Ad-free social site Ello is Facebook’s new rival

Photo credit: Angelo DeSantis

Users have been buzzing over the new social media network on the web. Ello was launched to the public in April and has recently gone viral receiving 38,000 signups per hour in late September. The independent social network boasts a cleaner design and pledges that it will be ad-free and will never sell user data to companies.

Their promise was sealed through law when it received $5.5 million in investment and the registering as a public benefit corporation (PBC). This means their ad-free promise is legally binding. If Ello ever did introduce advertisements, their stakeholders can sue them. This piece of news has strengthened the newcomer’s place in the social media sphere.

What is Ello?

Dubbed as the “anti-Facebook,” Ello boasts to be more ethical than popular social media. Founded by an entrepreneur named Paul Budnitz, the Vermont-based social site was created to combat the problem of unwanted marketing through creating an ad-free, data-mining-free environment. Currently, Ello is in beta testing and invite-only.

The website has a black and white minimalist design – much cleaner than Facebook. Right now users can update their statuses, create a profile, upload photos, and add followers. One cool feature is that users can add followers as “Friends” or “Noise,” private settings that the public can’t see. “Noise” is great for those hyper political family members and friends who take too many baby pictures.

There’s not much chatter on the site right now, but the hype seems to be growing.

What’s the craze behind it?

Ello has become immensely popular with the LGBT community. Earlier this year, Facebook started enforcing their real name policy, where every user must use their real legal name on their profile. This singled out drag queens who used a nickname or stage name. They were locked out of their accounts and many were forced to start a fan page. This policy also affected people who didn’t want to be cyberstalked by abusive former partners or family members, were still in the closet for being gay or had a job that having their personal life exposed puts them at risk.

Users are also attracted to Ello because of its zero tolerance for hate speech. This is a significant factor since neither of the social media giants, Facebook or Twitter, have either effectively enforced or created a strong anti-hate policy. For example on Twitter, users can report other people for harassment, but unless they have threatened the user personally and directly, it is unlikely that user will be removed.

That’s good and all, but how are they making money? There has to be a catch.

Ello will make money through a freemium model, meaning they’ll offer the free service to the public and users have the option to purchase premium features. Founders have mentioned charging for features such as managing multiple accounts and customizing pages. Ello would be similar to the Vimeo, the ad-free Youtube alternate.

Many are skeptical that startup would remain ad-free and data-mining free (Facebook was ad-free in the beginning). The potential millions (maybe even billions) to be made is very tempting. Former CTO of Kickstarter, Andy Baio reported that Ello received $435,000 from a Vermont venture capitalist firm (VC). Baio emphasized that VC’s do not work like Angel investors or Kickstarter backers, that do not care if the company successful. VC’s will be pressuring the company to return their investment.

So should I sign up?

It’s still uncertain whether Ello is in it for the long run. Some people say it’s hype. But wasn’t Instagram and Pinterest “just hype” at one point? Once Ello launches their premium features, maybe us media buffs will have a better idea of what’s going on.

For now, your only problem joining is waiting for an invite. Find some hipster friends – I’m sure they have a few invites they can spare. Or you can email me for one.

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