Vero aims to be the social network you’ll love, not just use

What do you call a social network without advertising? Depending on whether you’re a user or a businessperson, the answer is probably either “brilliant” or “bust”. Despite the promise of truly targeted ads that would be more like content than interruptions, social media users tend to view ads with disdain. And yet, of course, social networks need money to run – so we carry on being annoyed by advertising, or using ad-blockers to try and get around it.

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The aim of Vero is different: it wants to be a social network that adds so much value to your life that you’ll willingly pay for it. In exchange for the price of a cup of coffee or two per year, you’ll get a social network that allows you to be yourself, in an ad-free environment.

Ayman Hariri, founder and CEO of Vero, told me about its origins, which lie in his personal experience of other social networks. “I came on a little bit late, wanted to let things evolve before jumping in. When I did, I found the people I knew in the real world acted very different compared to the real world,” he explained.

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“Everyone ends up being friends and followers – and that’s not the real way that people act. You end up creating a persona which is catering to a crowd rather than dealing with people the way you do in the world. In real life, we deal with people in ways with a degree of intimacy. So with Vero we set degrees of intimacy – sharing with close friends is different.” To that end, Vero is built from the ground up with different “levels” of friendship, so you can choose to share whatever you want with the right groups at the right time.

Of course, this is something that other social networks – most notably Facebook – are aware of too. Facebook allows you to create different groups, such as friends, family and acquaintances, and even allow non-friends to “Follow” your profile. But this all adds layers of complexity on top of a social network that wasn’t designed from the ground up to support it. As Hariri puts it, “it’s very difficult for Facebook or Instagram to do this, because it’s hard to do after the fact. It’s all about being truly social – being yourself.”

The biggest challenge for any social network, though, will always be growth. Social networks thrive on the “network effect”: the more of your friends and family are using a service, the more valuable it becomes to you. And if you’re friends aren’t on a social network, it removes the “social” aspect of it.

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Hariri thinks Vero can grow through a couple of methods. First, he believes that good design will ultimately attract an audience. “We’ve seen lots of organic growth because people like the interface, and that’s something we’ve really focused on. We didn’t want to release as soon as we could. We took a year designing and building the initial app, and it hasn’t changed that much since then, which I think shows we got it right.”

The second approach to attracting an audience is through exclusive content. “We also work with artists and creators to get them to create new things, which are only available on Vero. For example, Max Joseph, one of the Catfish team. He wanted to create something that was a little bit more of a self-reflection, and he thought Vero really worked for that.”

The result is a new film, available only on Vero, called Dicks. Described as “Part TED-talk, part ‘Don Quixote’”, Dicks looks at whether you need to be, well, a dick to succeed. It’s a nice piece of work, self-absorbed, but also engaging.

At present, Vero is free – but eventually it will follow a model similar to that tried by WhatsApp, with a small annual fee amounting to a few pounds. Hariri describes this as “small change – we don’t want to own the world, and because we don’t need the scale required by advertising, we don’t need everyone in the world to be on Vero to make it work.”

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