The mysterious new social network, Ello, has been talked about a lot this week as news of it spreads virally. The network which is trying to be the ‘ad-free social network’ has been long since awaited by many, but some are already doubting how successful it may be. I am going to give you a rundown of what the site is, how it may function and whether the first real, ad free, social network can be successful.
What is Ello
As a social network, Ello seems to be a mixture of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr, but in its current beta-phase it is lacking most of its features. You can add people as “friends”, where you see all of their posts, or as “noise” where you see only a few of their posts. The social network has a very simple design, consisting of slab-serif fonts and uncluttered profiles. The whole website seems so hipster that it is no surprise at all that the guy in charge wears a flat-cap and sells bicycles.
The main way that Ello is differentiating itself from the other social networks is by being the “anti-Facebook” and claiming to be ad-free and against data-mining.
Screenshot from ello.com:
How it will fund itself
Funding a social network without selling ad space and data is not a thing that is easily done and many people are concerned that it may one day have to sell out. The revelation that a venture capital (VC) firm has invested $435k in the social network is worrying too. VC firms generally don’t just give out huge sums of money like this without expecting something in return, and to make matters less comforting, a member of the firm now sits on Ello’s board. It seems to be forgotten by most that Facebook used to think like this. Zuckerberg was originally against ads but eventually changed his mind after pressure from members of the board.
Ello has a plan that may work though. It seems to be planning to use a “freemium” business model, which you’ll be familiar with if you have ever played a free mobile game that keeps bugging you to buy extra levels or coins. Another social network currently running a freemium business model like this is LinkedIn, where users can pay a monthly fee for premium features. The main reason that LinkedIn makes money this way is because the premium features help users to find and fill jobs, and even then needs to top this revenue up with ads.
It is hard to believe that a personal social network will be able to sustain itself in a similar way, if people are even willing to pay for whatever the premium features may be.
Why it may actually be a success
However, there are some strong points in Ello’s favour. As people are becoming more and more unimpressed by Facebook’s money grabbing ways, especially with the recent announcement of ads on Instagram feeds, users may be tempted by a social network that doesn’t bombard them with ads or sell their data to third parties.
Ello also has a growing popularity with LGBTQ community after it offered itself as an alternative in retaliation to Facebook’s anti-pseudonym policy, which called for people to use their “real names”. The amount of people moving is so large that this event has been dubbed “the great gay exodus”.
One of the biggest hurdles a new social network faces is getting people on board so that other people feel that signing up and using it is worth their time. This is a hurdle that Google+ never really seemed to get over, but Ello seems to be getting there already after news of it went viral. It is currently only taking on users by invitation only, but many people seem to have requested one.
I really want Ello to work. A social network that isn’t letting money get in the way of its user’s experience is something that the internet needs. But only time will tell whether Ello will be able to sustain itself on this risky business model.
By Ellis Crosby
[Image: Thomas Hawk]