BeReal is now in freefall

The once-dominant photo-sharing software BeReal has just been admitted to the social networks mortuary, which has been revealed by a number of innovation writers.

The app’s popularity skyrocketed, going from 1 million to 20 million users in only seven months. Its popularity may largely be attributed to its marketing as the polar opposite of Instagram, with an emphasis on friends’ “real” (read: mundane) lives. Between October 2022 and March 2023, its number of daily active users dropped by more than half, from 20 million to 6 million. Its impending demise makes us question not just how “authentic” a photo-sharing app can possibly be, but also if we want the legitimacy it provides.

BeReal, scheduled for release in 2020, would automatically prompt users to snap two photos every day: one with their device’s conventional camera to record their surroundings, and another with their selfie electronic camera, often to show off their face. photographs may be shared with your “buddies” as on many other social applications, but only users who post their own photographs can see the images of others, thereby cementing BeReal into your daily routine.

As a counterpoint to popular applications like Instagram, which has been dubbed “the emphasise reel of our networked lives,” this was anticipated. There, as communications expert Hannah Ditchfield explains, we have more time to “ideal” our self-presentations than we do in person. Using Instagram’s editing features, I can quickly slim down my thighs, brighten my teeth, and smooth out my frown lines. In contrast to the curating cultures of competing platforms, BeReal proudly offers its users a filter-free experience, giving them just two minutes to respond to its timely content. To what do you attribute the decline in popularity?

Possible overemphasis has been placed on the app’s “credibility” as a selling point. Credibility seeks to explain “the opposite of whatever is specified as pseudo-, sham-, make-believe-, makeshift-, mock-, potential-, phoney-, bogus-, semi-, near-, baloney-, artificial-,” as anthropologist Charles Lindholm puts it. BeReal gave people who were becoming bored of pretending to be real on high-curation platforms like Instagram and TikTok a partial solution. In the end, it amounted to yet another call for self-presentation; the difference being that, unlike on an app like Instagram, you had to appear to be honest once every day.

People may have grown weary of BeReal’s believable facade. It was designed to force its users to take a break: take the picture at the appointed time and feel bad about what you’ve shared, or take it later and tell the world that you (gasp!) like your online persona. BeReal was a mirror, or at least a front-facing camera, that encouraged us to evaluate how we come across to others. Perhaps, at heart, we were content with the status quo.

“Wanting the world to see you at your best isn’t an unusual feeling, nor is it completely new.” Images by Betsie Van Der Meer/Getty Images

The feeling of wanting others to see you at your best is neither strange nor unprecedented. Erving Goffman, a sociologist and social psychologist, reminded us in 1956 that part of human contact is being mindful and strategic about the “impressions” we make on others. He said that people try to control their social contacts so as to avoid being embarrassed, and that to this end, they rely on superficial characteristics like appearance and demeanour. If you haven’t left your house in three days, you probably shouldn’t tell your friends about it, either online or in person. However, the enjoyment we derive from our interactions with social apps is often glossed over in favour of the potential harms these apps may cause.

A business’s interest in an app will be gauged by its continued performance and market share. Apps that don’t reach or maintain widespread popularity shouldn’t be immediately written off as failures. As they fight for a larger slice of the market, rival applications are beginning to blend together until they all feel the same. It’s good to keep an eye out for new platforms and methods of communication; doing so fosters the development of diverse perspectives on social media and may provide a chance to challenge the dominance of a few tech giants.

If Goffman were still around today, he’d probably tell us that it’s not in our nature to have all of our audiences (friends, family, colleagues, associates, banes) in one place. It’s great at first, but then your mother joins, your ex invites you, and your cousin nobody talks to DMs you to oblivion, and you realise you’ve lost all context. Eventually, disgruntled users will switch to a newer programme where their various “audiences” are treated separately.

Every new app should not aim for Instagram’s level of success because a growing user base doesn’t necessarily mean a happy one. An app doesn’t have to become the place everyone is to have something unique or interesting to show us. We need to question ourselves what may be lost in the rush to create the next “intense” social app.

In late April, for example, the company released a variety of updates and features, such as “benefit BeReals,” which allowed you shoot 2 more photographs if you uploaded your first inside the two-minute deadline, suggesting that the app’s demise might be postponed and removed. Eventually, the programme will be quietly put to rest, to be remembered with affection only by its most devoted users. Maybe it’s for the best that BeReal was temporary, just that fun thing we did as a group last summer. The app that taught us it’s exhausting to be authentic when asked to be isn’t even the worst way to be remembered.

Professor Ysabel Gerrard of the University of Sheffield specialises in digital engagement as a senior speaker.

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