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Vero: a case for social media's unpredictability

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Quite a lot of people must have been surprised at me this Monday as I ran out of the library without a jacket under the heavy snowfall, looking for signal on my phone. I was this excited, because – like a lot of us, who are fed up with our existing social media – we were finally being promised an end to one of our biggest pet peeves. 

There is a seemingly inexplicable gap on the social media market that Vero has promised to fill - to create a social media where you got all the posts in the order they were made. That is, the ever-elusive chronological timeline.

And boy, does it deliver. To avoid bots and spam and to verify your account, Vero needs your phone number, and after that you’re in. After that, it’s as straightforward as any other social media.

You can make six different posts – picture, link, music, movie/TV, book, or place. It’s definitely much more versatile compared to Instagram (what it aims to replace). But, given its self-proclaimed mission to deliver us real interaction, it has surprisingly missed adding a simple text option, which is what Twitter-obsessed me communicates most with.

While providing a chronological timeline sounds deceptively simple, it has remained a conundrum for apps with millions of users.

From the point of view of a social media company, an algorithm-based timeline favouring interaction is much easier to monetise. Brands that use your platform (and brands can’t not use Facebook, for example) will have to be worried about active engagement, rather than passive likes on your page.

And when a brand is struggling to achieve that, that’s where the social media steps in, and offers to show their content to the audience they would normally reach – for a small fee, of course.

As a content creator, that is terrible, and particularly crippling to those who are just starting out, but that is the reality of Online Marketing in 2018.

What’s worse is there doesn’t seem to be an alternative. Once you get rid of the ad-based revenue, how does a social media company create a financially sustainable network which will ideally support millions of users with none of the financial income that has so far proven to work?

Vero’s answer seems to be a subscription-based model, while sweetening the deal with a lifetime free entry into the presumably glamourous community for the first one million. Faced with the upsurge of downloads that threshold was extended until further notice, but that would be only a temporary fix.

However, with the sudden moment into the spotlight, Vero has had to endure its scrutiny too. First, the advent of the app showed exactly what a small amount of us read the fine print. Faced with a new, unfamiliar product, people suddenly got interested in reading Vero’s terms and conditions. While they sound incredibly scary, they aren’t actually that different from what you agree to when you use Facebook or Twitter.                      

The second problem, however, came rife with misinformation, in true social media fashion. Ayman Hariri, the Vero CEO, was also the deputy CEO and chairman of Saudi Oger, one of the biggest Saudi construction companies which was also set up by his father. However, their practices were so bad that their workers were routinely left without pay (especially migrant workers) to the point where the Saudi government, which isn't famous for being nice, had to step in.

According to a Vero press release, however, Hariri stepped down from the company before the malpractice took place. It’s up to each of us to decide how true that is, and how much involvement he’s had after that, however.

The press release continues in an even sketchier direction: “There have been a handful of media articles in recent years which mistakenly referred to Ayman as if he had an ongoing role at Saudi Oger – including one mention in error on Vero’s own site in a release from February 2016.”

In an interview with Forbes, Hariri shared that while he wanted to go in the direction of technology, as per his education, he didn’t want to completely abandon his father’s legacy. That could partly explain the mistakes floating around. 

Regardless of what the truth is, it’s clear certain people wouldn’t be comfortable using the app. But even that won’t stop most, seeing as from the humble 150,000 downloads, Vero has jumped up to nearly 3 million in the span of a week. Questions about the future monetisation, however, remain unanswered.

So what happens after Vero finds itself unable to widen the threshold any further? As users, we are literally fine with companies collecting massive amounts of data on us, but can’t cope with paying a small fee ensuring our own privacy.

Most probably Vero will fade into obscurity - another cool new thing, marred by controversy, that the endless news cycle will enthusiastically blabber about for half a day more and forget. How do I know that? It's not the first attempt to introduce chronological timelines, like the forgotten-too-soon Peach and Ello would be keen to remind us.  

In terms of clients (aka, us), it might just fade into the obscurity of those apps we download certain apps, use once and completely forget about.

That is a bit of a shame, because the app is quite nice, albeit still rough around the edges. The colour scheme of the UI is a godsend, relying on dark tones with green-blue lines for ease of night blogging, and for what it’s worth, there seems to be a small community forming in on itself in (which is, you know, the main point of a social media).

There are still some hiccups in the design of the user experience, but none that are dealbreakers or that can’t be explained with the fact that the app is still in beta and it’s just got an unexpected surge of popularity. For example, you can’t swipe down to refresh the app, which is standard pretty much everywhere, and it tends to disconnect just as you’re in the middle of putting up a post or polishing your bio.

However, the most important test – of time – is what Vero will have to face quite soon, and with all these allegations going towards it, things aren’t looking quite optimistic.

You can download Vero for iPhone and on Android.

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