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  • Chris Smith

Vero: 2018’s First Flash-in-the-Pan


Remember that not-so-new, fresh face on the social scene: a platform “that lets you be yourself”, born in the wake of algorithmic dominance across our typical platforms? I’m talking about Vero, the ad-free Social Media Platform. Can’t remember it? Cast your mind back to March…

Despite being live for three years, the app only came into the spotlight (a small spotlight, at that) a few weeks ago. This “new Instagram” as some had dubbed it, made its impact at a metaphorical boiling point – where the public find themselves evermore frustrated with how their social spaces are being handled. Facebook’s personalisation algorithms can feel downright invasive at times. Snapchat’s infamous update is straight-up stopping many from even using the app (myself included – it’s a UX disaster!) and Instagram’s scrapping of any form of a chronological news feed in favour of an algorithmically-generated one based on a set of key factors.

“People naturally seek connection”, reads the Vero Manifesto. “That’s why online social networks have been so widely adopted over the past ten years.” It’s this focus on social links, coupled with the promise of no advertising and no data manipulation (looking at you, Facebook with Cambridge Analytica), that provided the backbone Vero hoped would maintain a strong foundation.

But, as stated, the chances are that you’ve probably never heard of Vero before, and the app has been live for almost three years… so is connection alone enough to make the platform work?

Roughly a month after it first began to increase in popularity, the platform seems to be stalling. I take a look at what made Vero a flash-in-the-pan.

***

I first encountered the ‘Vero-volution’ (you heard it here first) a few weeks back through Instagram, in particular through the creatives that I follow on the platform. Sketch artists, Cosplayers, and Video Content Creators by the boatload were sharing profiles on a daily basis. Given this was the only market that appeared to be tapping into Vero, I made the assumption that it was a new platform for creatives, like a Behance with more focus on the individual than the work.

I found out soon after what the full scope of Vero was, learning that it was created as a reaction to the saturation of logistics and advertising across our usual platforms, and that this surge in popularity came as a result of public distaste for those same things.

And for these creatives, and influencers from all sectors, the draw is very understandable. Not only will their content be shown chronologically, but the option to include links in posts, as well as organise their connections to the point of personalisation also is very alluring. The opportunities it presents to build meaningful communities as opposed to a system of influencer and followers is obvious.

But if that’s the case, why isn’t Vero exploding into something truly revolutionary? What’s holding it back from being the Instagram killer?

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It comes down, in my opinion, to two major flaws. And I mean major. They also explain why a designer is writing this blog, not an industry analyst.

Firstly, as mentioned, Vero prides itself on being completely devoid of advertising. This is going to prove to be their Achilles Heel, as it’s common knowledge that advertising is how a lot of services are able to be provided for free. Paying our TV Licences is what keeps the BBC ad free, and Vero is soon going to have to follow a similar framework in order to sustain the app.

But while a service which provides unique content and opportunities such as the BBC, Netflix or Spotify are able to charge for access (and not without occasional backlash of their own from time to time), an unknown and unproven service such as Vero is going to find it difficult to survive after their current promotion of free profiles. Case in point: anyone remember Tidal?

Vero had originally said it would start to charge once it hit one million users, adding a touch of exclusivity. But now it has gone back on this and said it will be free “to all new users until further notice”, a move it says is on the back of service failures that were faced in March as the app began to grow in popularity. However. It feels like this could also be a move to continue the growth while people are talking about it and the service is still untested.

As soon as Vero comes with a paywall, the response is likely to be singular: Nope.

The second and most relevant flaw in my perspective, is that the application, in spite of its lovely grey and teal colour scheme (hrmm), and more than three years of development and updates, it’s a marvel of UX misfires.

I took it upon myself to see what the fuss was about and sign up during the height of the Vero buzz, and needless to say that it hasn’t kept me intrigued. Upon opening the application and beginning the sign-up process, you are requested up front to provide your email and phone number. If I weren’t doing this for research purposes, I would have – personally – closed down there and then, and I can imagine that I wouldn’t be the only one. For being so against algorithms and unnecessary data collation, this made me immediately wary of what Vero had in store for me.

And that turned out to be…well, nothing, frankly. That is, nothing besides an empty feed, a lacking walkthrough and a tiny set of icons that make up the UI. And I was lucky enough not to be plagued with slow loading times as a result of the influx of new users.

In short, it’s a hot mess.

If I were in the position that some of these influencers are, with a pre-established community that are likely to also sign up and get involved, my pessimism may be less intense, but the truth of the matter is that I’m not – and that fact is what makes me sure that Vero is destined to fail. While it may find some success at the moment with these communities that are hungry for a social experience focused on the user, the truth of the matter is that they seem to be the only ones who are fussed enough to do something about it.

If the app and user experience were better developed instead of just having a nice brand identity, and if there were some compromise that would prevent the eventual introduction of paid membership, then I could have seen Vero having a foundation that it could start to build on. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t have any of these things. Plus, with its rigid stance on no data collection, it was straightaway going to be difficult to grow and develop the platform past its current state to match market trends, which could ultimately be the killer blow.

That’s not to say that the platform will die altogether: there still seems to be a dedicated group of users, including filmmaker Zack Snyder. But if you were looking for a new channel on the back of the ‘delete Facebook’ movement, it’s probably worth searching elsewhere.