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Meet Vero: Why a billionaire’s Instagram alternative is suddenly so popular

March 1, 2018

Instagram haters are jumping on a new social media bandwagon.

Vero, a photo-sharing app that launched in 2015, is the latest app to benefit from ongoing frustration with Instagram’s hated algorithm.

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A week ago, the app was ranked so low it didn’t even appear in the App Store’s top 1,500 apps; today it’s the most popular app in the entire App Store. It’s gotten so popular that the app’s servers have been overloaded, with many users unable to post or even sign up for an account.
The app’s pacing to add more than 500,000 users in 24 hours, and that’s just on iOS in the U.S., according to data from Sensor Tower, a company that specializes in app analytics.

What is Vero?
Launched in 2015, Vero bills itself as an ad-free “social network that lets you be yourself.” The app is the brainchild of billionaire businessman Ayman Hariri, son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri, who has a net worth of $1.33 billion, according to Forbes, told CNBC he started the app because he was frustrated with the privacy policies of ad-based social networks.

In practice, though, it’s very similar to Instagram, with a few important differences. Though most users seem to be posting photos, the app also lets you share text and URLs, as well as recommendations for books, TV shows, and movies.

Perhaps the app’s biggest differentiator from current social networks is that it sorts posts in reverse-chronological feed, not algorithmically. You can also browse posts from your connections by type or browse popular hashtags.

It also distinguishes connections based on their relationship to you. You can designate people as close friends, friends, acquaintances, or followers and opt to share posts specifically with these groups.

Vero also emphasizes its privacy polices. It says it only collects a minimal amount of data about its users, like their names, email addresses and phone numbers, but doesn’t provide data to advertisers or other third parties.

So how does it make money?
The short answer is that it doesn’t — at least, not yet. Because there are no ads on the platform, Vero says it will eventually rely on user subscriptions for the bulk of its revenue.

The company hasn’t begun to implement subscriptions yet — it says it’s permanently “waiving” the fee for its first million users — but that users will eventually be required to pay “a small annual fee.” (CNBC reported the fee will be “a few dollars a year.”)

Vero also takes a cut from products other companies sell within the app.

Why now?
Vero first launched in the App Store in 2015, where it initially got very little attention. In December 2015, it briefly reached No. 45 in the App Store’s social networking category, according to data from App Annie. It dropped off the charts entirely soon after (the App Store only ranks the top 1,500 apps in any category).

That changed in the last few days, though. Late last week, the app suddenly shot up the rankings, moving from No. 566 to No. 1 in a matter of four days, according to data from App Annie. It will soon go from around 600,000 lifetime downloads in the App Store and Google Play, to more than 500,000 in a day, according to forecasts from Sensor Tower.

And while it’s not clear what has prompted Vero’s sudden surge, it appears to be at least partly due to frustration’s with Instagram’s algorithm, which has been bubbling up for months.

Instagrammers have been upset over the app’s algorithm since it rolled out last year. But, unlike other changes, which people have gotten used to over time, frustration seems to have only intensified over time.

Now, Instagram users are promoting their Vero accounts to followers. There are currently more than 500,000 Instagram posts tagged as #Vero, the majority of which are users posting screenshots of their profiles and asking followers to join them on the app.

Whether the app’s popularity will last is another matter. Other social apps, like Ello and Peach and Sarahah, have been able to briefly capitalize on Internet virality, but ultimately lacked the staying power to become viable alternatives to Facebook and Instagram.

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