Vero is a new breed of social network that lets users share content with specific sets of friends. The app could be described as a little bit Facebook but without the ads, a little bit Instagram but without the much-loathed algorithm, a little YouTube but without Logan Paul, and a little bit Twitter but without all the vitriol.
The company, whose slogan is “less social media, more social life,” saw a surge in sign-ups over the weekend which caused its UK-based servers to slow to a crawl.
“We’re experiencing an outage due to heavy load,” read a Sunday tweet from the company. Whether it’s Facebook fatigue, or annoyance with Snapchat’s recent redesign, or for Instagram’s widely hated algorithm, sign-ups have surged to more than 1 million seemingly overnight.
When asked about the rapid growth, a Vero spokesperson said Monday that “it’s no surprise that our users have galvanized to introduce the app to their communities and send Vero to the top of the charts.”
“Over the past few days, we’ve jumped from #19 to #3 on the U.S. iTunes Social Networking charts, and have cracked the to 10 list of Free Apps – and our users continue to increase daily,” the rep for Vero said.
The app is the brainchild of billionaire businessman Ayman Hariri, son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri has a net worth of $1.33 billion according to Forbes, and he told CNBC that he started the app because he was frustrated with the privacy policies of ad-based social networks like Facebook.
Vero is a different kind of social network, one that was specifically designed in response to how existing networks have counterintuitively made people unsociable. The app in practice is similar to Instagram, but with a few key differences. Users can post a range of content from photos to text and URLS, as well as recommendations for books, TV shows, and movies.
But the app’s biggest differentiator from the current crop of social media networks is that it doesn’t display posts based on an algorithm, instead shows posts in a revers-chronological feed. Users can also browse posts from other users’ connections by type or browse popular hashtags.
“We don’t have algorithms that decide what you see,” said Vero CEO Hariri. “You need to have the entire environment encourage a true social interaction.”
It also allows users to sort connections based on their relationship. Users can designate connections as close friends, friends, acquaintances, or followers, and can opt to share posts specifically with these groups.
Vero also says that it only collects a minimal amount of data on its users, like their names, email addresses, and phone numbers, and doesn’t provide data to advertisers or other third parties unlike other social media companies.
So without advertising, how does Vero make money?
The short answer is that it doesn’t, at least not right now. Vero says that it was always developed to be subscription-based, however, for now it isn’t charging anyone.
The company announced last Wednesday that the app would be free for life for the first million users to sign up, which helped spur the surge in sign-ups. There is no word yet on what the subscription fee will be once implemented. The company says it will also charge merchants when they sell products with Vero’s “buy now” feature.
The surge in sign-ups was also largely fueled by word-of-mouth across communities, from cosplay to tattoo artists, and Mashable reports that Apptopia data revealed that 50% of the app’s users are between 21 and 40 years old.
With many people—justifiably—obsessed with online personal privacy, Vero seems poised to make a killing. The minimal data it collects will only be shared with explicit consent of the user only “If you tell us you are happy for us to do so” according to the company.
Vero’s emergence from the woodwork comes at a time when Facebook and Twitter have seen their reputations battered after scandals over Russian political disruptors, as well as persistent rumors that Facebook is secretly listening to users for advertising purposes.
It also comes at a time when Facebook seems to have finally tapped out its most valuable market, the U.S. and Canada. Facebook’s daily active user base in the U.S. and Canada fell for the first time ever in Q4 2017, dropping by 1 million active users. While it was a small decline, it still isn’t a great sign for the embattled social media pioneer nor for its investors.
Vero’s terms forbid the use of bots and fake accounts. Hariri stressed to Mashable that they are not after numbers “for the sake of numbers,” something all social networks—from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat—have been criticized for as their user numbers are frequently inflated by bots.
It remains to be seen how users on Vero will shape its reputation, but for now Hariri and his team are calling the app “true social” by connecting people with other people around passions.
“Vero is a social network that lets you share the things that you love form TV shows, to movies, to books, to photos, stuff that you find online with whoever you want. It’s really built to mimic real world interactions between people,” Hariri said. “The greatest social network is the one that interacts between people. We’re trying to create one that is the most natural. That is the most sustainable emotionally.”