Instagram trying to copy BeReal, but not in the right way

Instagram is rolling out its own feature called ‘Dual’ to take disappearing photos using the front and back cameras simultaneously. Now, here’s another one for the list after Snapchat Adds Stories Feature, Instagram Grabs It TikTok becomes too popular, and Instagram switches to short-form videos. This week, Instagram quietly added a feature to its TikTok-clone Reels called Dual, which lets you record with both your front and back camera at the same time.

As Instagram adds visually, it looks extremely similar to BeReal, the buzzy, two-year-old social app that’s currently No. 1 in the App Store.

Former GoPro employees Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau, BeReal markets itself as an anti-Instagram. Each day at a different time, you’ll get a notification telling you it’s “Time to BeReal” (a phrase that’s become a meme in its own right). From the moment the notification goes off, you have exactly two minutes to take a picture of what you’re doing and you have no choice but to use both the front and rear cameras.

The idea is about systematizing creates authenticity, but in practice, it just means that we see lots of photos of our friends on their laptops or watching Netflix. Instagram Dual is a clear rip-off from BeReal, but BeReal has also been criticized for copying Frontback, a short-lived app that has had users like Jack Dorsey, Ashton Kutcher, and the Prime Minister of Belgium. As the name suggests, the front back lets you take photos with your front and rear phone cameras at the same time. Twitter expressed interest in buying the app, but the company raised venture capital funding instead…and eventually collapsed. Like so many social media startups, front-back just couldn’t sustain user interest beyond its lightning-fast popularity.

BeReal alike Wordle

BeReal isn’t so much about the photos as it is about the daily sharing with your friends. Sure, it doesn’t matter that a friend ate pad thai last night, but it’s still fun to share a moment of the day with them. This friend also probably doesn’t care if I got the Wordle in four or five tries today.

But we’ve all made it a habit to share our Wordle results with each other because, even if we just respond with a thumbs-up reaction, it’s an easy, unobtrusive way to keep in touch. Instagram clearly takes a liking to BeReal, not Frontback, but it seems like Instagram is missing the point as to why people like BeReal in the first place. While the two-camera feature is fun, BeReal is perhaps more like Wordle than Instagram or Frontback (which other writers also pointed out).

“Wordle is just such a hassle-free way to check in,” Wordle creator Josh Wardle told TechCrunch earlier this year. “Sometimes you just post your result, sometimes you can respond to everyone else’s, but it’s that really comforting way of letting other people know you’re thinking of them. It’s a shared experience.”

Every few years it feels like a new challenger emerges to challenge Instagram’s dominance, but it’s hard to compete with an app that claims to have over 2 billion monthly active users. According to statistics from Apptopia to date, BeReal has been downloaded 7.67 million times a year, accounting for 74.5% of its lifetime installs. This puts BeReal ahead of Dispo, another venture capital darling that is also positioning itself as an alternative to Instagram (CEO Daniel Liss even cast some shadows today on Instagram boss Adam Mosseri).

Originally co-founded by now infamous YouTuber David Dobrik, Dispo aims to capture the feeling of using a disposable camera. You can take as many photos as you like, but you won’t be able to see your photos until the next morning. That way you can’t take 20 selfies before picking the “best” one to post. BeReal has some similar features – if you take your photo again, your friends can spot it – but the basic concept of the apps is quite different, despite their common goal of authenticity.

It’s been a bad week to be a meta manager. Instagram boss Adam Mosseri was skewered for trying to defend recent testing on Instagram making it feel like a fake TikTok. Then, as Meta reported disappointing quarterly earnings last night, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recommended content will make up even more of our Instagram and Facebook feeds next year.

Instagram Public sentiment seems to be that people are missing an era when we could actually see our friends’ posts, rather than strangers. It’s hard to say who will win here: the glitzy, slightly bland BeReal, or the tried and true Instagram, an app we all kind of hate yet can’t help but use?

As fun as TikTok can be, people can only take so many endless, algorithmically generated content feeds. It’s always been difficult, almost impossible, for a startup to take on Instagram, but if there’s ever been a good time to capitalize on the growing fear of the app, it’s now.

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