Hailed by many as the “anti-Facebook”, the up and coming social networking site Ello, the newest internet phenomenon, survived a Distributed Denial of Service attack this weekend. Originally meant as a private platform, the website made its debut to general public on 7th August, before which it ran for a year with around a hundred people on it. The co-founder, Paul Budnitz, has from the beginning expressed his desire to keep it clear of advertisements and to sell no user data to third parties. The site only collects data anonymously, but even that is optional. He plans instead to make money by selling access to features, in a model similar to an app store, once the beta period is over. It will, however, remain primarily free to use.
Describing Facebook as “merely an ad-platform”, Budnitz said he intends Ello to be used to “connect, create and celebrate life”. This model is cleaner and simpler, though not as user friendly to some. Of course, being new, it has a learning curve before users are familiar with the various features of the website. A mish-mash of existing social networking sites, it gives primary importance to content and a lot of space is given to images. Connections on this website can be divided into two categories, “friends”, or “noise”, which draws a distinction on how you view their notifications. The layout is simple, and there are one or two interesting applications, such as the Ello Facemaker tool which shows great promise. It still has flaws, and is yet to find its feet. The pull towards this website for most of the users seems to derive from a combination of disillusionment of other social platforms, and the enigmatic quality Ello seems to possess with its exclusive joining policy.
In terms of looks, it is a clean, sleek, back-to-basics sort of monochrome, with a modernist design. Currently a mish-mash of photos, conversations and posts, its uniquenessÂ has been noted by many of its new users. Splitting the screen into two tabs, the left shows all the people you follow, clicking on which will show you their updates. On the right, all notifications show, of varied lengths and varied content including walls of text, replies of conversations you might not be part of, GIFs, and photos.
Open only by invitations as of now, there are three ways of getting into the exclusive website. You can either get invited by your friend and then extend five of your own invitations in turn to your friends, you can enter your email id at the ello.co site and wait for an invitation directly, or you can buy one online, for instance at ebay.com. While the general going rate seems to be around $10 an invitation, there are some priced at $100. The requests for invitation had reached around 35,000 per hour on the 25th of September. Some of this explosive popularity seems to have originated in the especially privacy-conscious Germany, though most users hail from the United States. What’s interesting, though, is the reason for the sudden eyes on this budding new network–it seems to be based on novelty and the entirely new grounds, a chance to start over and rebuild your presence on the internet. A lot of customization options are missing in the website, which seems to be a place where the additional content will feature–pay money to be allowed to use certain features, so that the network can retain its status as a for-profit.
The million dollar question that is being raised is whether it can really replace Facebook, like Facebook had jumped into the number one slot over Friendster and Orkut before. The opinion seems divided so far. On the one hand, the no-ad and better control over user data, in addition to not requiring actual names for registration which allows for anonymity, has been a great draw to the website. The site allows obscene or pornographic content, which has encouraged certain internet audiences. There is a great deal of transparency regarding the features that the company is working on – their current list states their intention to work on user blocking, flagging of inappropriate content, audio integration, private accounts, multimedia commenting, a better notification center, emoji index, video integration, private messaging, and development of IOS and Android mobile applications. However, it has been criticized at the same time for the lack of these basic features to begin with. The “Feature list” that the site sports shows the decision to include users in its evolution, and a way to increase users. The site has no naming policy, no hate tolerance, and no prompts to input personal information beyond the actual filling of the profile.
On the other hand, the lack of a “block” button, and the absence of private messaging are two of the most glaring missing features in the site. This shows a social site with a completely politically motivated background. While they seem to advertise a no-hate policy, the enforcement of this will be an important place where the website will be judged. More importantly, the financial status of the website has been considered suspect, a deal-breaker for many. Ello received $435,000 in seed funding from a venture capital firm called FreshTracks Capital. A venture capital-based funding implies a focus on profits which cannot sustain the idealistic approach and pretentious goals. It is suggested that if it survives, this site will occupy a niche position on the internet. Which seems to line up with the apparent goal of the creators, who are trying to focus on the quality of the site rather than the quantity of traffic to it. “We are not building a company to sell, we are building a community we want to be a part of”, Bunditz said. Specialists however project that it will be pushed towards profitability and an exit, despite the owners’ plans to the contrary. They could even end up being replaced towards this goal, since venture capitals don’t give money out of goodwill, but of an expectation of profit, which creates a driving force in the direction the company’s growth takes place. Meanwhile, the site remains a magnet to hipsters and off-beat users, emphasizing creation and encouraging artists and innovators.
If nothing else, the viral nature of its popularity has proved that even if Ello crashes and burns, the points raised by the site are important to users. The basic premise of this site, which was able to attract this amount of interest, has been the absence of ads, and more focus on your friends, and the content.Â This proves the disenchantment of the users of the current networking platforms–many users are ready to jump ship at the possibility of a better option. In light of the Facebook psychological experiments that came to light in July, and Snowden, these networks should either pay attention to what their customers really want, or be ready move aside when a platform that is based on public interest and demands finally makes its way to the internet. The fundamentals of Ello are in the right direction, and it remains to be seen what direction the network finally goes in. Either a dethroner of Facebook or a failure, it is obvious that Ello occupies a space of great importance, one of bringing interest back in social networks rather than the Stockholm syndrome many of these slowly end up being.