In March a new social network launched promising the opposite business model to Facebook, i.e. not selling ads based on user data and instead relying on, perhaps, paid premium features to keep going. Ello then sunk without a trace until, in the last 24-48 hours or so, activity on the site completely blew up. And this is a pretty basic social network with the bare minimum of features. Why? A combination of factors.
Perhaps it was Facebook’s trenchant stance against LGBT users having both a real name and ‘persona’ name. Ello got traction with the LGBT community after Facebook disabled the accounts of some drag artists who used their performance names instead of their “real” names. Musicians with stage names have also complained.
Or perhaps it was famous drag queen Ru Paul tweeting about it?
No one quite knows. But as of today, most of your friends will be asking their other friends how to get an invite to the invite-only network to secure their coveted user name.
On Ello, as on Twitter, real names are not required.
But there are downsides to the network. There is a lack of privacy controls. It’s not possible to block someone who is abusive. But Ello has already e-mailed users saying these features are coming.
We’ve seen Facebook alternatives, like Diaspora, come and go. Or ones like Google+ come then fall flat.
Ello might be onto something more organic. Diaspora was certainly too geeky and probably way too early. Perhaps it’s Ello’s time?
Today co-founder Paul Budnitz said they will remain “Ad-Free and Porn Friendly”.
This does of course mean they are unlikely to attract formal, institutional venture capital. But what the heck. It may end up going places. (UPDATE: It turns out Ello accepted $435,000 in seed funding from Vermont based venture firm FreshTracks Capital back in March).
Budnitz, the former founder of kidrobot, says the idea is that this is a “simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network.”
They build Ello as a private network by a group of seven artists and programmers, but after using it privately for about a year they decided to rebuild Ello from scratch, and open it by invitation to the public.
He says the site is doubling in size every 3-4 days.
“Most of the excitement we’re experiencing comes from a combination of Ello’s simple & elegant interface, and the fact that the network will never have ads. Without ads, we are free to design features for users first, without advertisers in mind. We also don’t sell data, and even offer our users the option to opt-out of analytic tracking of their sessions when they use the network,” he told us via email. Aiming at designers, artists, and creators first, Ello’s native mobile apps are “coming later”.
Right now the jury is out on whether it has a future. But getting this much traction in such a short time means it’s about to get somewhere, even if taking on the mighty Facebook and Twitter is a losing game at this point.
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