Ello, the social media platform which has been dubbed the "anti-Facebook" - hit or miss?

After raising $5.5 million in venture capital funding, new social upstart Ello hopes and promises to achieve the precarious balance between remaining truly ad-free social network and maintaining financial feasibility. “Ello is a simple, beautiful and ad-free social network,” states its manifesto. “Ello doesn’t sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties.” Founded by some design-minded Americans, led by Paul Budnitz, Ello has been around since the spring but has only in the past month or so began to attract significant media attention. Global interest was prompted following outrage at Facebook for insisting that Drag Queens and people who wished to conceal their identity due to harassment or stalking issues must use their real names on their Facebook profiles. In response to this, many migrated to Ello in what has been referred to as "the Great Gay Facebook Exodus" and the resulting publicity led to a spiral of interest in the site.
At the height of their populatiry, around 35,000 people were signing up every hour.  As it stands, Ello is still in its testing, Beta phase and is thus invitation only. Ello had to stop taking invite requests, as the amount they were recieving was too much for their server to handle, and invitation codes are being sold on ebay for upto $100. However, despite this popularity and the promise which Ello has made to role out more sophisticated features in the near future, there has been widespread criticism that the platform is moving too slowly, is riddled with bugs and glitches and is simply boring and difficult to use. In short, while many have been early in adopting Ello, they have also been early to lament it. 
The layout of Ello. (Courtesy of Ello)
However, others state that its interface is clean, attractive and, perhaps most appealingly, ad-free; looking like "a cross between old-school Twitter and a blogging platform designed by art students". Its manifesto proudly declares, “You are not a product” — a mantra aimed directly at Facebook, Google and Twitter, which offer “free” services that sell massive troves of intimate user data to advertisers under increasingly draconian terms of service. “Collecting and selling your personal information, reading your posts and mapping your social connections for profit is unethical,” Ello’s creators state defiantly. “Ello does not sell data about you to third parties, including advertisers and data brokers.”
This week, Ello has announced that it has converted to a Public Benefit Corporation in a defiant attempt to reassure its users and dispell beliefs that it will at some point have to yield to selling advertising or user data in order to stand on its own two feet. In an email sent out to their growing population of members, they stated that,

"A Benefit Corporation is a new kind of for-profit company in the USA that exists to produce a benefit for society as a whole — not just to make money for its investors.  
The Ello PBC charter states in the strongest legal terms possible that:

  1. Ello shall never make money from selling ads;
  2. Ello shall never make money from selling user data; and
  3. In the event that Ello is ever sold, the new owners will have to comply by these terms.

In other words, Ello exists for your benefit, and will never show ads or sell user data.
Simple, beautiful, and ad-free."

So how does Ello intend to make money? In a somewhat risky move, Ello plan to "sell premium content" to users for a small fee in a similar way to the App store. This has proved a very lucritive method in the gaming industry, however, the jury is out as to whether this tatic will prove as successful with a social media platform. It is ultimately a question of whether people are willing to pay with money for their social media services, rather than paying with their privacy. Many have argued that Ello have the right approach and that the core of their manifesto taps in to growing concerns surrounding privacy of intimate data on social media platforms, but that they have a mammoth task in competeing with Facebook, whose practise around privacy may be questionable, but whom have invested great sums and been successful in providing a streamlined, seamless user experience.
Further, Ello is not the first platform of it's kind. Many ad-free social media platforms such as Pheed, Unthink and Diaspora have come, and gone. But perhaps Ello's authentic, trustworthy nature, the support it has gathered from creatives and the LGBTQI community, and the fact that it has emerged at a time when concerns surrounding the privacy of our data are widespread and at an all time high will be conducive of its success as a platform.


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