Why it’s worth having an ad-free social network

Why it’s worth having an ad-free social network

Written by Ayman Hariri | February 13th, 2017


Personally, I’m not anti-advertising. I recognize that without it, a great deal of artistic endeavor of public interest and benefit would be commercially unsustainable.

But I do think there’s a time and a place for it. It’s most appropriate when there’s a clear understanding of the value exchange like there has been, broadly, in the publishing industry where ads subsidize the cost of magazines.

It seems to me that consumers have always understood this payoff.

When it comes to social media though, the payoffs are much less clear and much less understood by the vast majority of users.

In order to deliver the hyper-targeted ads that advertisers are happy to pay for, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram need to collect as much data on their users as possible. In fact, they record pretty much everything a user does.

I recently read an interesting article entitled “Facebook Isn’t Necessary” by a designer and writer called Christopher Butler. In it, Christopher places the hidden costs and trade-offs implicit in Facebook into a real world context:

“Imagine you attended a community gathering — a neighborhood party, family gathering, that sort of thing — and while you were there, you started to notice unfamiliar people filling the room. Throughout the evening, you watch as they observe you and your friends and family. You see them take notes about everything — what you say, who you talk to, who you are with, what you do, what you like, what you own — and you see them share those notes. How long would that go on before you — or anyone — showed them the door?”

Offline, that kind of monitoring would be obvious. Online though, it’s both pervasive and can’t be seen by the user.

Take a ‘like’ for example. I don’t believe that most users of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram think too deeply before liking a friend’s post. After all, if they’ve enjoyed it or derived some value from it, why not like it?

But there’s a lot more to a ‘like’ than meets the eye — each ‘like’ has a monetary value to the platform, because the myriad of data points associated with it help paint an ever more detailed picture of that user. How long did the user look at the post before liking it? How many posts had they liked in the same session? What time of day did they look at the post? How many times have they interacted with that particular person over this or that time period? What device did they see it on? And on and on.

The end result is that the individual user’s digital identity — which is continuously being sorted and tracked — has just been filled in a little bit more and that increases its value to advertisers.

It’s a trade-off: you give up elements of your privacy for a free service. If people understand this trade-off and are making informed choices then that’s great, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

When my co-founders and I set out to build Vero, we knew that we didn’t want to be a part of this system — we wanted our users to be the customers and not become our product.

That’s why we decided to make Vero an ad-free service and adopt a subscription model.

As a thank you to the early adopters helping us build Vero, the service will be free for life for the first million users. After that, new users will be asked to pay an annual subscription (roughly equivalent to the price of one or two cups of coffee) to help support a platform whose sole objective is to deliver the best social experience for its users. One that is more natural and closer to how we communicate in real life. With no ads. No data mining. No hidden costs.

Our sole focus is on delivering the best, most useful online social experience that we can — a place where people can be truly social in a way that suits them.

If that sounds like something you’d like to help build, join us.


Thanks to Scott Birnbaum.