BeReal, a social media app dubbed anti-Instagram, has gained popularity in recent weeks despite numerous complaints that it crashes at a critical juncture.
The app, which requires everyone on the platform to take a photo within a two-minute window a day, often fails when everyone tries to upload their candid photos at once. Failure to submit your image within the allotted timeframe leads to a “late” label of public shame.
Far from discouraging users, however, the app held the top spot in the US on Apple’s App Store for three days this week. It had 1.7 million installs during the week of July 11, the biggest weekly gain ever, according to digital analytics platform Sensor Tower.
It’s common, especially among social media companies, that when demand suddenly increases, the infrastructure comes under pressure, according to Arun Lakshmanan, an associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management. “The faster an app is able to grow, the more likely it is to become popular and stable,” he said.
The BeReal boom echoes the early success of Instagram and Twitter, when platform crashes were frequent due to user overload. These apps have adapted and survived, but at a time when so many social media apps are vying for people’s attention, BeReal has yet to prove that it can be more than a fad.
The French app has been around since 2020, when it was founded by Alexis Barreyat and Romain Salzman. BeReal said it received $30 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and New Wave, with participation from DST Global and others. Insider reported that BeReal is raising $85 million in new capital, led by DST Global, which would value the company at $600 million.
After gaining popularity in France, the app started to take off among college-age users in the US earlier this year. Its appeal, according to many users, is its intentional opposition to the ultra-curated aesthetic of Instagram, which is owned by Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook.
On BeReal, people only post once a day, triggered by a push notification instructing them that it’s “Time for BeReal”, between two yellow warning emojis. With one click the application takes two photos, one of the front and rear cameras simultaneously.
But for many people, this is where things go wrong. They may have to close and restart the app multiple times, or if they manage to snap a photo, it will take a long time to upload, resulting in the dreaded “overdue” label. Users cannot see what their friends post until they have posted it themselves, so the glitches prevent them from using the app.
During the first two weeks of July, there was a 254% increase in the number of negative reviews of BeReal for performance and bugs, according to data intelligence platform Apptopia. In May, reviews citing “negative” or “mixed” performance and “bugs” accounted for 56.4% of the total reviews. BeReal declined to comment.
Despite technical frustrations, people keep coming back to their daily posts. BeReal users kept the app at higher rates than the top 10 social apps, according to figures from data.ai, a consumer and market data platform. For the month of May, the percentage of users who are still with the app after 7 days is almost 50% on BeReal, compared to 37% for other apps. After 30 days, these numbers stabilize at 35% and 34%.
One user, Brianna Fox, a 19-year-old student at the University of Michigan who uses the pronouns she/they, would attempt to take a picture, but would see her face stained purple and multiplied into a kaleidoscope-like grid, an effect her regular camera would do. iPhone does not. When friends also had technical bugs, they joked that Fox passed it on to them. Still, Fox continues to post daily.
“The only reason I would say I keep using it is because it’s funny,” Fox said. “There are no filters like Instagram or Snapchat. It’s more sincere, and I like that more.”
Omer Cayir, a 22-year-old law student in London, also posts on BeReal every day. He started using it in April and after a few weeks he saw glitches like the caption or the deletion of the entire post. For about a month, he didn’t get the notification that it was time to post. Cayir said it was frustrating but was happy to deal with it because he was still in the honeymoon phase with the app.
“There was a week or so where it felt like a bit of a chore,” he said, “but the app thankfully at the right time started to fix itself and started to get more exciting again.”
Not every user is in love. Ben Boehlert, a 22-year-old research assistant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that half the time when he gets the “Time to BeReal” notification he doesn’t bother, and the other half he tries and fails to post. Many days he doesn’t see the notification because he’s in the middle of the day.
“It made it kind of unusable,” he said, “which is unfortunate because it’s legal.”
Fox, Cayir and Boehlert joined the app after friends persuaded them to join. Lakshmanan said that when people talk to their friends about the app, it creates a network effect that can help the app take off. But the platform needs to invest to become more usable so that people’s behavior becomes ingrained, the professor said.
With the infusion of capital and “a little more investment” into the product and infrastructure, the glitches must be addressed in time, Lakshmanan said. “Now whether this will go the way of Facebook or Twitter is an open question.”