In the space of around four days, social media app Vero has gone from being practically unheard of, to topping app store charts, to being the internet's newest punching bag.
Established in 2015 by the billionaire son of a former Lebanese prime minister, the Instagram alternative earned a handful of mentions at launch and has since languished so low on app store rankings that you couldn't find it on any officially published charts. But then suddenly, earlier this week, it hit number 1 in Apple's US App Store charts, and ranked high in Google Play as well.
You may have been hearing rumblings about a 'new' social media app that's looking to disrupt the current State of Social Media. It's been gaining more and more traction on other social media platforms over the past couple of days, even though it's been around for quite some time now. It aims to be ad-free and algorithm-averse.
But what is Vero and why should you care?
A new US-focused advertising campaign targeting disaffected Instagram and Facebook users appeared to do the trick (Vero offers a chronological feed it claims is algorithm-free, does not display ads and says it collects minimal data from its users), and a handful of key influencers promoting Vero prompted thousands of new sign-ups.
From there, the online buzz sent a FOMO-fuelled wave of hype through Twitter and other online communities, resulting in hundreds of thousands of app downloads over the past few days.
By Tuesday, Vero was on track to get as many downloads in a single week as it had in its entire three-year existence to date, and while many news outlets were claiming that other people were claiming Vero was "the new Instagram", the general talk online wasn't exactly positive. Most mentions on Twitter at the time were people wondering how Vero worked, what it was, or why they should use it instead of Facebook or Instagram. Many had already signed up for a Vero account, and were pimping their new profiles or asking how to build an interesting timeline.
ok I got Vero, now what
— lauren ✄ (@laurDIY) February 27, 2018
For the record, Vero is very similar to Instagram except it also lets you post text or link to web content with URLs. It lets you sort your contacts into tiers and decide how big an audience each post goes out to. Your feed shows all your friends' posts in reverse chronological order, like Facebook in the good old days. The app also offers a platform for discussing and recommending music, books and films, but if content creators want to set up shop in the app to promote their wares Vero takes a juicy cut. True to its word it does not display ads, but it says it is only offering free memberships for the first one million people to make accounts (a brilliant marketing move which likely also helped fuel the rush of sign-ups) and that everyone thereafter will pay an annual fee.
We apologize for the late update.
We are scaling our servers to meet the increasing demand.
We appreciate your continued patience while we work to restore service.
— Vero (@verotruesocial) February 26, 2018
Most contentious of all, people simply googling the app founder's name discovered his ties to an horrific 2016 event in Saudi Arabia, where a construction company run by his family withheld pay from thousands of immigrant workers, and then abandoned them without food, water or electricity in labour camps.
welp Vero was fun until i realized their CEO stopped paying salaries to 9,000 Filipino workers at his previous construction company rendering them essentially homeless and reliant on food donations. peace ✌????
— tyler hansen (@_heyheytyler) February 27, 2018
Early on Wednesday morning, Australia time, Mashable published an article called "How to delete your Vero account," as sure a sign of the app's imminent decline as you could get. As it turns out, removing your information from Vero's servers is no easy task. Even if you manage to log in to the app, you're required to send an email to the company and hope they'll reply before your account can be removed.
Whether or not Vero is a competent, interesting and above-board social network that will continue to be enjoyed by a small audience (and there have been plenty of those, including Peach and Ello), for now it appears to have become a victim of its own hype, shining an incomprehensibly bright spotlight on itself that it just wasn't ready to sit under.
Those feeling put out by Facebook and Instagram's algorithms and ad targeting may have valid concerns. But next time a too-good-to-be-true alternative comes knocking it might be worth finding out what it is, or waiting two days to see if it pans out, before signing up.