Instagram challenges BeReal and adds notes short-message feature

The photo sharing app owned by Meta Platforms Inc. offers its users new ways to share and connect with friends, including a feature that may be familiar to users of BeReal, the popular social media app.

Candid Stories, which Instagram is testing in South Africa starting Tuesday, will give users a daily notification to take and share two unfiltered photos using the front and back camera lenses — similar to the prompts from BeReal, which recently sold millions of users collected. Instagram has not said when or if Candid Stories will roll out globally.

Another new feature called Notes, friend-focused status updates that appear at the top of the inbox, is rolling out to all users on Tuesday.

Instagram’s updates come as young people flock to newer apps like BeReal and TikTok. They also address some recent criticism that Instagram posts often feel overly curated or inauthentic, with ads and sponsored content squeezing out updates from friends.

Be candid

Launched in 2020, BeReal has become popular marketing for younger people as an authentic, unfiltered alternative to the curated posts on Instagram and TikTok. At a random time every day, users are asked to take a front and back photo and submit it. Any messages that appear two minutes after the prompt are noted as late when viewed by others.

BeReal has been installed 73.7 million times from launch to December 11, according to Sensor Tower, which tracks app performance metrics. The app topped Apple’s App Store earlier this year, though its growth has slowed in recent months, Sensor Tower said.

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Instagram’s Candid Stories still prompt users once a day and include a timestamp so friends know when you’ve posted. However, unlike BeReal, users can enhance their daily posts with text or squiggles and can opt out of the daily alert whenever they want. (They haven’t been flagged as overdue, either.) Instagram has previously enabled the dual-camera feature, which uses front and back lenses at the same time.

More than two billion people use Instagram every month, says Meta. The app and its parent company are concerned about the impact on younger users. At the same time, some users, including the celebrities who have long advocated for the platform, have been urging the company to “make Instagram Instagram again” by prioritizing posts from friends over paid posts.

The new features aim to give users more ways to connect with people they know, said Tessa Lyons-Laing, director of product management at Instagram.

Notes, the only announced feature now available in the app, allows users to share their thoughts in a 60-character message with close friends or people who follow them. The note appears at the top of recipients’ inboxes, inviting them to respond before it disappears in 24 hours.

Instagram is testing other friend-focused tools. Group Profiles, a new type of profile, allow members to share posts and stories with each other, rather than all of their followers. Collaborative Collections allow users to share stored content, such as fashion inspiration or memes, with another user and build collections together. And Add Yours, which already encourages users to share content to Stories, is getting a nomination feature so people can invite specific friends to join by passing a prompt to them.

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Group Profiles has already started testing in Canada, Chile and Taiwan. Collaborative Collections and Add Yours nominations will be tested on Tuesday for a limited number of users around the world.

You’ve seen this before

For Meta’s critics, Candid Stories will serve as the latest example of Instagram mimicking features of other popular apps to grow and maintain its user base. Earlier examples include Stories, a feature of Snapchat, and Reels, short videos similar to TikToks.

Not all of these features are popular with users. Instagram’s push to grow Reels has been rocky for the platform, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We’re always thinking about how to put our Instagram spin on things,” says Ms. Lyons-Laing. “One trend we’re seeing among users is this desire for more unplanned, spontaneous sharing.” She added that these new features have been in the works for a long time.

If Candid Stories launches at scale, Instagram may have an advantage over BeReal in terms of scale and business model, says Kelly Cutler, a lecturer in digital marketing at Northwestern University. BeReal is still backed by investors and doesn’t yet have a revenue model to rival Instagram’s ads.

“To be [about] user experience, but then it’s also monetization and the business model,” added Ms. Cutler.

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