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Instagram challenges BeReal and adds notes short-message feature

The photo-sharing app owned by Meta Platforms Inc. is giving its users new ways to share and connect with friends, including one feature that might look familiar to users of BeReal, the popular social-media app.

Candid Stories, which Instagram is testing in South Africa starting Tuesday, gives users a daily notification to snap and share two unfiltered photos using the front and back camera lenses—not unlike the prompts sent by BeReal, which has recently amassed millions of users. Instagram didn’t say when or whether Candid Stories will roll out globally.

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

Instagram’s updates come as young people flock to newer apps such as 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

BeReal, which launched in 2020, has become popular marketing itself to younger people as an authentic, unfiltered alternative to the curated posts found on Instagram and TikTok. At a random time each day, users are asked to take a front-and-back shot and submit it. Any posts that show up two minutes after the prompt are noted as late when viewed by others.

BeReal has been installed 73.7 million times from its launch to Dec. 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.

Instagram’s Candid Stories still prompts users once a day and includes a timestamp so friends know when you posted. Unlike BeReal, however, users can enhance their daily posts with text or squiggles, and can opt out of the daily alert whenever they would like. (They also aren’t marked tardy.) Instagram previously enabled the dual-camera function, which simultaneously uses front and back lenses.

More than two billion people use Instagram every month, Meta says. The app and its parent company have faced concerns about their impact on younger users. At the same time, some users—including the celebrities that long championed the platform—have urged the company to “make Instagram Instagram again” by giving priority to friends’ posts over paid ones.

The new features are intended to give users more ways to engage with people they know, says Tessa Lyons-Laing, director of product management at Instagram.

Notes—the only announced feature now hitting the app—lets users share their thoughts in a 60-character text post with close friends or people who follow them back. The note appears at the top of recipients’ inboxes and invites them to respond before it disappears in 24 hours.

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

Group Profiles has already begun testing in Canada, Chile and Taiwan. Collaborative Collections and Add Yours nominations will begin testing Tuesday for a limited number of users across the globe.

You’ve Seen This Before

To Meta’s critics, Candid Stories will serve as the latest example of Instagram mimicking other popular apps’ features to grow and maintain its user base. Previous examples include Stories, a Snapchat hallmark, and Reels, short-form videos that resemble TikToks.

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

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

If Candid Stories launches widely, Instagram might have an advantage over BeReal when it comes to scale and business model, said Kelly Cutler, a digital-marketing lecturer at Northwestern University. BeReal is still investor supported, and doesn’t yet have a revenue model that rivals Instagram’s ads.

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


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