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Say Hello To ‘Ello’, The ‘Anti-Facebook’ That Promises An Improved Social Media Experience

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By Shruti Aurangabadkar:

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.

Ello

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 uniqueness 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. 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.

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  1. mahigala7

    Why do we hate Ads so much? Ads practically run everything around us. Every business is dependent on it in some way or the other. Without Ads, everything will collapse.
    Imagine if ads are banned from television, how will the TV channels make money? Which in turn affect the show makers as the channel will not be in a position to pay them. With bankrupt show-makers all the actors and artists would be without job.
    Similarly, every website, including a social networking portal, need ads to thrive. It’s their biggest source of revenue. Why can’t we, the people, come to terms with this fact.
    I am perfectly fine with Ads around my Facebook profile, provided they are in a certain acceptable proportion. Currently, it’s not in every corner as some ‘Anti-Facebook’ junkies have projected it to be. It generally occupies the small corners, often not visible in the first impression. Content is still of utmost importance in Facebook.
    Perhaps its the ‘Underdogs should always win’ mentality that is driving such discussions. To me, Facebook is still fun with all the ads around because I understand that they are compelled to have them to sustain their business. They are not running a charity organization. For all the excellent services they offer, they have full right to expect value in return.

  2. Nikhil

    Facebook is doing things far worse than just plastering ads all over our facebook browsing sessions.
    Pages and users who regularly share posts that challenge the mainstream media and the status quo, who share what could turn out upon sincere investigation to be inconvenient truths that implicate many major world leaders and corporate elites in crimes against society, are being censored and suppressed without being informed at first, and then getting “community guidelines violation” warnings for politically inconvenient posts. Many pages have been shut down already. Many of the people who have “Liked” these pages, don’t see any updates from them if Facebook’s internal algorithms decide that the person hasn’t commented or liked any of their posts in a certain period of time. After doing that, Facebook has been found telling the page admins that they can PAY-to-SHARE, to have their posts displayed on the general feeds of the people who are already subscribed to them.
    This is the equivalent of Gmail informing you that the email you just sent to your friends.. won’t show up in their inboxes unless you pay Gmail some money.
    There are also internal censoring mechanisms that are preventing people from sharing links to sites that have content questioning the status quo. These are bracketed in the same category as pornography etc.

    So, Facebook is quickly becoming a thought police for the dominant status quo of the world. It is preventing the free and open exchange of ideas.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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