NEW YORK, July 20 — Casey Neistat is not as handsome as he appears in his Facebook profile picture.
His daily life is not as beautiful as it looks on Instagram. And he is not as clever as his quips make him seem on Twitter.
And the real version - the one not polished for social media - is exactly how Neistat wants you to see him.
This sounds peculiar coming from Neistat, a short-form video artist and an evangelist of social media in all its forms.
Yet, it is the premise of Beme, his new app — available only for iOS — that aims to redefine and simplify the way people express themselves using their smartphones.
The app, which Neistat and his dozen or so colleagues released Friday, is essentially an extension of the artist himself.
Neistat splays out most of his life 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 followers on Snapchat.
The point of Beme, though, is to erase some of what 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?” 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 removing all the bells and whistles included in 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’s earlier days.
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,” Neistat said.
“We want you to feel like you’re taking a peek under the hood.”
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 Thursday, Neistat demonstrated this by pressing the phone to his chest — a motion similar, 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 it does so again when it has finished.
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. Those 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, a co-founder and the chief technical officer at Beme and a 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.”
The result is a tool born directly from the mind of someone who has lived much of his adult life online. Shooting clips takes almost no effort, and sending rapid-fire photo responses to friends is easy.
Neistat, 34, began his career as a video artist, creating popular online shorts before social media celebrity even existed.
His first breakout hit, “iPod’s Dirty Secret,” was viewed more than 6 million times in its first month of release in 2003, a couple of 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, his colleagues or the UPS delivery guy who regularly appears in his videos.
Like clockwork, viewers wait religiously to watch those 8am video updates.
That sense of community is important to Neistat, and he says he hopes it will 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 has access to the app to unlock it. The idea is that an invitation will give a user more incentive to use the app.
There is hardly a dearth of social video apps — Vine, Snapchat and, more recently, Periscope and Meerkat. Beme will have to fight for the attention of the fickle crowds of early adopters.
But Neistat does not seem to worry about competitors or their solid user bases. He says the authenticity that his app offers will be incentive enough to win over a community of people eager to broadcast their lives in a different way.
“Truth is so much more interesting than the fiction we’re used to,” he said. — New York Times