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You Got to BeReal: A French Social Media App Takes US University Campuses by Storm

Ever wondered what it would be like if Instagram met Wordle, figured out what made it so compelling, then made it ten times stickier? The result is an app that’s taking U.S. university campuses by storm and is attracting the attention of major media outlets. BeReal is a photo-sharing app that makes users answer one simple question, “What’s up with you today?”

BeReal was first launched in early 2020 by French entrepreneur Alexis Barreyat and saw early success in its home market, where the app still has its second-highest user base. To this day, 27.2% of lifetime downloads are from France, where it first exploded among university students there, leading to the developers raising US$30 million in its series A round in 2021. However, America is its fastest-growing market, and it has also become a staple app for its university students.

Since its launch, BeReal has seen its user numbers soar by 315% just this year alone (2022), as reported by Apptopia. Part of the reason is that it has gone viral, causing strong word-of-mouth on other social media platforms like TikTok. Another reason is that larger media outlets have picked up on its rising fame. For instance, Bloomberg posted an article in late March 2022 on the app, describing it as the “un-Instagram,” a reference that the business news site’s older American readers would get if they drank 7-Up. However, the first major user spike of 2022, in late January, may have been due to Mashable picking up the BeReal phenomenon.

The appeal of BeReal, as the reports point out, is that it aims to be the exact opposite of Instagram. For instance, there are no photo filters, users have limited access to their friend’s photos if they take a picture (no casual scrolling here) and, more importantly, users don’t have to invest a lot of time. The app sends a notification once a day, always at a different time, to nudge users into taking two photos with their phones’ front and back cameras. What comes out is a composite image with a little selfie in the upper left corner and what the back camera sees taking up the rest. The trick? Users have exactly two minutes to do it. Only if one takes their daily BeReal can they see what others have posted. In a sense, this is where the Wordle comparison comes in: it requires a low time commitment but counts on the idea of social comparisons to make it sticky for users. When you answer the question, “What’s up with you today?”, BeReal makes you want to see how others answer it.

However, the app is not without its critics. Mashable cites this op-ed from the Georgetown University student newspaper raising some concerns about the app’s ubiquity on college campuses. One big issue is that like with almost every other social media app, data privacy and security are hard to guarantee, even if the app’s developers promise to do so.

While the app is available worldwide on major app stores, it is still hard to find friends in Southeast Asia who use it, even among this writer’s contacts. And with the app’s massive growth, there will always be the worry that it could someday change beyond recognition to something that will fizzle out.

  • BeReal is a relatively new photo-sharing app that has taken both French and American university campuses by storm, picking up major media coverage in the process.

  • The app was developed by French tech entrepreneur Alexis Barreyat and was launched in 2020, picking up US$30 million Series A funding a year later.

  • BeReal lets users take exactly one photo a day with their front and rear phone cameras, and posting the composite image gives users access to what others are posting.

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