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I ditched Instagram for Vero and fell in love with photography again
Instagram appears to have forgotten its roots in photography. In recent years, the app has focused less on photos and more on promoting short-form video reels in content feeds and stories to the top of the page. The few pictures I come across are usually of someone’s lunch or a selfie in front of a mirror. The drive to compete with other video-based apps like TikTok misses what made Instagram special in the first place — the appreciation of stunning, still imagery. Thankfully, I found Vero, a social media app that has allowed me to connect with photography and creators in a way Instagram never did.
I’ve been using Vero alongside Instagram for several years now and have used it exclusively for the past month, so here’s why I think you should give it a go if you like looking at pretty photos more than silly videos.
A focus on photography
While scrolling through Vero, I can’t help but appreciate the beautifully designed user interface. Of course, this is subjective, but I find the simple aesthetic calming, with clever features to enhance the content experience. For example, while browsing a post containing several images, the background colors of the app will automatically adapt to suit the theme. It’s a subtle touch that helps draw attention to the photo.
Additionally, I can actually zoom in on a picture! Whenever I try zooming in on Instagram, it feels broken, and I always fall for it. I have to hold my pinched fingers to the screen to stay zoomed in, and the picture often becomes blurry. On Vero, zooming is much more intuitive. I just open my pinched fingers to zoom in, then take my hand off the screen to view the up-close details of the image. I can pan around to see the rest as I please and hit the back button when I’m done.
No ads or algorithms
I often miss something a friend posted on Instagram because the algorithm refreshes my feed and clutters it with sponsored posts or ads. Unlike almost all big social media platforms, Vero has no algorithms or ads. Zero. In other words, it contains what I want to see — posts from people I follow, not posts from people Instagram thinks I should follow or for things it thinks I should buy.
A strictly chronological feed of content from people I follow erases all the fluff.
The strictly chronological feed is really the icing on the cake. Unlike Instagram, where the feed refreshes after opening the app, and I have to scroll down to find the last post I saw, Vero remembers where in my feed I left off and lets me pick up from there. Upon opening the app, I just scroll up to see everything posted since I was away. Or, a quick tap of the Home button takes me to the most recent posts.
The app’s desktop and tablet versions give a full-spread view of posts instead of a linear feed. It’s a nice change-up in presentation across devices that makes it easier to view more posts quickly and catch up with what’s new.
Vero’s Co-Founder and CEO, Ayman Hariri, says Vero was born from a frustration with the one-size-fits-all model of Big Social. That model is the transaction in which people get a free profile but, in return, have to give up an unending amount of personal data about themselves, their interests, their relationships, and so on. Vero has so far lived up to its promise of being something different, but time will tell if it can stick to its morals once the server bills start increasing and investors come looking for returns. At that point, it will be easier said than done.
More real people, fewer bots
Because there is no money to be made on Vero, fewer creators are on the app. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I have the impression that most people on Vero know they will have less reach than on the big networks, and they don’t seem to care: They are (and remain) there for the original content and the connecting with others aspect. I find it to be a case of quality over quantity, as there is far less hashtag abuse and less content catered just to get clicks.
It's not hard to discover new artists without an algorithm.
It’s not hard to discover new artists without an algorithm, either. The app often spotlights notable artists on the Featured page, including the likes of Zack Snyder, Peter McKinnon, and Madona. The company even has its own record label to sponsor up-and-coming musicians. Additionally, the recent addition of a curated Discovery page made it easier for me to find photographers and visual artists of all different styles.
From a creator’s perspective, there’s no need to fine-tune posts to please the almighty algorithm in the hopes of getting noticed. That takes a lot of pressure off, especially since many photographers on Instagram have reported a significant drop in engagement — when it comes to still images, there has been a 44 percent decrease in engagement for in-feed posts on Instagram since 2019. So, who knows, you might have better luck finding a niche community here that appreciates your work.
The app also does its best to deter bot accounts. Vero requires that everyone register with their cell number, just like with Signal or WhatsApp. This requirement means I don’t have to deal with as many fake accounts following me. (The limited popularity of the app surely helps keep bots away as well.) The few fake accounts that have followed me were removed by the next day, whereas on apps like Twitter or Instagram, it feels like at least one new fake account follows me every day.
More sharing options
Although Vero focuses on sharing photography, I appreciate that I can share pretty much anything I want, from what music I’m enjoying to what movies I’m watching or books I’m reading. I can connect with friends and followers in various ways, such as by voice or video calls and private chats within the app. The various options position Vero as a one-stop-shop social media portal.
Further, I have complete control over who sees my post. There is no need for separate accounts to hide my identity or share more personal posts on Vero. A basic audience selector allows me to effectively control who sees my posts through four easy-to-use levels: close friends, friends, acquaintances, and the public. I can edit the visibility of a post after posting as well.
Another feature here that Instagram sorely lacks are clickable links. It’s a bit ridiculous that in 2022, Instagram still doesn’t allow links in posts. I suspect this is because the developers don’t want me to leave the app. But then again, it could be a measure to avoid excessive spam, given the number of fake accounts. Regardless, Meta could fix it one way or another if it wanted to.
In contrast, on Vero, I can link to anything from apps to locations or even share a cool profile I found. The freedom to link outside the app with several options is refreshing.
It’s free to use — for the time being
When Vero launched in 2015, the founders said only the first million accounts would be free. In 2018, it nearly tripled its user base from 150,000 to over 3 million. Today, the app has a modest 5 million active users and is still completely free to use.
Granted, Instagram is free too, but only largely in part due to the ridiculous number of ads. And while Instagram claims not to sell or share my data with anyone else, I find it a bit suspicious that ads are targeted so precisely. For instance, soon after shopping for a product on Amazon, it’s not uncommon to see it recommended to me in an ad on Instagram.
Conversely, it’s impressive that Vero remained free all this time for a platform that doesn’t receive ad revenue. The app has so far sustained itself due to its founder’s funding and revenues generated by affiliate fees. But that may not last forever. There has been chatter that Vero plans to introduce a paid subscription model in the future. As stylish and less commercial as the interface is, I am worried that introducing a paid subscription will deter newcomers, reducing the community’s growth. The good news is that you can secure a free account for life if you sign up now — at least that’s the current promise.
Should you make the switch?
Some people like their stories, portrait videos, and an algorithm to feed them content instead of seeking it out. But if you’re not a fan of the direction Instagram is going, Vero is a great platform to reconnect with the roots of photography. For me, the experience feels more modern (or more nostalgic) by giving me more control over what I want to see and who I want to share my content with.
Even if you don't delete Instagram, using Vero lets you at least diversify your online presence and connect with a different crowd.
But even with Vero’s growing numbers, the app can sometimes feel a little too quiet. I have met some pretty cool people on Vero, but none of the friends I see in real life use the app. It becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy where everyone stays on Instagram because everyone is on Instagram. Any competitor can therefore be less appealing to non-creators who just want to keep tabs on their social group.
Depending on how you want to spend your time online, Vero can be an enjoyable digital space. It has thus far retained a close-knit community feeling at scale, but that could all change if it explodes in popularity. Even if you don’t delete Instagram, using Vero lets you at least diversify your online presence and connect with a different crowd.
The Vero app is a social media platform primarily used to showcase photography, but users can also share movies, music, books, locations, and more.
Yes, the Vero app is safe to use. No ads or algorithms exist, and your personal data isn’t shared with other third parties. The ability to control who sees your posts also helps ensure the safe visibility of your profile.
No, unlike TikTok, the Vero app was not made or designed in China or with the involvement of Chinese companies.
Vero is a US-based company majority owned by its co-founders (CEO Ayman Hariri, Scott Birnbaum, and Motaz Nabulsi) and members of the team.