Earlier this week, I gave in to my curiosity and joined the new social network everyone is talking about, Ello, which is in the midst of rolling out its invite-only beta. My first thought, as I set about completing my bare, friendless profile, was that nobody has time for yet another time-sucking online channel. But one thing does set Ello apart from other platforms.
At the moment, Ello’s USP is that it is completely free of advertising, and doesn’t harvest and share your user data, making it the ideal alternative network for people who are sick of being Facebook’s guinea pigs. This lack of ad space, combined with a clean, white design, prompted Dazed’s digital news editor Zing Tsjeng to compare Ello to Tumblr. “Ello is made to be simple, exactly what you need to have fun and be a great social network,” said Founder Paul Budnitz in an interview with Business Insider. “It makes Ello really easy to use, and at the same time, it’s also the basis for the business model.”
So how do Ello’s founders expect to make money in this ad-free environment? Up-selling. “When a network is very simple, people want specific features, and they’re willing to pay for those features,” says Budnitz. “Say you’re a musician or a band, and you want to control multiple accounts from a single login. We can charge $2 for that… Let’s say that for a few bucks, you can buy an emoji pack designed by a popular street artist. Because of how we’ve built Ello, it naturally lends itself to that.”
As so many new social media products tend to, Ello veers a tad towards hyperbole in its manifesto: “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.”
However, they are still ironing out some of the kinks: “You cannot block abusive people,” points out The Guardian’s Jess Zimmerman. “Ello’s white male founders did not consider that a pre-rollout priority, although apparently they’re working on it.” And the beta has already faced other hurdles; on September 28th it was hit by a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack which took its front-end offline for around half an hour – no word as yet on the source of the attack. But if Budnitz and Co. can overcome these issues, there may still be hope for this ad-free haven.