When the railroad and the automobile came on the scene, those who wanted could still travel by horseback. But now there is no choice. A businessman cannot acquire a computer just because he likes progress. The computer brings a whole system with it…the technical system has become strongly integrated…offices, means of distribution, personnel must all be adapted to it. - Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff
If you've flicked through Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat over the last 48 hours you've likely seen users flocking to a new social medium called Vero. Vero's tag is "true social," which Forbes says enables one to "share what you want to share with who you want to share it with, unencumbered by the crush of third party posts that show up with ever-increasing frequency in other social networks."
This is a boon to brands and advertisers (some of which are bedroom guitarists showing off mediocre covers on Instagram) - no algorithm? No advertising? It sounds like a dream come true.
The media scholar in me says - not so fast. As a student of Neil Postman, media ecology, and everything else that goes with it, my mind tends to this maxim by the late, great Professor:
"New technology is a kind of Faustian bargain. It always gives us something, but it always takes away something important. That’s true of the alphabet, and the printing press, and telegraph, right up through the computer."
So what makes Vero so different? Why could it prevail over other networks such as the now defunct App.net, Mastodon, and even Google+, which had the search behemoth behind it despite dismal take up?
Well, right now, we have a pronounced network effect. This is the increased perception of usefulness due to a rapid surge of new subscribers. The more people seen to use it, the more useful it looks, and eventually becomes.
But success is not assured. As you can see, Twitter and Facebook, for example, were true "new" technologies. They were as revolutionary to media as a culture as the printing press or television. They both had a transformative effect.
Twenty years ago, we could not conceive of a public official communicating directly with his or her constituencies in near-real time, using a common platform. I am of course talking about the rise of Presidents Obama and Trump using Twitter.
Whether the network effect peaks and deflates, much like the Pokemon Go phenomenon (how many tweens do you see in parks catching electronic monsters these days?), remains to be seen. This is the major stumbling block: Vero is not offering an automobile in the age of horseback. They are just offering an alternative automobile, a Chevrolet Series C Classic to Ford's Model T.
Vero offers many of the same features Google+ did when introduced in June 2011. You can share with pre-defined circles of friends, share limitless text, links, images, and video, and also does not rank content according to algorithms or advertising. Even though G+ is baked into every Google account on the planet (boasting 540 million monthly active users at one point) those users only engaged with it for 3-7 minutes on average, compared to 7.5 hours for Facebook.
Of course, there's a dark side - the fine print. Uploading content to Vero grants them a:
limited, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, list information regarding, translate, distribute, syndicate, publicly perform, publicly display, make derivative works of, or otherwise use your User Content...
Which basically hands over your moral and copyrights over to the service. Forever. It still affords effortless social interaction (like Facebook) but takes away the nuance and depth of face-to-face communication (also like Facebook.)
Vero's success will owe more to human behaviour than any other media theory I could reference: habit. Social media isn't just where everyone "is", it's also a daily (hourly?) ritual giving us a little rush of dopamine. If likes and strokes (in the Eric Berne sense of the word) are few and far between on Vero, people will cling to what they know.
What do you think? Will Vero take off, or will it too end up a "digital ghost town" like so many "Facebook-killers" that have passed before it?