Instagram users fed up with the service becoming more and more like Facebook are flocking to a hot new app called Vero.
Vero lets you share photos and video just like Instagram, plus it lets you talk about music, movies or books you like or hate. Though Vero has been around since 2015, its popularity surged in recent days, thanks in part to sudden, word-of-mouth interest from the cosplay community — comic book fans who like to dress up as characters. That interest then spread to other online groups.
There's also a growing frustration with Instagram, with a flood of ads, dearth of privacy options and a recent end to the chronological ordering of posts. Instagram users have been posting screenshots of Vero, asking their friends to join.
But don't ring Instagram's death knells just yet. Hot new apps pop up and fizzle by the dozen, so the odds are stacked against Vero. Remember Ello? Peach? Thought so.
"Young people are super fickle and nothing has caught on in the way that Snapchat or Instagram has," said Debra Aho Williamson, an eMarketer analyst who specializes in social media.
From 2015 until this past week, Vero was little known, with fewer than 200,000 users, according to CEO Ayman Hariri. Then cosplay members started posting photos of elaborate costumes and makeup. Photographers, tattoo artists and others followed. As of Thursday, Vero was approaching 3 million users, Hariri said.
A fee, eventually
Vero has gotten so popular in recent days that some users have reported widespread outages and error messages. Vero says it's working to keep up in response "a large wave of new users."
Vero works on Apple or Android mobile devices and is free, at least for now. The company eventually wants to charge a subscription fee.
There are no ads, and the service promises "no data mining. Ever." That means it won't try to sell you stuff based on your interests and habits, as revealed through your posts. Of course, Facebook started out without ads and "data mining," and it's now one of the top internet advertising companies. Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and started showing ads there the following year.
Instagram's privacy settings are all or nothing: You either make everything available to everyone on Instagram, or make everything visible only to approved friends. Vero lets you set the privacy level of individual posts. If you don't want something available to all users, you can choose just close friends, friends or acquaintances.
Another big difference: Vero shows friends' posts in chronological order rather than tailored to your perceived tastes, as determined by software. Instagram got rid of chronological presentations in 2016, a change that hasn't gone well with many users.
Founder was already wealthy
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire after starting the service. Vero's founder was already one.
Hariri is the son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and helped run the family's now-defunct construction company in Saudi Arabia. He got a computer science degree from Georgetown and returned to Saudi Arabia after his father was assassinated in 2005. His half brother, Saad, is Lebanon's current prime minister.
Hariri's ties with the family business, Saudi Oger, have come into question. The company has been accused in recent years of failing to pay workers and stranding them with little food and access to medical care. Vero says Hariri hasn't had any operational or financial involvement with the business since late 2013.
Hariri said he started the service not to replace Instagram but to give people "a more authentic social network." Because Vero doesn't sell ads, he said, it isn't simply trying to get people to stay on longer. More important, he said, is "how you feel when you use [it] and how you feel it's useful."
Newcomers like Ello and Peach can quickly become popular as people fed up with bigger services itch for something new. But reality can set in when people realize that their friends are not on the new services or that these services aren't all they promised to be.
Williamson, the eMarketer analyst, said it's difficult for a new service to become something people use for more than a few weeks.
A rare exception is Snapchat, which was founded in 2010, the same year as Instagram. Unlike Instagram, it has remained an independent company and is still a popular service among younger people. But even Snapchat is having trouble growing more broadly.
EMarketer recently published a report that predicted 2 million people under 25 leaving Facebook for other apps this year. But that means going to Snapchat and the Facebook-owned Instagram, not necessarily emerging services like Vero.