Casey Neistat is a filmmaker who is based in New York City and has been featured on a lot of outlets such as Huffpo, Gawker, CNN, and even HBO. Casey started a vlog of his own about over 3 months ago and in my opinion, I think it has been one of the most interesting ones I’ve seen to date. The main reason that Casey started his vlog was to promote an app that he’d been working on for over year. Throughout the vlog, Casey gave us sneak peeks on what the app would be, and how much of a ground-breaking effect it was going to have. Today on Casey’s vlog, he finally announced the app publicly.
Introducing, beme: Share video. Honestly.
Just like thousands of other people, I quickly downloaded the app and was super excited to check it out. My excitement didn’t last long; all I could do was reserve a username, and wait 99 days before I could fully use the app. There was also a cute countdown clock letting me know how much longer I had to wait. Luckily, I knew some people who were able to generate an invite code, which gave me full access to the rest of the app. Sweet, now I could use it.
My first impression: meh.
Upon opening the app, you will be greeted with a list of “interesting people to follow” – a practice very similar to what you get with Twitter. The idea stemmed from the fact that when people first signed up for Twitter, they ended up never coming back to using the platform, so the site/app engagement dropped dramatically. After Twitter started suggesting people for you to follow, the engagement went through the roof. It makes sense for Casey to take after such practice.
Without actually watching Casey’s today’s vlog entry, I seriously doubt anyone would be able to figure out how to use the app to post their own video.
Viewing other people’s videos is easy: you tap and hold on each entry that is listed within the app’s main view, and the video starts playing, just like Snapchat. The video’s progress is presented by a white border around the phone’s LCD, starting from the upper left corner going counterclockwise. Once the progress reaches its starting point, you’ve viewed the entire video, at which point the video is removed from your entry.
Though without actually watching Casey’s today’s vlog entry, I seriously doubt anyone would be able to figure out how to use the app to post their own video. This is UX problem #1: in any app development in the Internet age, where you only have about 4-8 seconds of anybody’s attention span, if you design something so complicated that it needs special instructions you use, you’ve failed.
The only way for you to start recording is to press the front of your phone against something, a feature that utilizes the phone’s proximity sensor. I will admit, that is a very cute trick to start recording a video on your phone. That said, one must wonder: how is any of this any different than Snapchat, sans the fancy record button?
It is, and it isn’t. And the way it differs is in a way that I’m not convinced is a good way.
Casey’s philosophy is that there’s so much friction between content creators and their audience, that he wanted to make an app that would eliminate that friction completely. On that aspect, I think it works very well. You put the phone against your chest, it starts recording. You take the phone off your chest, it starts uploading, and you don’t have to lift a finger. But, what if I wanted to lift a finger? What if I wanted to make sure the things I’m recording are in focus – or better yet, in frame? What if I don’t like the footage at all? There’s no way for me to control any of this. The footage that gets uploaded is as raw as it gets. Maybe this mentality works for a lot of folks out there; it doesn’t work for me.
The reason Casey doesn’t allow for any reviewing or editing of footage is because of his insistence on “realism.” This is where his app differs from Snapchat. Removing curation of content sounds interesting on paper, but in practice it sort of runs into a wall. Part of what makes sharing interesting is that it’s somewhat curated. If we try and have a social network that essentially eliminates curation, what we end up with is content with no meaning or context, riddled with errors and out of focus subjects. Without curation, the water is muddied as you try and see through it to find the nuggets of gold. Over time, you stop trying to see in muddy water and simply close your eyes.
What if I wanted to make sure the things I’m recording are in focus – or better yet, in frame? What if I don’t like the footage at all? There’s no way for me to control any of this.
I think its use case is even more narrowed than that of Snapchat. At least with Snapchat, you can share your profile link to other social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. With Beme, you’re pretty much stuck in its ecosystem. To gain better followership and engagement, you have to start from scratch. This is UX problem #2: I want to start using the app now, and I wanna following everyone I know who uses the platform, and there’s no quick and easy way for me to do that. What Beme is missing is the ability to import contacts from either another social network, or from the phone’s contact list. Maybe this feature will be implemented in the upcoming release, but for now, I’m pretty much on an island with a bunch of strangers that I don’t care about. Why on earth would any of these strangers want to follow me, or why do I want to follow any of them?
And I think this is another problem Casey attempted to solve with the gate he put in front of the app. He himself admits the app isn’t fun unless it is full of people you know. But when you gate access, it comes off a lot like what Google did with Gmail: it feels like all you’re doing is hyping it.
I do like the way Casey built in responding to videos you see on Beme. To give a thumbs up or a “like,” you can’t actually just hit a button- you have to respond with a photo of yourself in real time. The idea is pretty cool, and pretty original, but it brings up a more realistic situation of what is going to happen:
“I’m so excited to watch a whole bunch of videos from people who didn’t have a chance to make sure everything was in the frame…..or that focus was locked properly. I’m also very excited to like things with a selfie……while I’m on the crapper…..or giving the missus a pounding.” – Peter House, Fstoppers Writer
As excited as I was before the release, the app itself has been a disappointment to say the least. I don’t see how it’s anywhere near revolutionary… at least not yet. It, at best, falls under the same category as other apps like Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat, and everything else that has to do with quick sharing: they’re cooked up for a bunch of narcissists who love to share instead of enjoying the experience, and for those whose life is so boring that they have nothing better to do than watching the narcissists. Maybe I’m too old for this, and maybe there are a ton of people out there who can’t wait to get their hands on the app. After all, Casey was able to raise $2 millions for his company, and has done an excellent job at creating the hype for his app, including the classic move of “invite only,” which worked exceptionally well for a lot of companies in the past (Gmail, Dropbox, Mailbox, etc…).
What do you think? Am I the dinosaur aka Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, or will Beme be just another app that makes the wave for a few weeks and never be heard again?