A Look Into Cara — Maybe Host Your Own Art

June 07, 2024

Cara is a social media app aimed at artists that’s grown by more than 600,000 users in the past week. I just learned about it today, but it’s been around since at least the beginning of 2023. Its key features are that it won’t host AI content yet, and it tries to dissuade scrapers from indexing art on the platform for AI training. The quick growth of Cara has been a reaction to Meta’s new AI policies, which allow Meta to train their models using content uploaded to their platforms.

This sort of growth is expensive for anyone, but Cara currently only monetizes through donations using Buy Me a Coffee. It’s also backed by Vercel Functions. Vercel’s offerings are great for getting a project off the ground, especially if you don’t have a team of back-end specialists, but they’re expensive. Cara’s monthly Vercel bill is already north of $96,280, though Vercel staff have reached out to potentially help with that. I’m betting there’s only so much Vercel will do, given that it’s the first week of the month.

You can use Instagram/Threads/Facebook for free because Meta monetizes your attention and analyzes your content. The new AI policies haven’t changed much, other than the output of the analysis. To Meta, this is part of the fee for using one of their platforms. It’s the whole “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product” idea. Cara is also free, which makes me wonder about how it will foot the bill for its newfound popularity.

There are currently 6,711 supporters on their donation page. If each of them paid around $60 a month, they’d be good for a month of Vercel hosting. 1 That seems pretty unlikely, and it’s unclear how many more users they can convince to donate. Alternatively, Cara could likely get VC funding based on its new user base — but VCs don’t traditionally care much about moral standing once it’s time to generate returns.

So here’s my pitch to Cara users: maybe look into hosting your work somewhere that you control. No, it’s definitely not as easy as posting to Cara or Instagram, but you’d be in for far fewer surprises. Using and Sunlit is a great option. WordPress, for example, has many free themes if you want to self-host. You could also host on and be safe in the knowledge that you could move elsewhere easily. Maybe check out Publii if you want a nice desktop app to build a website with. You can use Publii with GitHub Pages to get the fastest free hosting on the web. If you’re a huge nerd like me, you can use a command line driven static site generator like Jekyll.

I don’t think most people will want to bother hosting their own content, but I hope some consider it. I’ve been living the POSSE lifestyle for a while now, and I’m really enjoying it. Maybe I’m just a pessimist, but I worry that the happy times for Cara might be over in the not too distant future.

  1. This assumes $96,280 is the approximate cost of a week of hosting on Vercel at the current load. It was the 6th of June when that cost was reported as a current monthly charge. I’m not sure if the billing period starts at the beginning of the calendar month, but that is normal for most hosting providers. Also, this is only the Vercel hosting cost, and doesn’t cover any other expenses like employee’s salaries.