram still pulls in around 1bn monthly active users. And many BeReal users repost their BeReal images to Instagram anyway, so are we all just still feeding the same monster?
Let’s be real here — humans are gross. We like beautiful, trashy things. We like glitter and we like pictures of the beach. When met with the choice between a documentary about elks slowly roaming the Swedish woodlands or an episode of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I think you all know which one I’m choosing.
Wait, does this say more about me than BeReal? Probably.