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Ello – A Viable Alternative to Facebook?

A new social network has come to the fore this week which bills itself as being ad-free now and forever and is perceived as being a threat to Facebook. This is nothing new I hear you say, social networks purporting to be the end of Facebook forever have been popping up online for the past few years, but few actually make the grade.

However, there’s quite a lot of excitement surrounding this one, ‘Ello’, which is currently still in beta and available to join by invitation only. Whilst it's not really been on many people's radar so far, this has recently changed and it's thought that it now has in excess of 35,000 requests for sign up every hour.

User @cacheflowe, who is also one of the Ello developers, said yesterday that the growth of the site had intentionally been slowed due to the sheer amount of interest in the platform. By this they mean that invites were temporarily suspended as they struggled to cope.

Huge Level of Interest Shown

“We never anticipated this level of interest, and we're utterly blown away by the response. Ello is for us (that means you), and we appreciate your early interest in beta testing our platform and making new connections in a fresh space. We hope it's exciting for you, and you should know that you're a part of something real, new, special and different,” said @cacheflow.

They added that there is currently a “massive waiting list of people who haven’t been let in yet” so it seems that the next user figures are going to show quite a jump. But what’s given the site this boost? It seems that famous drag queen Ru Paul tweeted about it so that’s always going to help and new posts are popping into my newsfeed (on Facebook) regularly, so it does seem to have caught the media’s imagination as many of the biggest publications are covering it.

What it’s all About

Ello social network

Firstly, it’s anonymous, you don’t have to use your real name but hey, you don’t on Twitter either so that’s not really a big deal. The biggest attraction is going to be what’s clearly the main selling point – no ads. Now for marketers it’s not great news that Facebook users might jump ship and flock to a site where they’re not exposed to ads, but how is the site going to be monetised?

Currently it’s managing under the steam of the $435,000 investment from venture capitalists, but this can’t last forever and investors do have an irritating habit of wanting to see a return.

Pay for Features

It seems most likely that the site will be a Freemium one, with users eventually having to pay in order to access extra features. Given that the Freemium model is by far the most popular in the app stores, it’s likely that some users will be willing to pay for the privilege of using a network that doesn’t and never will use advertising or data mining. However, whether enough users will pay to ensure that it’s sustainable is questionable. People love to complain about Facebook but as many a hoax has shown, they’re still not willing to pay for it.

Ello began life as a private network that was set up by a creative group of artists and programmers. These guys used it for around a year before deciding on a rebuild and opening it up to the masses by means of private invitation. It’s thought that currently, it’s doubling in size every 3-4 days.

The ‘Anti-Facebook’

It’s aimed at creative types in the first instance and rumour has it that there’s also an app in the offing. Co-founder and Kidrobot designer Paul Budnitz has been quoted as dubbing the site as the “anti-facebook” and it’s thought that the recent Facebook row with the LGBTIQ community is what’s swayed many people towards requesting an invite on Ello.

This is likely to be due to the fact that you’re not forced to use your ‘real’ name on Ello. Before you go and sign up though, I would recommend that you go and have a look around the site. It’s pretty basic and from everything that I’ve read so far, pretty buggy too. It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that the other social sites provide but does have a substantial list of upcoming features that will be added in the future.

Whilst people do love to complain about Facebook, they remain firmly on the site and currently it’s hard to see what Ello has to offer the average user who likes to post their photos to albums and access their ‘social life’ on the go. Privacy is always a big issue whenever you mention Facebook too but if you have a good look around you’ll find that many people – especially young people – keep their profiles wide open and pay little attention to the privacy features.

Youth Drives Sign Ups

Young people do tend to drive sign-ups to the next big thing too, as apps such as Flappy Bird prove. It takes off in schools and before you know it, a small app developer that developed a relatively simple app has been acquired by one of the big boys for millions, or even billions, of dollars (think SnapChat). However, for advertisers, it’s often the older demographic that they are targeting and so it could be a worry if they all leave in droves to a platform that promises no advertising.

Privacy is a complex thing though and there’s an awful lot to be done before Ello can guarantee privacy for all, forever.

So will Ello knock Facebook off its perch and become the social network of choice for us all in the next few years? Personally I doubt it, but it does depend on how much work and investment is going to be poured into the site. Currently it’s pretty featureless and not the sophisticated experience that we’re all used to, but I guess the internet could make a stand and defect to an ad-free social environment.

If so, it will certainly make things more interesting for marketers looking to get ads in front of an ever more unwilling audience.

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