Did you know there is a new social network site that’s receiving more than 30,000 requests to join every hour? And did you know that they‘re telling all of those people no? In fact, the only way you can join right now is to be invited by one of their members, or alternatively, purchase a member’s invite on eBay for up to $500. Why are people frantically searching the Internet for someone they know who will give them an invite? The answer, it seems, is no ads. There is a growing number of people who have become frustrated with Facebook and those people have responded strongly to the this company manifesto, which has been getting a lot of buzz lately:
Welcome to Ello: the free, invite-only, independent social network, with no export tools or an API. And they have made it clear who they’re attacking. “We don’t consider Facebook to be a competitor,” said Paul Budnitz, one of seven founders of Ello, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “We consider them to be an advertising platform more than a social network.” They kept the attacks coming throughout the interview, frequently taking shots at Facebook regarding design, content, and their ad-based business model. Ello, in contrast, promises users they will remain ad-free, never sell their data, and not force anyone to use their real name.
This sort of marketing strategy isn’t new, and if you want an in-depth look, you can read Dan S. Kennedy’s recent book, No B.S. Guide to Brand-Building by Direct Response, where he takes a look at how many of today’s largest companies have profited from creating controversy in the marketplace.
It’s just that sort of controversy that has brought Ello to our attention. They’ve actually been open to users since May 2014 and mostly used by only about a hundred of Budnitz’s friends. It wasn’t until a new Facebook policy made headlines in the media by cracking down on users who don’t go by their real names that Ello began to receive some publicity. That new policy caused an outcry from members of the LGBTQ community, and Budnitz immediately responded by telling The Daily Dot that, “Ello welcomes the LGBTQ community and we’re very excited to see so many people moving over!” That is how you go viral.
Remember all those people I said were scouring their contact list to find an invite? I was one of them. Luckily I had a friend who was in and I was able to get one of his invites (Ello is only allowing each member to invite 5 people). Here is what a profile looks like:
Not that much different from Facebook or Twitter, right? You have a profile, you can change your image and banner, you update your status, you share pictures, and you add friends. At the moment I’m unsure whether its black-and-white minimalistic appearance is deliberate or this is just one step in a process leading to something more substantial. You have to remember that this is still a beta website and there are a lot of bugs to work out and changes coming.
There are a number of issues that are immediately clear that they need to fix. Privacy and search are two big ones. Currently there is very little in regards to a user’s privacy settings and it was just this morning that they added the ability to block users. It’s also very difficult to search for people you know, which is a key component of a site growing organically. That was another thing they addressed this morning, but it is still not very intuitive. Their engagement with users, however, has been positive:
Another thing they are lacking is an app, which in our smartphone-centric world, seems likely to become an issue. There is a mobile version of the site that works ok, but there’s a mobile website of Facebook and Twitter and I doubt you’re using those. There are also probably a lot of other features you have come to expect that Ello hasn’t been able to integrate yet. When and how they do this seems likely to play a large role in their continued success. This is their current list of upcoming features:
One common issue any site is going to have to deal with in 2014 is security breaches, but you certainly don’t want all of those new users to experience downtime within their first few days on the site. Unfortunately, that happened yesterday. At 4:15 PM EST, Ello was taken offline due to a DDoS attack.
Sites go down all the time, and as this 2014 report states, DDoS attacks are at an all-time high. Ello was back on-line a few hours later, but this is just another example of the site’s cracks beginning to show.
There have been a number of critics lately raising concerns over how Ello plans to make money. As reported by Gawker, Ello received venture capital funding back in March 2014 for $435,000. VCs are not like Kickstarter or crowdfunding projects, and don’t just give money away for goodwill. There will certainly be outside pressure on them to make money, both for themselves and their investors, and that is bound to shape the direction the company goes in.
One way they will attempt to combat this, they say, is by introducing new “special features”, which people will be able to have permanently by paying a small, one-time fee. “We literally have thousands of people writing to us with feature suggestions, saying: these are the things I’d pay for.” Budnitz said. “Our business model is really simple, and proven. It’s like an app store.” This is certainly a new approach to social media and begins to paint a scenario where maybe they can stay ad-free, at least for now. There was, however, a time that Facebook was ad-free as well.
I’m not saying Ello will fail, just that it has a lot going against it at the moment. They have a lot of ideas that are really interesting, and obviously, they’ve touched on a sensitive nerve. People don’t want to feel like they have to fight through ads to be able to interact with their friends on social media. Ello has given people a chance to get away from ads, and their clean and simple interface can certainly be refreshing at times.
If you’re curious, I urge you to check it out for yourself. You should make your own decision whether this is for you or not. Just be aware that it might not last. The odds of it making it while staying ad-free and hate-free are very slim.
But for now it is, and that’s something.