Breaking the monopoly: Dubbed the “anti-Facebook” what’s all the fuss about Ello?

A social media platform’s commitment to remaining ad-free and a Venture Capital firm investing in it (supposedly) without an exit-plan, and pig’s flying. With the latter being the most believable, we felt it prudent to begin exploring the mysterious social media sensation taking the internet by storm: Ello.

“You are not a product” reads Ello’s puritanical and Orwellian mission statement; one which, you could be forgiven for attributing to a human rights organisation and not a social media platform. But Ello is unconventional in many ways. Already addressing much of the scepticism that currently surrounds Facebook’s increasingly intrusive privacy settings Ello has been billed as the “anti-Facebook.”

Ello’s rhetoric certainly suggests this title without explicitly confirming it. With the plans to remain ad-free coupled with a commendable pledge not to track or sell your information thus far Ello have practiced what they preach.

Whilst in keeping with other forms of social media Ello collects data regarding how members use the platform the information that’s collected, aside from being utilised for user experience purposes, is anonymous and can’t be attributed to any single account:

“Before information about you is stored on the Google servers, your IP address is stripped and anonymized. This means that it is very difficult for anyone to trace the data… We can see how people are using Ello in general, but not what you are doing in particular. To the best of our knowledge, this also makes what you do on Ello useless to Google for advertising purposes.”

Invite only, Ello reportedly receives around 31,000 requests to join per hour. A phenomenal achievement for a site that is still in beta. But that’s just it, the site is still in beta. Compared to the cluttered linings of Facebook, Ello remains a relatively sparse interface that draws parallels to a gallery rather than a vibrant social hub. The design is not the only concern, as that will invariably improve, it is however worrying that these early successes are already being questioned in regard to their longevity given the dubious source of some of the sites investment.

The fact is that Ello have already accepted $435,000 of venture capital funding. Ello’s founder Paul Budnitz quickly dismissed the internet’s cries of betrayal by suggesting the platform are under “no pressure to do anything we don’t want to do” thanks to there being no “exit strategy” on behalf of the VC. Far from reassuring, and perhaps a brilliant marketing ploy, it is hard to believe that Ello will be able to withstand the market pressure and temptation that other more successful sites, such as Tumblr, have previously succumbed to.

Ello’s strategy to remain ad-free is based on selling members access to premium options and features and this model has already been successful for sites such as Flickr. But history and fickle human nature would suggest that people prefer the free option- with all the furnishings included- even if it is at the cost of a person becoming the product and not the consumer.

The concept is not original nor is the format brilliant, but during a period of healthy scepticism surrounding Facebook and indeed the wider world’s privacy settings the timing is perfect and I’m eagerly awaiting my invite.

Henry McIntosh for Ri Web

 

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