Ello wants to be next Facebook without ever actually becoming Facebook.
The trendy social network has been live for months but after a recent surge of sing-ups from the LGBT community (who left Facebook understandably annoyed by the site’s insistence on using real names) Ello-awareness is now bleeding into the mainstream.
The site is doubling in size every three to four days, fielding tens of thousands of new user requests every hour and currently attracting the sort of hype-fuelled attention that is either short-lived or… exactly what the next Facebook would look like.
So. Here’s what we know so far:
Ello’s manifesto: no ads, no evil
While the site itself is buggy there’s one aspect of Ello that's been polished to perfection: the manifesto. “Your social network is owned by advertisers," it says. "Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.”
It’s arecognisable sentiment and something of a calling card for more ‘aware’ social media users - an ideological calling card similar to the anti-brand sentiment typified by Naomi Kelin's 1999 best-seller No Logo.
The pretentiousness of a manifesto is bound to put off a lot of users (indeed, the whole site with its the stark, smiley-face logo and old-school Courier font will be a bit too cool for some) but it's hard to disagree with a site that tells would-be users: “You are not a product” before asking them to click one of two buttons - ‘I Agree’ or ‘I Disagree’.
Invite only - but you can buy them on eBay
Part of the reason for Ello's buzz is that not just anyone can sign up. As tech writer Nitasha Tiku succintly put it: "It's a basic bitch's growth-hacking technique, breeding homogeneity, stoking peer pressure, and swerving into the hype cycle lane."
This tactic was so succesful that the site even had to temporarily freeze invitations to make sure that "Ello remains stable as the network continues to grow," with the creators reporting that they're currently getting around 34,000 requests an hour.
The fact that everyone is talking about a social network they can't access mostly shows how stultifyingly boring Facebook has become.— Christopher Mims (@mims) September 26, 2014
If you want to join you can head to the site and add your name to the waiting list but there's no telling how long it'll be before you get that tap on the shoulder. Would-be users are better off searching for 'Ello invites' on Twitter where people are posting their invite codes for fun - much more sensible than taking to eBay, where invites are on sale for a handful of dollars.
No adverts - but controvery over funding
Without ads, how will Ello make money to run itself? Tech blogger Andy Baio stirred up outrage among users when he revealed that Ello received some $435,000 in seed funding from a venture capital firm named FreshTracks Capital this January.
As Baio put it: “VCs don't give money out of goodwill, and taking VC funding — even seed funding — creates outside pressures that shape the inevitable direction of a company […] Ello will inevitably be pushed towards profitability and an exit, even if it compromises their current values.”
Ello's response has been to brush off the accusations of duping users (the funding was "not a secret" said founder Paul Budnitz) and to flesh out their goals to run the site on a freemium model: asking users to pay “a small amount” for extra features, such as running multiple accounts from one login (useful for users who want a personal and a business account).
Porn friendly and real names not required
Alongside the 'ad free' promise, Ello's other big promise is to give more freedom to users. Unlike Facebook there's no real name policy (remember, this is what triggered the rush of users from the LGBT community) and user can post all the nipples and NSFW content they like.
@violetblue hmm, that might be old wording. I'll check on this. we honestly are open to NSFW content.— CacheFlowe (@cacheflowe) September 25, 2014
However, while it's easy to say you're an open community, it's harder to build one that works. Ello is very much still in beta and lots of key features - such as flagging adult-orientated content and private accounts - are still in development.
In fact, Ello is pretty bare bones at the moment. Users simply create a profile and start following others (like Twitter) with the result being a stream of posts/status updates from other users (below) who can be designated as 'friends' or 'noise'.