By now, you may have heard the buzz around “Ello,” the new social network that claims to be ad-free, invite-only, and independent, and has gone viral over the last week. It’s still unclear why “Ello” suddenly finds its place under the spotlight, but a lot of people see this as a result of Facebook’s real name policy. As reported by CNN, earlier this month, the social media giant made headlines for suspending the accounts of several gay and transgender entertainers, because the accounts weren’t in the holders’ “real” names. Thus, Ello, which is said to be the anti-Facebook social network, comes in aid for those who disapprove of the policy.
“The more they know about you, the more money they make,” said Ello co-founder Paul Budnitz regarding Facebook. “I, quite frankly, don’t care.” Furthermore, in Ello’s manifesto, it proclaims that “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment, not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life. You are not a product.”
Ello was launched humbly last March, and this week, the site has seen an incredible surge in the amount of invite requests even though it’s still in beta. Budnitz didn’t specify the total number, but said that requests and approvals together often totaled 40,000 an hour.
In Ello, users don’t have to put their real names or their photos to sign up. They are free to be whoever they want, as long as they abide to some basic rules, like no bestiality or impersonation of public figures. Because it’s invite-only, you will need to receive an invitation email from your friends to join the platform.
Mashable has tested the site and reported that it is like a cross between Twitter and Tumblr with more limited features. Users can post status updates, photos and GIFs and comment on their friends’ posts. There is also a search tool to find the people you know though it’s been buggy and unreliable. The creators have a long list of new features, including mobile apps and more privacy settings, they say are in the works. But the timing of those updates is unclear.
But how does an ad-free network survive once the funding stops? “Isn’t it just so sad? Rather than cheering on a new model that actually makes things better, people have to say, ‘You can’t change things,’” said Budnitz. “Our business model is really simple, and proven. It’s like an app store.”
“We literally have thousands of people writing to us with feature suggestions, saying: these are the things I’d pay for.” So far, the top request comes from people wanting to control a professional and personal profile with one log-in. Budnitz says they’re likely to roll that out in the future and charge a one-time fee of $2. He’s confident that he can monetize the business this way, keeps it running and alive.
The sudden popularity explosion of Ello also means that there are people who are taking advantages of the situation and selling Ello invitations online. Dozens of beta invites have cropped up on eBay, with prices ranging anywhere from $5 to $150. As ridiculous as it may seems, there are people who are willing to pay that much. Although we still cannot rationalize that action.
It’s still too early to say that Ello is the next Facebook (or anti-Facebook). It comes so sudden like a storm, it might pass just as quick. But for now Ello surely has succeeded in getting all the attention from the internet society.