Oct 06, 2014 • Jessica Jones
It isn’t often that a brand-new social media outlet crops up and gains interest as quickly as Ello has. Many people (myself included) had never heard of Ello a week or two ago, and now the scramble to sign up has escalated to the point that some people are making a quick few bucks by selling their invitation codes on eBay. Ello is still in beta and, as of now, the only way to join is by invitation, and the landrush to claim favored usernames and bragging rights about early adopter status has resulted in a flurry of demand for those invite codes.
So what is Ello’s deal and why are people so fascinated by it? Ello is being called the anti-Facebook (and not just by users - the developers are calling it that, too). The opening line of their manifesto, “Your social network is owned by advertisers,” draws a clear line right from the get-go. Ello is a completely ad-free space and promises to remain that way.
Will they succeed in remaining ad-free for the long-term? There’s a lot of skepticism running around about this - after all, plenty of idealistic startups end up compromising on their original intentions when they start running into revenue problems. Will Ello run out of money and sell out? Only time will tell, but along with the skepticism there is also a lot of cautious optimism surrounding the project.
Speaking of revenue, if they’re never going to sell ads, how does Ello plan on making its money? Their plan is to keep the basic usage of Ello free forever, but to gradually begin adding in extra features that users can add permanently to their accounts for small amounts of money. One example given by a developer as a possibility is the option to pay $1 for the ability to use an animated gif as your avatar. Is this business model going to work? Will it last? All of this remains to be seen, but it’s certainly an interesting idea, and one that reflects the dissatisfaction that many people have with Facebook and other ad-based social media outlets.
Is Ello something that you should be paying attention to? Could it be relevant to your business’s online presence? The answer to that is a big ol’ resounding “it depends.” First off, it should be obvious that you can’t make Ello a part of your advertising campaign. Could you still have a presence there? Of course - you could create an Ello account to represent your business and post to it, though I’d only recommend doing this if you have regular content to post that isn’t just shilling for your business. Since Ello’s entire platform is based on being ad-free, its user base isn’t likely to be appreciative of an account that only posts ad-like material, and it’s possible that such an account would even end up in violation of Ello’s (not yet entirely clear) terms of service.
If your business has anything to do with the arts, design or creativity in general, and/or if you cater towards an internet-savvy demographic, then you might want to consider joining Ello. If you share content that is interesting, fun, thought-provoking, creative, etc., then you may very well reach an audience that appreciates your interest in participating in a content-driven, user-focused platform. I advise caution, though: if you haven’t yet spent any time on Ello you may want to take some time to get a feel for the community before you start posting. Ello is full of tech-savvy people who are there because they’re tired of the overly commercial vibe of Facebook, and if your posts come off like sales pitches or seem to be trying too hard you might have trouble getting traction.
If the above paragraph leaves you doubting that Ello is for you, then it’s probably best to give it a miss for now. It remains to be seen whether Ello catches on with the general population or whether it remains a niche platform. There is a lot of buzz about it right now, but there are a lot of unknowns, and if being an early adopter isn’t exactly your business’s style, there’s nothing wrong with a wait-and-see approach. If Ello does end up becoming a phenomenon then there will be plenty of time to join up later.
Could Ello be a social network designed with the needs of its users in mind rather than the needs of the advertisers? Could this be a gathering place where the users aren’t the products? We’ll see how things develop - but count me among the ‘cautiously hopeful’ crowd. Right now Ello is in beta, and it shows - the design is (in my opinion) attractive and modern, but the functionality is still bare-bones. It’s frequently glitchy, the devs occasionally post that they’ve “broke some stuff” and are in the process of fixing it, and more features are planned for the future than are currently implemented. That’s what a beta phase is for, though, and that’s why signups are still by invitation only. Ello is new, and it’s unfinished. It’s a bit of a frontier land, and I’m enjoying being an early adopter. I admit that the glitches and bugs, at this stage of the game, seem endearing to me - I feel like I’m a part of something new and fresh. It’s rough but I’m very fond of what there is so far, and I like the direction it’s headed. I’m on board, and I’d love to see it stick around and succeed at carving out a space for those of us feeling Facebook fatigue.