“People naturally seek connection. That’s why online social networks have been so widely adopted over the past 10 years. . .but as time passed, an imbalance began to form between the interests of the platforms and the best interest of the users. And a false sense of connection left us lonelier than ever.”
That’s the social media app Vero’s Jerry Maguire-esque manifesto. Who can read those lines without feeling the tiniest burn of fire in their belly? After all, Facebook’s feed birthed fake news and left the door open for Russia to influence the presidential election, while Instagram has decided to push its own users into oversharing in a tone-deaf design update. Twitter, in the meantime, has been something of a cesspool of harassment that’s just starting to turn a corner. And Snapchat just pissed a million users off.
Vero has been around since 2015, but within the last week, the app has suddenly exploded as the Instagram-Facebook-Snapchat-alternative of 2018. Currently topping the iOS App Store, Vero’s servers are being crushed under the weight of new users–though it’s unclear exactly how many. Worth noting: The company’s own message of freedom and transparency might be hypocritical at best.
So what’s driving Vero’s apparent growth? For one thing, the company is brilliantly playing on the anger many people feel at social media companies by making promises aimed at many of the public’s biggest qualms with giants like Facebook. For instance, Vero says it will never have ads. It won’t sell your data to advertisers, either. And it will never reorder your timeline via an algorithm optimized for engagement. Instead, it plans to charge you a subscription–eventually. Facebook makes about $6/quarter off its users from advertising. Vero’s premise seems to be that you pay it directly, instead.
That’s Vero’s pitch in a nutshell: your favorite social app, without its worst parts. Well, in theory. Except that Vero’s user experience is terrible. Here’s a brief glimpse into my first 10 minutes of using the app, alongside my editor: two resident millennials throwing caution to the wind and trying out Vero so that you never, ever have to.
Minute 1: Trying to Sign Up
Mark: Haha, I signed up, hit “next,” and it freezes.
Kelsey: *Runs back into Facebook’s cold embrace*
Minute 2: Choosing Millennial Avatars
Mark: I just cropped a bathroom selfie successfully for my profile pic, but I cant save it.
Kelsey: I’ll do a Snapchat filter for mine to complete the illusion.
Minute 3: Critiquing the Intricacies of the Design
Kelsey: The design is pure iOS 7, right?
Mark: Haha, with the clear overlays and shit.
Minute 4: The App, From 2015, Is Still In Beta
Mark: Imagine if you went into a restaurant and the server was like, “oh, we just opened three years ago. We only have $20 million in funding. We don’t know if we can cook that burger medium well or not.”
Kelsey: Is it possible this is just a troll to get people off social media?
Minute 5: Trying to Friend Each Other
Kelsey: What’s your name on here, Mark?
Mark: My name is just Mark Wilson. I think. What’s yours?
Kesley: My name is my name.
[We ponder a moment at how deep this is.]
Mark: I type your name. I hit “done.” It just goes back to the home screen.
Kelsey: I searched and you came up for five seconds, but when I tried to click it you were gone.
Mark: Isn’t a real name a horrible way to organize?
Minute 6: Realizing We Might Not Actually Be Friends
Mark: I can’t believe there’s no way to auto-add your friends.
Mark: It’s like, just mine my address book–please. I will sell my friends’ souls for halfway simpler UX. Sorry friends.
Kelsey: O.K. I sent you a connection. See if you got it.
[Vero’s most interesting bit of design is that it lets me choose how good of a friend Kelsey is. That’s key because every post I share from here on out is rated by the social circle I want to be talking to. We’re forced to decide: just how good of friends are we, really?]
Mark: Acquaintance or friend. . acquaintance or friend. . .Or “close friend.” Whoa.
[We both make a selection. But neither of us dares speak a word of how we’ve categorized our friendship.]
Minute 7: It’s All In Metric
Mark: [attempts to post a photo of Pad Thai he made the other day, because he’s insufferable.] These filters are butt. It’s like Instagram v0.5. And the first place it recommends I check in? 15 kilometers away. The distance is listed in kilometers. This whole app is on the metric system. Here’s a headline for our story! “We Figured Out Why People Are Flocking To Vero. It’s The Meters.”
Minute 8: Hitting A Rough Patch
Mark: Wait. . .did you list me as an acquaintance? I put you down as a friend. Whoa.
Kelsey: No, you added me as an acquaintance. Stone cold.
Mark: I chose “friend.”
Kelsey: You’re just digging yourself a deeper hole here, acquaintance.
Minute 9: Reckoning With What We’ve Signed Up For
Kelsey: This app just feels like it’s going to sell all our information and infect our phones with the plague.
Mark: Oh yeah, I used a burner password. No way that’s not leaking in four months.
Minute 10: We Both Close Vero Forever
Mark: I’m never using this again. I’ll be shocked if anyone is using it in three months, let alone three weeks.
Kelsey: This is like eating a cronut. It doesn’t taste very good but it distracts me from the banality of life with some fun absurdity I can share with my friends. Or with my acquaintances, in your case.