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BeReal is the latest buzzy social media app trying to go mainstream. Here’s how it works

BeReal | Jessica Bursztynsky

Popular social media apps come and go with frequency, as developers try to find the next big that will go viral with Gen Z users. Most flame out long before reaching the status of an Instagram or Snapchat. Among the newbies gaining steam and aiming to go mainstream is photo-sharing app BeReal.

Founded in 2020, BeReal prompts users to take one unedited photo a day at a seemingly random time. The notification could come at 8 p.m. today and 11:48 a.m. tomorrow. Users then have two minutes to take and post a picture before it’s marked as late.

After sharing, they can see what their friends posted for the day and are able to comment or react with an emoji. If a picture goes up late, the app will note that for your friends, but you don’t get any other penalties. The app uses both the front and back camera to give users a candid view of what’s happening at that moment.

“It’s silly but I feel like it serves a different purpose than Instagram or Snapchat,” Emily, a user who’s been on the app for about two months, told CNBC on condition we not use her last name. “I have friends on it who I don’t communicate with on a regular basis but I appreciate getting a little window into what they’re doing once a day, even if it’s just sitting in front of their computer or on a walk.”

BeReal, which is based in France, reached the top 20 on the Apple App Store’s list of top free apps this month, and was fourth in social networking, behind only Facebook’s main three apps.

BeReal has approximately 10.7 million global installs to date, according to SensorTower. Its record month came in April, when it hit 3.6 million, up 157% from March, the firm said. BeReal runs a college and high school ambassador program, which likely contributes to its user growth.

The app is free and there are no ads for now, so the monetization strategy remains unclear, as is often the case with nascent social media apps. Still, investors like what they see enough to pour money in at a valuation of over $600 million, Business Insider reported earlier this month.

A BeReal spokesperson declined to comment for this story aside from sharing a general factsheet about the app.

I downloaded BeReal to see what the hype was about and to share my experience. The app has only three tabs, so it was easy to navigate from the beginning. There’s a place to add friends, a general home page with your friends’ pictures and a discovery option and your profile page.

Your profile hosts your photo library

BeReal | Jessica Bursztynsky

After downloading BeReal and choosing a username, the app prompted me to take a picture. It gave me two minutes so I had little time to think about my surroundings or what I wanted to do. I snapped a picture, cringed a little and kept going. It was basically a crash course in how to use the app. I then went to my profile to upload a profile picture.

The profile page hosts a calendar with my pictures for the past month, so it’s a nice way to look back at my daily activity.

It’s a social experience

Jessica Bursztynsky | BeReal

After setting up my profile, I went to add friends. As you can see, not many of my friends are on BeReal. The app is meant to be a social experience so your friends can see you at a random, candid moment. You can upload your phone’s contact list to find friends, which I didn’t want to do for privacy reasons, or search them by username.

You can only see your friends’ posts if you share your own that day, so there’s no lurking on the app. There’s also the ability to comment on others’ posts or react with a “RealMoji,” a selfie of you mimicking an emoji face.

You can still discover new people

Jessica Bursztynsky | BeReal

If you want to see what other people are up to in the world, you can tap the “discovery” tab on the home page. I scrolled through and saw people from places including Ireland, Turkey and Pennsylvania.

I’m not particularly interested in that feature, as I’d rather just see pictures of friends and share a bit of what I’m doing. If you’re worried about who can see your posts, BeReal makes accounts private by default so they’re only visible to friends.

Because it feels less serious than most other social apps, I don’t feel the need to blast my posts to strangers across the world.

Bottom line

For all of its sudden popularity, I have found the BeReal experience to be quite limiting. I’ve been using the app for less than two weeks and haven’t gotten much benefit from it, since my friend group appears more interested in Instagram and our group chats.

The app also seems pretty glitchy. There was one day I didn’t get a notification, which I chalked up to accidentally missing it. I posted my photo 22 hours late. But it happened again a few days later. I was with a friend who’s on the app and his prompt also never arrived. We both ended up posting two hours late.

Some of the glitches are forgivable given how rapidly the product has grown. But they still interfere with having a good user experience.

I’m still using the app and doing my daily photo, but can’t imagine I’ll be on it much longer. I enjoy sending random pictures in group chats, so I’m satisfied with that option.

However, I know BeReal has its fanatics and the platform provides a novel way to stay connected. It’s not a bad concept — it’s just not for me.

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