Hot on the heels of our recent blog on Instagram founders' latest creation, news, and social app ‘Artifact’, we’re back with another new social app alert! Lemon8 is a (fairly) new social media app that’s currently climbing the US charts and making quite a splash, so naturally we were curious to find out more. Will it succeed, or will it leave a bitter taste?*
*I’m writing this intro at quarter to five on a Friday so please, imagine yourself a funnier closing line if this leaves you dissatisfied.
What is it and who made it?
The app is designed by none other than Chinese tech company ByteDance a.k.a. the folks who made TikTok, a.k.a. the world’s fastest-growing app. Lemon8 itself has been in use since 2020 with Asia accounting for a third of its total downloads, however, as of February, the app has finally become available in the UK and the US, which also (in)conveniently coincides with ByteDance’s recent grilling in US Congress over its conspicuous handling of user data. However, can ByteDance really expect lightning to strike twice after such a paradigm-altering megahit as TikTok?
Is there anything else like it that I might already have?
The app has been described as a Frankenstein of Instagram, Pinterest, and Amazon, something that certainly comes across even with a cursory glance. Structurally, we’re seeing a feed that mimics Instagram’s, albeit with a greater focus on aesthetics, particularly the ability to add custom fonts to posts, it’s the same, but a little different. Elsewhere, in-app stores have already been integrated into the likes of Instagram, and indeed, TikTok, so it’s not really a surprise to see them here too. Then again, early-days Instagram did at least pretend that it wasn’t simply out to make money off of you, whereas, with Lemon8, they’re really slapping you around the chops with it. And maybe there’s something to be respected in that.
What makes it worth your time?
This is the tricky part. On the surface, Lemon8 doesn’t seem to offer anything new, and so our initial reaction was dismissal. As we’ve established, there’s plenty of content on the app that will feel familiar at first glance if you have Instagram already an app that according to recent figures, is losing popularity - so why would Western audiences pivot to something similar in this instance?
Its creator-first focus might seem on the surface to be a good thing, but it does feel very geared towards a specific type of influencer and their respective following, contentwise and aestheticwise. Instagram might be a little less exciting than it once was, but there was an accessibility there that just doesn’t seem to exist here. On Lemon 8, everything’s very polished, very shiny, and it’s hard to imagine the general Instagram user feeling particularly catered to or *ahem* seen here.
The greatest advantage Lemon8 has however is the power of its algorithm. As we’ve seen with TikTok, ByteDance is pretty formidable at creating a feed that is often said to know you want better than you do, which is a bit of an exaggeration, but point taken.
A more tailored feed seems to be the main draw, it would seem, but this does of course rely on a groundswell of users taking the app in a wider variety of directions in order to see sustained growth.
So is it the future of social media?
Probably not Lemon8 itself. Despite the US government’s best efforts, it’s clear that most folks, particularly younger folks, have accepted that indulging the dubious practices of enormous tech conglomerates is a worthy trade-off for being part of the communities found on their apps. And indeed, why shouldn’t they be? Are there any Western alternatives that aren’t misusing their data? Why should it matter which country is taking advantage of them? If we’re being pragmatic about it, China deserves our data for offering what is clearly a superior algorithm. So that part of it is undoubtedly here to stay.
However, in terms of general accessibility, Lemon8 very much seems aimed at tech-literate Gen Z's and their generation’s influencers with its super shiny look and feel, and this will likely be a double-edged sword for users wanting to simply upload the odd holiday pic - something further exacerbated by a slightly more involved creation process. To create the sustained groundswell needed to seriously compete with the likes of Instagram, it’ll need to do a lot more, and a lot better to really have a chance of success with Western audiences. To read our thoughts on other emerging platforms, visit our blog.