The Debut of Beme, a Social App That Aims for Authenticity

Casey Neistat, a short-form video artist, in his studio in Manhattan in 2011.

Casey Neistat isn’t as handsome as in his Facebook profile picture. His daily life isn’t as beautiful as it is on Instagram. And he’s not as clever as his quips make him seem on Twitter.

And that’s exactly how Mr. Neistat wants you to see him.

This sounds peculiar coming from Mr. Neistat, a short-form video artist and evangelist of social media in all its forms. Yet it is the exact premise of Beme, his new app that aims to redefine the way people express themselves using their smartphones.

The app, which Mr. Neistat and his dozen or so colleagues released on Friday, is essentially an extension of the artist himself. Mr. Neistat lives most of his life — which is splayed out in comprehensive detail — across today’s top social media platforms. More than 800,000 people subscribe to his YouTube channel, which he updates with videos every morning at 8, and he has hundreds of thousands of avid followers on Snapchat.

The point of Beme is to erase some of what Mr. Neistat sees as the facades created with social media in its current forms, stripping away the identities people consciously produce with the perfect Instagram filter or the cutesy doodles on a Snapchat photo.

“How would I look if I were just talking to myself in the mirror?” Mr. Neistat said in an interview. “If I’m in the stands at a U2 concert watching Bono, how can I capture this moment without interrupting it and making it fake?”

Part of the strategy is taking away all the bells and whistles that make up today’s most popular social apps. Beme — pronounced “beam” — is, at its core, a gray and black list of your friends. It is similar in look and feel to a command line prompt from computer software of old. There are no hearts, no thumbs-up buttons, no gold stars. You are not supposed to be staring at your screen to use it.

“There’s nothing cute or twee about it,” Mr. Neistat said. “We want you to feel like you’re taking a peek under the hood.”

Beme takes away many of the bells and whistles that make up today’s most popular social apps, and is, at its core, a gray and black list of your friends. Users capture four-second bursts of video by covering a sensor directly above the earpiece of a device.
Beme takes away many of the bells and whistles that make up today’s most popular social apps, and is, at its core, a gray and black list of your friends. Users capture four-second bursts of video by covering a sensor directly above the earpiece of a device.Credit

Users capture four-second bursts of video by covering a sensor directly above the earpiece of the iPhone. During an interview in his Manhattan office on Thursday, Mr. Neistat demonstrated this by pressing the phone to his chest — a similar motion, for instance, to holding his hand over his heart as if he were singing the national anthem. The phone beeps and vibrates to let you know it is recording, and does so again when it has finished.

In effect, it is as if the phone becomes a stand-in for one’s body, the camera facing outward to capture what the user is experiencing. Friends and others who follow you can watch your bemes, or video clips, and send you reaction selfies before the beme disappears into the ether.

“I think of what we were trying to do at Tumblr,” said Matt Hackett, the co-founder and chief technical officer at Beme, and former vice president for engineering at Tumblr. “It was tricking you into sharing what you were doing without having to think of it as blogging. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Casey Neistat began his career as a viral video artist, creating popular online shorts.
Casey Neistat began his career as a viral video artist, creating popular online shorts.Credit Sean D. Elliot

The result is a tool born directly from the mind of someone who has lived much of his adult life online, which lowers the barriers to self-expression to an immense degree. Shooting clips takes almost no effort, and sending rapid-fire photo responses to friends is easy.

Mr. Neistat, 34, began his career as a viral video artist, creating popular online shorts before social media celebrity even existed. His first breakout hit, “iPod’s Dirty Secret,” was viewed more than six million times in its first month of release in 2003, several years before YouTube existed.

Since that time, he has become an almost cultlike figure in the online world. In the 90 minutes we spent talking, his daily video blog received more than 90,000 views. When I left the building, children were waiting outside his office for a chance to speak to him, or his colleagues, or the UPS delivery guy who regularly appears in his videos. Like clockwork, viewers wait to religiously watch those 8 a.m. video updates.

That sense of community is important to Mr. Neistat, and it is one he said he hoped would carry over to the release of Beme. New users will be able to download the app, but they must be invited by a friend who already has access to the app in order to unlock it. The idea is that an intentional invitation will give a user more incentive to use the app.

There is hardly a dearth of social video apps available — Vine, Snapchat, and more recently, Periscope and Meerkat — and Beme will have to fight for the attention of the fickle crowds of early adopters.

But Mr. Neistat does not seem to worry about competitors or their already cast user bases. He says the authenticity that his app offers will be incentive enough to win over a community eager to broadcast their lives in a different way.

“Truth is so much more interesting than the fiction we’re used to,” he said.

[“source – bits.blogs.nytimes.com”]