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Hello, Ello: An Ad-Free Social Network Has Arrived

First of all, you should know how hard it was not to open this post with a chipper Dickensian or Beatles-esque “‘Ello!”

Bad British accents aside, you’ve likely heard a bit of a buzz over the past few weeks about Ello, the newest social network in town. And if you haven’t, get ready to hear more.


Ello was a private network with under 100 users until it went public on August 7. But if you’re like most people you only started hearing about Ello in earnest at the end of September, when its founders say that a group of particularly enthusiastic users managed to drum up a bunch of media attention organically. Since “going viral” the network has had as much as 40,000 invite requests per hour, a rate which shut down their servers at least once.

So what exactly is Ello about and why is everyone so eager to get in? Let’s get started with a basic overview:

What Ello is

It’s ad-free. Really. Truly.

It’s privacy-minded. Ello claims that the only information it collects from you (via Google Analytics) is anonymized user behavior data including your location, language, referring web site, and your time spent visiting. This is the same type of data that many websites track, but on Ello users who don’t wish to participate can turn off the option in their individual account settings.

It’s in beta. That means it’s buggy as the developers work on adding features in graduated stages. This allows them to test and make sure the servers can handle the load.

It’s invitation-only. At least while it’s in beta, anyway. If you want to check it out yourself, you’ll either have to request an invitation through the homepage or ask a friend who’s already “in” to send you an invite.

What Ello isn’t

It isn’t anti-Facebook. A lot of people have been describing Ello as “anti-Facebook,” and that’s a bit of hyperbole. Ello is more specifically anti-ad, and since Facebook essentially operates as an advertising platform it makes for an easy enemy — and an easy headline in drama-driven media. But Ello has nothing against Facebook and its users, they say — it’s just not their idea of an ideal social network.

It isn’t afraid to ban abusive users — at least in theory. Ello claims that they have a “zero-tolerance policy for hate, trolling, stalking, spamming, flaming, impersonating others, harming children, or any other behavior designed to hurt another person physically or emotionally.” This statement may come as a bit of a welcome relief for some social media users after Twitter recently came under fire for its perceived hands-off approach to handling accounts that tweet racist slurs or threats of violence and rape. How Ello will actually respond to users who don’t follow The Rules, however, remains to be seen.

Okay, but why Ello?

Why indeed. Fortunately, the team is willing to fill us in on the backstory:

Ello was created by a group of seven well-known artists and programmers as a simple, beautiful, and ad-free place to share our artwork and connect with friends from around the world. You can read more about Ello’s founders here.

We built Ello because virtually all the other social networks were cluttered, ugly, and full of ads. We began to feel manipulated by the networks themselves — many of our posts were never seen by our friends at all, because ads had taken priority.

We came to realize that a social network that has ads is a social network created for advertisers, not for people. Every move we made was tracked and recorded, and every post we made was read and sold to other companies so they could show us more ads.

It wasn’t fun any more.

They go on to say that they originally built the platform as an alternative social network only for their friends to use — shades of Facebook in its infancy? The platform proved so popular among their friends and their friends’ friends, however, that they decided to rebuild it and release it for the masses.

Et voilà — the Ello we’re just now getting acquainted with was born.

Some of Ello's founders.
Some of Ello’s founders.

So, if it’s ad-free, how does Ello… make money?

Good question! That was the first thing I wondered when I heard about Ello’s anti-advertising stance. I didn’t have to wonder too long, though, because their intentions are made clear in the FAQ:

Beginning later this year, Ello will offer special paid features. These features will be completely optional, and will usually cost just a few dollars each. A good way to think about the Ello Feature Store is to imagine something like the app store on your iPhone or Android device.

By purchasing a feature on Ello from time to time, you will be able to customize your Ello experience — while supporting an awesome ad-free social network.

Personally, I like this approach to monetization. I’d found myself enjoying Twitter so much that when Twitter began to make moves to become more like Facebook, I lamented the lack of an option to pay to keep my Twitter experience the same. I have no problem with the idea of shelling out a small fee in exchange for maintaining control over my accounts.

Businesses can’t indefinitely provide services for free, but in the interest of keeping investors happy those services usually become compromised over time — a problem that Ello is attempting to address from the get-go.

If Ello is anti-ad, are they anti-business?

Nope! Companies are welcome to join Ello, and welcome to post products on their pages. The difference between Ello and other social networks is that companies cannot pay to “boost” their posts to more viewers or pay to place ads in Ello users’ streams.

And here’s where things start to get interesting. In my next post I’ll review what Ello is like and how you can best use the platform — whether for business or personal use. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the official Ello Manifesto:




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