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A Tale of Two Viral Apps: BeReal and Shuffles take on TikTok, By Eleanor Prytherch

If you’ve been on the internet at all over the last year, you’ve probably heard about an app called BeReal. You probably already have it, and are hoping that it doesn’t wait to go off until you’re at home in bed again. You may not, however, have heard of a brand new app called Shuffles by Pinterest, a similarly viral platform from the developers behind Pinterest that allows users to create digital collages without the use of complex software. The rise of these two apps provides a glimpse into how social media could evolve over the next few years, as well as what new genres of content creation we might see driven by the tastes of Gen Z users.

BeReal was released in 2020 but gained widespread popularity this year, largely among Gen Z users. It deliberately markets itself in reaction to the increasing trends of highly curated social media content, especially on TikTok and Instagram. BeReal works by sending its users a single notification at a random time every day. Users have a two minute window to snap a picture of whatever they’re doing from both the front and back cameras. They can only see their friends’ posts once they’ve posted. Thus, BeReal removes all possibility for curation; it even goes so far as adding a note on each post that was late, tipping off others that a user may have “cheated” and waited until they were doing something more interesting. The format is exactly the same for everyone, and there is zero option for any personalization or embellishment to one’s posts or profile.

On the other end of the spectrum is Shuffles, a collage creation app launched as a spin-off from Pinterest. Shuffles launched in late July of this year and rapidly gained popularity. Part of its intrigue as a viral app is that it’s currently invite-only, requiring a code that can only be acquired from a current user (unless you join the waitlist). The app links with user's Pinterest accounts, giving them access to all their boards and pins, as well as the option to search for images or upload their own. It comes with an auto-select feature that can easily cut out specific objects in an image. It’s clearly a grab on the part of Pinterest (now virtually synonymous with DIY crafts and recipe ideas) for continued relevance in the age of the TikTok empire. So far, it seems to be working. Its rapid popularity is in line with the general rise in ’90s and 2000s revival trends, particularly of the DIY culture, indie-sleaze persuasion. It’s almost reminiscent of zine aesthetics and seems to foreshadow an expansion of those visual trends outside of fashion.

As different as these two apps appear, they share some qualities that seem to indicate a departure from the content-rich, hyper-curated reign of Instagram and TikTok. They’re both simply designed and easy to use, but the nature of the app format and content that’s generated means you won’t scroll endlessly. The content is either finite (BeReal) or repetitive enough that you aren’t inclined to sift through thousands of posts (Shuffles). And if you think about it, both apps take a major leap away from the ethos of what Instagram and TikTok are all about — but in totally opposite directions. BeReal deliberately removes all possibility for curation, distilling the social media experience to keeping up with what your friends are doing on a day-to-day basis, zero frills involved. Shuffles, on the other hand, is all curation; quite literally, it revolves around cutting and pasting visual elements to fit an aesthetic. It brands itself specifically as an app for creativity and not social networking.

Instagram, and more recently, TikTok, has served as a home base for Gen Z internet activity for quite a long time. On both apps, there’s a pattern of users posting about their lives but curating it to a significant degree. Even in the era of the “effortless” Instagram trend, it’s incredibly common for users to stage photoshoots rather than post unfiltered updates on their lives. On TikTok, we see a similar trend of vlog-style content, documenting a creator’s daily routine but choosing shots or moments that are the most aesthetically pleasing. Both cases result in content that passes itself off as a view into someone's life, which, in reality, requires significant creative labor.

At a time when companies are scrambling to create the next “viral” anything, it will be an experiment of longevity to see if these apps persist or fizzle out the way so many trends do. It may even be a matter of waiting to see which format pulls ahead. Will it be earnest authenticity or curatorial creativity? Regardless, BeReal and Shuffles offer two fresh and complementary ideas of what the end of the “no makeup-makeup” era of social media could look like.

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