There was a time, around 2015, when Instagram was just a square image platform.
People posted flat plates of food, posed for scenic travel snaps, and took mirror selfies in bathrooms that looked like spaceships. Each image was dipped in the soft light bitter filter; a relaxing (and chronological) scroll into the subconscious of ambitious millennials.
But that was then, and this is now: non-stop ads and featured Reels (often secondhand from video-sharing app TikTok, the format they mimic) bombard the timeline and Instagram is louder than ever, while the big brands and influencers vie for attention – and money. In the process, users see less and less of the content they actually want to see.
Enter Lemon8, a new app from TikTok parent company ByteDance, which hopes to remedy people’s vertical video fatigue with its back-to-basics photo-sharing format.
What is Lemon8?
Described as the love child of Pinterest and Instagram, Lemon8 is a Gen-Z inspired, influencer-inspired social media app that allows people to share pictures and videos with their followers.
First launched in Japan in 2020, the app made its US and UK debut in February 2023 and has already seen a huge surge in popularity. It’s been downloaded at least 17 million times worldwide since it became available, according to Apptopia, a company that provides market data for the mobile app economy.
Lemon8 targets a younger audience specifically interested in lifestyle topics, focusing on the following five main categories: beauty, fashion, food, travel and pets.
Unlike Twitter or LinkedIn, this isn’t a place you come to discuss politics or workplace issues—it’s a scrapbook-style space for curating cute outfits and cooking recipes.
How to use Lemon8?
The app is incredibly intuitive to use, with the familiar “For You” feed and another tab for “Follow.” You can navigate the categories at the top of the page and scroll endlessly between aesthetically pleasing images of overnight oats and disco decor.
A standout feature is the integration of simplistic graphic design tools, which encourage the use of text, stickers, and music while editing to make posts more inspiring.
Longer blog post-style captions are also preferred, emphasizing the app’s desire to be informative and hinting at its potential uses for search engine optimization (SEO) in the future.
There’s the option to post single images, multi-image carousels, or videos, though it’s a less popular medium here, with users looking for a respite from Reels.
is it safe to use?
To put it lightly, Lemon8’s sister app TikTok hasn’t had the best press of late, with privacy concerns and security breaches resulting in a growing number of countries to be banned the Chinese-owned platform on federal government devices. More recently, lawmakers in Montanathe United States, has passed legislation to become the first state to ban TikTok completely.
Despite such heated scrutiny from regulators, ByteDance still appears determined to promote its new app, especially in the US, where it has even hired a team in New York to work with creators on Lemon8 in particular, according to a Insider report.
While Lemon8 shares the same algorithm as TikTok, there is no evidence to suggest it is in any way dangerous to use.
Tried Lemon8 for a week
Full disclosure: I’m not an influencer.
I rarely wear makeup, I can’t cook, I pair almost all my clothes with pajama bottoms, and I own more cat-themed sweaters than designer bags.
I have to admit, I’m not the target audience of Lemon8, an app that wears its superficiality with pride. This is a platform designed for content creators to create content that is ambitious, which makes even more sense in an ad-bloated digital landscape where social media for effective social connection is truly dead.
This is not to say that you have to be an influencer to enjoy using Lemon8. While I logged on as a skeptic at first, a carousel of images from someone’s recent charity shop trip grabbed me immediately. So – wait, is that a Hello Kitty cafe in Brighton? Oooh, a review of skincare using products from The Ordinary!
I won’t bore you with all the content I devoured in the “Pets” category.
What struck me the most was how quiet the app was. The chaotic mishmash of mediums found on other platforms is absent here; it’s all just a silent scroll through a friendly and consistent themed image style, which is something I didn’t realize I missed so much.
The graphics are also a really nice touch. Their ability to transform even a mundane set of images into something informative (and sometimes entertaining) allows for a lot of creativity, while longer descriptive captions bring more sustained attention to what you’re viewing.
I tried to post something to test the editing side of things and spent way too much time playing around with all the different font styles and placements – it was so much fun!
As you can see, I won’t be making any money as a Lemon8 influencer any time soon (although my cat might).
Can Lemon8 replace Instagram?
While I can’t see myself using this app on a regular basis (sorry, I’m too busy watching memes on Reddit, TV show spoilers on Twitter, and watching silly TikTok about a doll named Jasper), I’ll probably check every once in a while for things like models of crochet clothing and vegan food.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lemon8 is the way it embraces the artificial and idealized content that social media is so often criticized for. This made me question whether I’m really looking for authenticity online – any of us are? The rise of apps like BeReal, which warn people to take photos at random times of day, would suggest this, although a recent article in the New York Times he also documented how most of Gen-Z are already moving away from it.
I think the key thing here is Lemon8’s honesty about what it is. I often look at content from smaller creators that feel more real and relatable, but other times I crave beautiful images of bubble tea and banana pancakes. I like knowing where to go to find these things, rather than getting lost in the surging and choking it all at once, which has become so much of the social media experience.
I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way. People are getting tired of Meta and its push on performance media (advertiser-tracked content), which has taken over both Facebook and Instagram as the company attempts to replicate the successes of TikTok.
This has opened up the space for new apps, like Lemon8, to provide what many users lack: simplicity.
But whether people will leave Instagram forever remains an open question. Many users have grown up with the app and have an archive of themselves stored there. Others have used Instagram to build successful audiences as influencers.
And even when we start to hate the social media spaces we occupy, it’s still not that easy to leave them behind when they’re so ingrained in our daily lives. Just like real-life relationships, any fallout tends to be much slower; a gradual move away and movement towards where others in our lives are going.
While Lemon8 is certainly a great antidote to meta burnout, it’s still so new, and therefore hard to say whether it will reshape people’s social media habits in the long run.
For now, at least, Lemon8 is a throwback to the simpler Insta 2015 days.