Why BeReal will BeGone
Throughout my high school days, I’d kick off my mornings with Casey Neistat’s daily vlog while munching on breakfast. This daily ritual offered me a chance to delve into Neistat’s take on social media and its all-encompassing sway on our society. Back then, I was vehemently against social media and had no accounts of my own.
However, I soon found social media unavoidable. I created a Facebook account to join club messaging groups at school. I opened an Instagram profile to enter a photography competition. I made a Snapchat to stay in touch with a pen pal in Paris, since that was the only contact info she gave me. As I became familiar with these platforms, I began to see the dark side of it all too: they made people present a really inauthentic version of themselves.
Neistat also began to notice this dark side of inauthenticity, so he went on to launch Beme. Beme was a more authentic version of Snapchat – you couldn’t preview before sending, and the only reactions you could send were selfies. To encourage a more natural recording experience, Beme used the proximity sensor on the front of the phone to start recording when the user held the phone against their chest. The goal was a more unfiltered and genuine portrayal of moments, with fewer opportunities for users to edit and manipulate their content before sharing it with others. Being anti-social media myself, I thought it was a really cool idea. The result, however, was a social media platform that never achieved widespread adoption.
Despite attempts at ‘authentic’ social media apps like Beme that aim to show unfiltered moments, these platforms inevitably struggle. After years of pondering this pattern, I’ve concluded that unedited, authentic content is simply uninteresting to most users.
In May 2021, Poparazzi hit the scene with a bold tagline – BE YOUR FRIENDS’ POPARAZZI! The UI was similar to Instagram’s, but only allowed users to post pictures to their friends’ profiles. The idea is to encourage users to focus on capturing and sharing interesting moments and experiences with their friends, rather than just posting selfies or photos of themselves. I liked that it encouraged a more social and less self-centered approach to social media. I watched the app generate hype on tech Twitter, but it ultimately faced a swift decline in popularity and failed to maintain its user base. Poparazzi failed for two main reasons. First, the users had no control over their personal brand or identity. Considering that most people try to showcase their personality through their social media posts, Poparazzi’s mechanism proved unappealing compared to that of Instagram. Another reason for Poparazzi’s failure is that its authentic content simply isn’t interesting to users.
This ‘authenticity trap’ also foiled Dispo, another 2021 photo-sharing app. Dispo mimicked disposable cameras by forcing users to wait until 9am every morning to view the pictures they had taken in the past day. It aimed to showcase more candid, authentic photos, but that ended up being its undoing. The content was generally mundane and uninteresting. In addition, users complained that they had to take multiple photos of every scene, as they couldn’t capture a good photo on the first try without being able to preview. These reasons, combined with a scandal involving co-founder David Dobrik, eventually led to the app’s demise within months. Both Poparazzi and Dispo illustrate that an occasional authentic moment can be refreshing, but an entire platform of unedited content tends to be less sticky and interesting to browse.
Clubhouse, a social audio app, also came crashing down after an even more chaotic hype cycle. If you’re not familiar with Clubhouse, it’s a social media platform that allows users to participate in audio-only chat rooms. It’s like being in a giant conference call, but with the ability to join and leave “rooms” focused on various topics at any time. Launched during the pandemic, the app was an instant hit, especially among tech industry insiders and A-list celebrities. With lockdowns keeping people indoors, Clubhouse was the perfect way to connect and engage with others. In the early days, it wasn’t all bad – there were a few bright spots on the platform, like Justin Kan’s hilarious game show and the epic NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys. And let’s not forget about the Clubhouse investors, who were always happy to chat on the platform (surprise, surprise). However, as more people joined and flooded the platform with low-quality content, and the lockdowns were lifted, Clubhouse’s engagement tanked. Clubhouse faced a formidable challenge: it needed a constant supply of live, interesting content for users to browse and engage with. The novelty of real-time audio chats drove initial adoption, but the unedited, unstructured nature of the conversations resulted in an inferior user experience relative to curated formats like podcasts. As low-quality and unfocused discussions proliferated, user fatigue and burnout mounted. Clubhouse’s lack of moderation also enabled the spread of misinformation and hate speech, further damaging its reputation. Ultimately, the app’s dependence on continuous live content creation and consumption proved unsustainable, highlighting the difficulties of building a social platform around this model. In the end, it was a valuable lesson on the importance of quality over quantity, and a reminder that without a strong foundation of quality content, even the most hyped-up apps can come crashing down. I loved Clubhouse in its heyday, but like most people, I gradually used it less and less until the day I unknowingly opened the app for the very last time.
BeReal captivated the social media scene in 2022, but its future looks increasingly uncertain. If you haven’t used it before, BeReal is a photo-sharing app designed to offer an unfiltered glimpse into daily life. Once receiving a randomly timed daily notification, users have two minutes to capture and share one unedited photo. Posts disappear after 24 hours, and interactions are limited to standard emojis and ‘Instant RealMojis.’ Users can only view others’ photos after posting their own. As a longtime photography enthusiast, I love using tools for saving and remembering moments. BeReal has served me as a better version of 1 Second Everyday. I like BeReal because it lets me keep up with people who don’t otherwise use Instagram Stories, while also incentivizing me to capture at least one memory every day. It introduced a lot of unique paradigms, far more than Poparazzi or Dispo. However, things aren’t looking good for BeReal. According to reports, daily active users have declined sharply over the past four months. In addition, my ideal usage of BeReal goes against what the creators intended. Even fans like myself wait in the day to capture interesting events, not whatever’s happening when notified. It’s a sad reality that even an app that was designed to encourage authenticity and raw snapshots of daily life has succumbed to the pressures of curation and the need to present a certain image to the world. The gulf between BeReal’s vision and how it’s used reflects the difficulties of building an ‘authentic’ social platform amid pervasive curation and posturing.
Social media, for better or for worse, is inherently inauthentic because it encourages people to present a certain image to the world. For many users, this means sharing idealized versions of life events, adopting a particular online persona, or carefully selecting and editing casual moments to build a certain impression. The end result is a disconnect between how we act on social media and how we feel offline. We sacrifice authenticity for validation, accruing both followers and guilt in the process. Beyond the psychological effects, the algorithms powering these platforms also prioritize attention-grabbing content over substance. Visually appealing photos, controversial statements, and hot takes tend to spread faster than more meaningful but mundane updates. To keep up, users feel pressure to constantly post share-worthy updates, creating an exhausting cycle of performativity. Of course, social media also enables connection and sharing of experiences, and both the pros and cons vary from person to person and platform to platform. As users, being aware of these dynamics can help us forge more authentic interactions and dictate our own terms of engagement.
As someone weary of mainstream social media apps for many years, my concerns have only been confirmed. For now, I’ve accepted that a certain degree of inauthenticity is inherent to how we craft our digital identities. I think our time is better spent cultivating our authentic selves offline, instead of hiding behind false personas online. When we focus on being true to ourselves and nurturing our real-world relationships, we can find a sense of purpose and fulfillment that goes beyond the digital sphere. Even as social media continues to change and evolve within its constraints of inauthenticity, the truth remains steadfast: living an authentic life is the ultimate key to being your best self.
I’m an HBS grad building a new social media site, and have previously started humanID, a nonprofit anonymous & bot-resistant alternative to the Login with Facebook/Google. So in short, I’ve been thinking about what makes good social media for a while. As such, everything you wrote tracks wiht my experience.
I would be curious what you thnk of the success changes of my company, BetterSocial.org. Our basic hypothesis is that self-censorship (or in the context of your article: over-curating a public profile?) is the main driver why social media doesn’t feel interesting anymore. We’re building a platform with ‘Opt-in Anonymity’: User connect with their friends, but whenever they post, comment or even send messages, they can choose to stay anonymous within those trusted communities.
Would love to chat more about it if that’s interesting for you!