Have you heard about Ello?
Ello is all the rage right now. Ello claims it was originally built as a private social network for artists to share their artwork, but so many people wanted to join it that it overwhelmed the servers. They built a public version of it. It was created by white bearded hipsters so it has a manifesto. It declares that, on Ello, we are not products, unlike on that other social network that is “owned by advertisers” and collects and sells our data. It’s all very idyllic.
The site’s creator, Paul Budnitz, initially comes across as the male version of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl.’ “I create beautiful things that change the world,” he says in his Ello profile. He lives in Burlington, Vermont selling the “most beautiful city bicycles in the world.” He founded Kidrobot, which makes designer toys such as a silver Homer Simpson buddha statue. According to his personal biography, he writes books, makes films, and collects “cultural wearable artifacts,” such as a classic pair of Air Jordans that he sold for $16,000. His eyes shoot lasers. -Kashmir Hill, Ello vs. Facebook
Ello says it’s about audacity, beauty, simplicity, and transparency.
Ello wants to be known as a different kind of social network. One of it’s major selling points is that it is ad-free and promises to stay that way. What that seems to mean is that they won’t place ads in the way we see ads on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean it’s isn’t a marketing platform. Advertising includes content marketing and personal branding. Ello is full of designers not only sharing content they like, but examples of their own work and the links to their personal websites are found in profiles. And for the time being, Ello isn’t keeping brands out. Creator Paul Budnitz has a profile for his company Budnitz Bicycles. You’ll also find Netflix and The Wall Street Journal, which are actively using Ello as well as Sonos and BoingBoing, which have not posted anything yet.
We do not control what people post on Ello. We just don’t make money on advertising ourselves. If you don’t like what someone is posting, the good news is you don’t have to follow them.
Ello is different from Facebook in many other ways. It looks different; it doesn’t have a Like button; you follow people (one-way) rather than connect with them; contacts can only be categorized as Friends or Noise; there are no apps or games or integration with other channels (at least, not yet); it doesn’t require a real name; it allows adult content. We probably wouldn’t even think to compare Ello to Facebook so much if Ello creators didn’t work so hard to tell us that Ello isn’t like Facebook. When we think about other successful social channels such as Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, we don’t automatically compare them to Facebook.
You can join Ello by being invited by a user (who has a limited number of invitations) or putting your name on the waiting list. If the stories are true, Ello has hundreds of thousands of users. Nevertheless, at this stage, Ello isn’t a threat to Facebook. It’s still in beta, has a lot of bugs, and is missing important features that people want such as the ability to block a user, to flag inappropriate content, private messaging, and video integration. In other words, people want features that Facebook already has. More importantly, Facebook is still where family and friends are. For how long? That’s a good question and that’s the one that Facebook should be thinking about. People could be running to Ello for a number of reasons: because they’re early adopters, because they want to grab their name while they can, because of FOMO. However, it could also suggest a yearning for an alternative to Facebook. Although Facebook doesn’t do anything that’s all that different from Google and many apps, it has a terrible reputation and people consider it a necessary evil. That’s what Ello is counting on. That’s why it wants you to know it’s the “anti-Facebook”.
People will jump at the chance of something else, but Ello has to provide something substantial. It’s not enough to just be “not Facebook”. Others have already tried that and failed. Google, a giant, tried that, and while Plus has some niche communities, Facebook still reigns supreme. Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr weren’t Facebook either, but they’ve done very well by adding something new and different to the social media landscape, which the failed platforms didn’t. Even Facebook beat out its old competitors to become the big kid on the block by offering something different. For instance, I remember my friends saying how much they liked Facebook’s clean interface in light of how cluttered MySpace profiles had become. I look forward to seeing what Ello will offer, if anything. Right now, it feels like another Tumblr.
We’re not interested in ruling the world. We think people that are motivated to do things like that have unresolved psychological problems.
Maybe Ello really does just want to be a simple community for artists. Maybe it really is that idyllic, but is that even possible? As more people join Ello, it will become increasingly expensive to maintain it. For now Ello is free, but it will be freemium. That is, a basic version of it will be free and you can buy features. Some people may say they will pay for a social network if it protects their data and privacy, but when push comes to shove, will they, really?
If you’re on Ello, you can find me at https://ello.co/cosette.
What do you think of Ello? Would you like an alternative to Facebook?