It was predicted at the beginning of this year that Facebook, that controversial social media giant, will lose up to 80 percent of its users within the next three years. That’s a pretty bold claim, and hard to prove, but it joins the increasingly loud chatter suggesting that Facebook has a self-destruct date. The question is, who will take down the giant and and rise up in its place? Enter Ello, a private social network with a “fuck the man” mentality.
For the last year, Ello was only open to a group of friends of its creators. “We were fed up with other social networks —exhausted and generally pissed off by ads, clutter, and feeling manipulated and deceived by companies that clearly don't have our interests at heart,” cofounder Paul Budnitz told me. Thus, Budnitz and a few friends in the art and tech community decided to build their own alternative.
The network grew as the initial group of friends wanted to invite some of their friends, but the Ello crew hadn’t built the site to scale. So they recently started from scratch and rebuilt the platform for a much more robust network. That revamped site will be ready in about six weeks.
“We built it specifically with creative people in mind, people who value content, with a good bit of discussion and dialog happening around that content,” Budnitz said.
The founders couldn't grant me a look quite yet, but the gist of Ello is a bare-bones social network with a minimalist design and, most importantly, no ads or user data collection.
“Facebook and Tumblr aren't really social networks at all—they're advertising platforms. Their mission is to sell ads,” Budnitz said. “Not to make you happy. Not to show you beautiful art. Not to connect you with friends. To sell ads. Period. Everything else is illusion.”
Ello, by contrast, says it's focused on content and connections. The logo is a simple black smiley face.
“There’s nothing added that you don’t actually need,” Budnitz continued. “You can connect with friends, post, comment, message, and engage in a number of other content-related activities. The difference between Ello and other networks is that the interface is very tidy, very intuitive and fast. It makes just about anything you put up look great.”
In Ello’s first months it will remain invite-only, not unlike how Facebook started out. (Go to ello.co to request an invite.) Budnitz explained that the service will be free-of-charge from the get-go, and then there will be certain features added that you can pay what you want for or just not pay for at all.
“We’re inspired by the way Radiohead introduced In Rainbows, as a free download with the same pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth policy,” he said.
It’s not the first social network that formed as an alternative to the increasingly loathed Facebook. But so far, none of those attempts have brough about a shift in dominance. It’s also worth point out that Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all started without advertising too, but as the companies grew, this changed.
It will be interesting to see if Ello sticks to its no-ads guns, or takes off in the first place. The current pro-privacy, hands-off-my-data web zeitgeist could make the timing right for something like Ello to emerge as an alternative to Silicon Valley’s behemoths. After all, social media companies are like people crowdsurfing at concerts; they’re only as powerful as the number hands keeping them elevated.