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Why is “anti-Facebook” network Ello popping up on your social feeds now?

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On Facebook and Twitter today you may have heard chatter of a mysterious place called “Ello.” It’s not often that a new social networking site rises above the fray without raising some serious venture capital or being propelled by professional publicists, let alone a network that’s still in private beta. And the discussions about Ello were largely happening among non-techies, at least in my circles – even more rare.

It’s not entirely clear why people are buzzing about it today, but it seems to have to do with Facebook cracking down on fake names. The move disturbed the LGBTQ population, some of whom use a different name than their given legal name, because it more fully represents the nuances of their gender, or to protect themselves from harassment. In light of the crackdown, these populations are leaving Facebook and turning to Ello instead, according to The Daily Dot and gay media site Queerty.

The fact that it’s still in beta and requires an invite to join hasn’t deterred people. Someone even managed to sell a beta invite on eBay for $500 to a willing bidder. It’s ranked number 6 in Google’s “Hot Searches” at the time I published this post.

When the application got its first smattering of press – back in March and April – the company billed itself as the “anti-Facebook.” Join the club. But what distinguishes it from a Snapchat, a Nextdoor, or a Path is a founding philosophy more than an ephemeral-content feature or a closed network. From its manifesto:

Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way…We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product.

Ello aims to keep ads out of the app. Otherwise, its premise is almost identical to Facebook: You have a profile, you post statuses or pictures, you comment on other people’s posts, you friend people. There’s no newsfeed, but there is a “noise” section with recent posts. It’s the sort of pitch I’d ignore if I got it in my inbox, swatting it away like a fly before it ever landed.

But Ello has appeared at the right time and the right place, perhaps with the right ethos. It’s Facebook, but less corporate. Its design is punk rock minimalism, not particularly intuitive to navigate. But the simplicity of the interface is a stark contrast to Facebook’s feature bloat. And its scrappy, early stage appearance might even attract the types of people who love being part of a novel, pioneering social network.

It’s Facebook, without the pressures of making enough money to appease shareholders. The lack of ads is noticeable. The premise – that you’ll spend your time reading friends’ posts instead of surfing promoted pages and media links – is almost quaint. It evokes a nostalgia for the past.

Ello hasn’t raised venture money yet, so it’s able to make sweeping proclamations about placing users over product. If it continues to bootstrap, it will indeed be able to operate under its own philosophy, but it will need money eventually to scale server space as its users grow. The fact that it’s already getting overwhelmed with the traffic and crashing – before it’s officially even launched to the public – is not a good sign.

Ello fans are calling for the site to stick to its guns and charge users for premium features instead of introducing ads. “Asking users to pay allows Ello to do something no other online company is doing right now — optimize Ello for users. This is a great advantage for Ello, because it would mean they could actually listen to users and give them an experience that would, given enough time, be so much better than the massive social networks,” Ello user — and journalist — Quinn Norton said in a post on the site.

We’re returning cyclically to the web of yore, where anyone could be anything, without such a fuss over real identity. Snapchat has shown that people crave the fleeting, a way to broadcast to the world without it following you forever. Secret and Whisper have shown that people crave anonymity, a way to share, connect, and relate under the cloak of secrecy. Perhaps Ello will show that people want a middle ground, a way to hide themselves from certain people but connect to others. It’s the revival of the MySpace principle: Share as much or as little about your real self as you choose.

But will its impact stretch beyond just the LGBTQ community?

13 Responses to “Why is “anti-Facebook” network Ello popping up on your social feeds now?”

  1. Smallwheels

    Years ago I joined Facebook with a business name. After six months I realized that Facebook was just annoying. My page was filled with comments about all sorts of useless baby pictures of people I didn’t know. It had a lot of family drama from other families. It just wasn’t structured properly to filter all of that stuff and still let me get information from people I liked. I quit Facebook. Now there are better filters but I don’t want to participate in it due to the tracking.

    I also joined Google+ and used it for a while. The grouping of people and organizations is superior to Facebook. Unfortunately Google keeps changing how it works, plus there is tracking. Knowing that there are algorithms out there made to totally pinpoint my personality for advertising purposes is really unsettling. I don’t use Google+ very often. I only follow people there.

    I now know of Ello but there is another that is free and does the same thing but probably better. No invitation is required. It has been in existence for over a year and is fully functioning now. It is called Sgrouples (yes that is the correct spelling). The name is changing to MeWe in October 2014. It works similarly to the original Google+ concept but even better. It has a lot more functionality.

    Just add the regular web address ending to Sgrouples or MeWe and you will find it. They have a video that explains how it works. It’s free.

  2. Like most social users, I’m curious about Ello. And like some, I joined. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. At the moment, Ello is a free, closed-source social network, with no export tools or an API. It’s completely bare and unintuitive to maneuver around. People aren’t really sure what they “should” be doing, there’s no like button, and it doesn’t play nice with third party applications. And you know what? It’s kind of refreshing. The white space is sort of relaxing and there’s absolutely no need to check your phone every hour. In fact, there’s not even a app for it. I’m still skeptical if it will last. And even more so that their stance against ads can’t, and won’t, be bought at some point. But for now I’m going to stick with it. If you’re interested in not seeing where I’ve been checked in, what Harry Potter character I would be, or receive Candy Crush invites, feel free to follow me @ronnietravels

  3. So many staunch supporters of Ello in the comments taking issue, seemingly, with the entire premise that Ello should be subject to criticism of any kind. Frankly, I can say in my usage of it that the UI is convoluted to the point of being almost unusable, and that I’ve not encountered any (other) LGBTQ people on there…or anyone else for that matter. It’s difficult to find anyone worth following, in my experience, and the discovery method is buried, almost as if it’s an afterthought.

    I’m all for the idea of a new social network to take on some of the major issues that the current behemoths which control everything suffer from, but I don’t really see anything in Ello (yet) that points to it being any different or any more likely to succeed than any of the previous attempts.

  4. It’s really misleading that almost every article covering ello describes it as a “private social network” or “privacy safe”. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but buried in their privacy policy is this statement:

    “Ello is a Public Network

    Ello is a platform built for posting and sharing public content. You should assume that anything you post on Ello other than private messages will be accessed by others.

    Search engines will be able to see the content you post. Content you post may be copied, shared, or re-posted on Ello and on other parts of the internet in ways that you and we cannot control.”

    I don’t think that people realize this when signing up.

    • Carmel DeAmicis

      That’s a good point. I had to pick and choose what parts of Ello’s story to tell, and I initially included a section about concern with the public nature of Ello posts. After an edit, however, I decided it bogged down the flow of the story and wasn’t crucial for this post. It will be fodder to explore in the future.

  5. This is the most poorly researched, cynical article I’ve read in a long time. It sounds like you haven’t even used Ello and are basing your points around other “anti-social network” sites and various snippets from the internet.

    You’re basically saying that Ello will go the way of Facebook because it will need to finance itself once it grows bigger. Who’s to say that the creators won’t fund it themselves?

    “It’s not entirely clear why people are buzzing about it today, but it seems to have to do with Facebook cracking down on fake names.”

    What are you basing that on? You’re implying that Ello is a response to the Facebook/LGBTQ issue, which it is not. If you take a look at the people on there, most of them are artists, designers, creators. I’ve yet to come across anyone with a stage name or indication they are LGBTQ (not saying there aren’t any on Ello, but they’re definitely not in the majority).

    Also, you’re saying that Ello is “getting overwhelmed with the traffic and crashing is not a good sign” but you overlooked the fact that it’s still in beta.

    And there is no such thing as “punk rock minimalism”, unless demonstrating the epitome of an oxymoron.

  6. Your article gives a feeling of a hidden agenda on your part. Are you bashing Ello because it has attracted some refugees from Facebook?

    Ello may have claimed to be the anti-Facebook, but it never claimed to be the anti-social network. Profiles, status updates, commenting, and befriending are not exclusive to or inventions of Facebook, but of any social networking platform.

    From what I read on their site, Ello’s claim is in the handling of user information, privacy, and advertisements. I guess Ello feels these are the big tickets issues most users may have with sites like Facebook.

    “But will its impact stretch beyond just the LGBTQ community?”

    After reading your last line, my initial feeling was that Ello was a site for the alternative lifestyles community. This is misleading. After looking at some of the public profiles on Ello, there appears to be a bunch of artists and photographers on the site. I did not see much indications of their particular lifestyles.

    I thought this article was going to talk about how Ello was welcoming the refugees from Facebook because of its identity requirements. Instead, you appear to be either bashing, or finding fault with a startup that is still in Beta.

    What does any of this have to do with why users are fleeing from Facebook to Ello?

    • Carmel DeAmicis

      I’m a business reporter, so part of my job is to examine new technologies and applications critically to determine what challenges the company will face. Since Ello is number six in the Google search rankings — no small feat — it’s worth asking those questions.