Is this the best social media app ever made?
An in-depth product review of the social app, BeReal.
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I've been playing around with the hot new social app, BeReal, and it might just be the best one ever made. But it's not perfect.
Let's dive in.
The premise of BeReal is that at a random time each day, everyone in your network is sent a notification to take and post a picture within the next two minutes.
It's such an elegant premise on multiple levels and I want to break down exactly why, but to recognize the immense impact of it, we have to do a short analysis of the current social media landscape.
The current incumbents are Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Of course there are others, but those are the big four. The "F.I.S.T." as I like to call it.
What are the major concerns we have with the big four?
Anxiety and depression.
Those are just three of the more obvious issues - there are probably many more. But we've heard all this before. Hell they even made a documentary about it.
And at the root of those issues is the ability for one to NOT BE REAL.
To execute against the perfect NOT REAL social media strategy with the perfect NOT REAL message to curate the perfect, NOT REAL online persona.
So we get fed lies. Lies about who others are. Lies about who we're supposed to be. And lies about what's true. It's simply not real.
Not gonna lie, the name is a bit on the nose, but it does exactly what it needs to.
Let's look at those three big issues that I listed earlier and explore how BeReal addresses each one.
Anxiety and Depression
From what I understand, the anxiety and depression from the F.I.S.T. largely stems from a feeling of not living up to societal expectations. The lives of other people seem to be more perfect than your own. But BeReal equalizing the playing field by making it difficult to curate a picture perfect life.
You can't post a picture other than at the appointed time which is randomized so it's incredibly difficult to plan for.
There are no filters, so it's as raw as it gets.
It's time-bound so once the notification hits, you only have a couple of minutes to stage the shot.
You can't *really* take a hundred shots because it shows the number of retakes you took so you’d be exposed.
Even if you do manage to pull off a perfectly executed shot of your perfect little life, your friend group is probably not gonna be happy because they're over here posting selfies of themselves in bed with a mud mask watching Netflix. The name of the game is “realness.”
There are two fields of thought around social manipulation within the F.I.S.T. One says we all live in an echo chamber of self-reinforcing ideology. The other says we’re all getting brainwashed by opposing idealogies. It probably is different depending on which platform you’re a part of - frankly, I don’t really care. But if the common idea is one of manipulation, BeReal takes a “hands off” approach by not offering a mechanism for discussion.
It's definitively image based in such a way that’s hard to plan for social commentary.
Technically you could drop a controversial comment on someone's post, but I feel like it just wouldn't be worth the effort when you’ve got the distribution of the F.I.S.T. apps at your disposal.
Addiction is probably the most common complaint of modern day social media. It’s just super easy to get stuck swiping along your “For You” page on TikTok. BeReal introduces some clever features that help fight against doom scrolling.
You're not allowed to see your friend's photos for the day unless you post, which encourages engagement. If you're not up for posting, you literally can't get stuck endlessly scrolling while you go number two on the loo.
Speaking of endlessly scrolling... you can't. You have one image from the friends that you follow and that's it. There's no tags to explore or any sort of “follow” feature (yet) or an endless feed to scroll through. When you're done, you're done.
Other Clever Things
In the spirit of being real, BeReal offers what they call "Realmojis" which are essentially a selfie that you can use in place of an emoji as a reaction to a friend's post.
Not only is this clever because it's a lightweight way to show a genuine reaction to a friend's post, it further reinforces the "realness" factor.
If that wasn't enough, they even released a homepage widget that showcases a rolling feed of the most recent Realmoji reactions to your posts from your friends.
Similar to the app DayOne, BeReal acts as a sort of daily journal in that it keeps your photos in a private "Memory" album that allows you to scroll back through and see all of your old posts
There's a real (even if limited) utility beyond the social aspect of the app which is to their benefit should the cool kids begin to leave the app.
"Why do social network effects reverse? There is some tipping point of popularity beyond which a restaurant, club, or social network can lose its cool. At that point, that product or service better have moved as far out as possible on the utility axis or the velocity of churn can cause a nose bleed."
—Mark Andreessen in the High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil
A lot of people want to build a journaling habit but struggle to stay consistent. BeReal can bridge that gap because it already encourages daily capture of your real life by combining the fun experience of swapping selfies with friends (want) with the less interesting but deeply desirable habit of capturing real life memories (need).
Unlock the Juicy Stuff
One of the most juicy tidbits of the app is the retake count. You can see exactly how many times someone attempted to get the perfect shot before landing on something they were willing to post.
As you can imagine, the lower the retake count, the more real appear.
BeReal knows this. So they piggy-backed off this voyeuristic feature with a clever little growth hack, requiring users to add 10 friends before they can see everyone else's retakes.
No more stalking without giving something up in return.
In order see your friends’ posts, you have to post yourself.
In order to see a friend's location, you have to turn location-sharing on for yourself.
The more real you are, the more realness you get to see.
The Big One
BeReal is a breath of fresh air. People crave that feeling of authenticity, knowing that the people they see online are also going through the struggles of real life.
You knew a "but" was coming, didn't you? Yes, unfortunately, there's a "but."
*deep breath in* But... let's not forget that the primary reason the F.I.S.T. apps blew up into the behemoths that they are today is because people love the glamour, the drama, and the intrigue.
Let me paint you a picture. You wake up at 5am and start hiking a 14'er in Colorado. Around noon you summit, eat a quick bite and take in the 360-degree views. You and your friends grab some goofy selfies along with some stunning landscape photography
You make it back home, exhausted from the day's adventures but feeling incredibly fulfilled. Then you hear a *ding* from your phone sitting next to you as you eat dinner. Time to BeReal. You snap an unflattering selfie and a generic shot of your spaghetti and now all of your friends think your day was just like theirs. Boring.
Are you beginning to see the issue? Because of the random times, there's no guarantee that you're going to capture the exciting moments of your life. In fact, unless your life is absolutely bonkers you'll be capturing the mundane moments more often than not.
I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I'm just saying it's not an exciting thing.
My worry is that BeReal, like the graveyard of other short-lived social media apps built on clever premises, will burn bright for a moment but eventually lose steam.
I'm rooting for them. But they're fighting an uphill battle against human nature. Their challenge will be to find a way to give the people what they want without compromising the soul of the BeReal experience.
As of this moment, I can't find a single way they make money. The app is free. There are no ads. There are no paid tiers. There are no in-app consumables. Nothing.
And despite what the ridiculously long list of unprofitable unicorns might tell you, a business must make money at some point.
Charging money for a social media app would probably lead to a quick death. Inserting ads in the feed cooouuuld work... but it feels not real.
But there might be something with paid tiers. Except not really a "tier" in the traditional sense. More like Tinder Gold before they added Tinder Plus and Platinum. Like a power-up.
People inherently want to smooth out their rough edges. So how does BeReal allow them to do so without sacrificing the "realness" that makes the app great?
Just spitballing here, but imagine being able to pay $3/mo for the ability to have a 5 minute window instead of 2, hide your retake count, post a short video, and throw on a skin-softening filter. Still real. Just with rounded corners.
To wrap this up, my overwhelming feeling is one of hope for the future of social media. Social media is a wonderful invention that keeps people connected in fun, entertaining ways. We've found it’s joys and its limits. It’s time to keep innovating and hopefully BeReal will continue to do just that.
Thanks for reading!
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