Remember the year 2007? This was the year the iPhone was first released. This was the year that Barack Obama started his historic campaign for president. And that was the year that the social media titan, Facebook, launched into the mainstream. It was truly an inflection point for our culture.
Facebook went from having 12 million users in 2006 to having 58 million users by the end of 2007. (Notably because it went from being a platform exclusive to college students to being open to anyone above the age of 13.) Now your grandma could have a Facebook profile and—good news for you—hilariously not understand how to use the platform whatsoever.
But then social media started to change, arguably for the worse… and we changed with it. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and founder, recently apologized for making people’s lives worse because of Facebook. He vowed to find a solution to the growing problem of sensationalism and manipulation caused by the Facebook platform.
In light of this recent news and concerns over user privacy, people have started looking for an alternative to the current social media platforms. That’s where Vero comes in. Vero is a relatively new social media platform designed to be an ad-free cross between Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Spotify. The name of their game is user-control and a user-driven experience. Let’s take a view of the social media landscape and see why Vero has suddenly skyrocketed in popularity.
How Some Social Media Sites Have “Dropped the Ball” Recently
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s what a lot of people ask every time a social media site decides to redesign their app experience. Since social media sites are primarily software, it is common practice to update your software every 1 to 2 years. However, updates can be a pain! What irks a majority of people is the fact that you have to not only search for previously easy-to-find content, but the redesigns are often an obvious ploy to meet the company’s goals of monetizing the apps. This cycle of updating and monetizing has caused a significant backlash for almost every major social media platform.
Every year Facebook redesigns its site and accompanying apps, and every year people hate it. Facebook’s relentless pursuit of a sustainable business model back in 2009 created the data-driven audience-based advertising business model they were looking for. Their platform was redesigned around presenting more targeted advertisements to its users. While profits grew for the company as a result, there was a festering problem below the surface that came to a head in 2016.
The alleged meddling of Russian bad actors in the U.S. presidential election via Facebook advertisements brought a cavalcade of scrutiny to the tech giant (the Russian influencers were said to have reached over 126 millions Americans via Facebook alone). Although Zuckerberg promises to help fix the problem of fake news and malicious content on Facebook, there is no guarantee that his changes will surmount to anything significant. Facebook may be too big to make the changes it needs.
Facebook ultimately cannot be fixed without gutting its entire advertising model. That means eschewing the point-by-point fixes and going for a subscription model with a focus on user happiness after using the platform. This may upset stockholders due to the loss of advertising revenue, but Zuckerberg is a super-majority shareholder and basically can do what he pleases with the company.
While Facebook may be able to withstand quite a lot of backlash to its platform over updates, Snapchat does not have the user base to protect it. Snapchat recently overhauled its entire app user experience and people really, really hate it.
For the unfamiliar, the app used to be divided evenly between “Chat, Stories, and Discover” sections. The “Stories” section, which allows users to post pictures or videos for a day versus the usual 10 second max, is what put Snapchat on the map. Instagram and Facebook quickly copied that functionality and Instagram has seen the feature become even more popular than Snapchat. Now the “Chat and Stories” are combined in a confusing amalgam while the “Stories” feed has been done away with.
So what does this all mean? Basically, Snapchat made the one defining feature of their app unusable and thus drove previously dedicated users to Instagram and Vero.
The problem with Instagram is that it is trying to be everything to everyone. People spend a ton of time on the app, and it is slowly replacing Snapchat as the go-to for “Stories.” However, the intense popularity-based algorithm (picked up from Facebook) and ad-driven nature of Instagram has driven people to alternatives like Vero. The app’s algorithm maximizes the amount of time you spend in the app by showing things you supposedly want to see, but it ends up suffocating content from your friends. This has infuriated users and when Vero spiked in popularity recently, many people started to aggressively move to Vero as a form of protest.
How Vero Plans to Beat the Competition
The main problem with most social media networks today is that there is a lack of balance between the interests of the users and the interests of the social media companies. Social media sites need to have companies buy advertisements on their platform so that the service can remain free to the user.
So where does Vero fit in this ever-changing social media landscape? In order to combat many of the problems surrounding social media sites, several experts and news organizations have suggested we make all social media sites charge a nominal fee for using the site. Vero is one of the first social media sites to offer this subscription-based business model. This allows them to not rely on advertisements in order to generate income, thus eliminating a lot of the problems facing “free” social media sites like Facebook.
People’s frustrations with Instagram’s ruthless algorithm has prompted the huge surge in Vero’s popularity recently. Instead of sorting content algorithmically, the site sorts posts in reverse-chronological order (like other networks used to). This makes sure that everyone’s posts have an equal chance of being seen since the user does not need to be directed to any specific corner of the platform to view advertisements. It also gives the option to give weight to relationships so that you can share to specific groups of friends, acquaintances, or followers.
One huge difference for Vero is that it only collects a small amount of data on its users. Vero promises to “only collect the data we believe is necessary to provide users with a great experience and to ensure the security of their accounts.” This focus is a fresh concept in the age when all other companies are, quite literally, in the business of data collection.
Vero’s CEO is No Saint
Vero is not without its problems, however. Recently there has been a call to boycott the app over the past business history of its CEO, Ayman Hariri. Saudi Oger, Hariri’s Saudi Arabian construction company, recently was accused of forcing workers to live in labor camps, denying as much as 9 months-worth of pay, and even having workers “left stranded without pay or access to basic living supplies.”
There is a stark hypocrisy in wanting to create a more liberating social media platform while previously running a business that denied its own workers their liberties. While this may be the case, it is important to decide for yourself whether looking into Vero is worth your effort.
What do you think? Is Vero the wave of the future? Or a flashing fad that has already seen its 15 minutes of fame?