Well, I haven’t seen this kind of hype in three years. Three years ago, Google announced it was launching a new social network: G+. The internets went crazy, partly because they didn’t make it open to everyone. In order to get into G+, you needed an invitation. And like that restaurant that always has a line, you figure, well, it must be good, right? If people are willing to line up for it?
This week, a new social network was launched, and they used a very similar marketing technique. Ello (http://ello.co) is the brain child of Paul Budnitz, Berger & Föhr, and Mode Set. Budnitz is an artist, and a maker of some very fine bicycles, and they have positioned themselves as “the anti-Facebook.”
Their manifesto (yes, they call it a manifesto) states:
Your social network is owned by advertisers.
Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.
We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.
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.
It’s working. Ello has gone immediately viral. At last count, 31,000 people per hour were joining. Clearly it’s a concept whose time has come, and the timing couldn’t be better.
Here are my first impressions:
- Love how clean and simple the design is.
- It works similarly to twitter, in that you can have conversations with people by @mentioning them. I like that this feature is already built in, and it works quite well, as it’s a format we’re already familiar with.
- I love the idea of an anti-facebook with no ads.
- The population, at this point, appears to be primarily artists, creatives, and tech peeps. There are lots of beautiful images to look at, and everyone’s profile and updates are funky and quirky (which I really like, being a little quirky myself).
- It’s still very, very beta. I mean, green beta. So, there are things that it simply cannot do yet that are things I can’t live without. For example, there’s not yet an app version, which means no notifications on my phone, which is where I spend a great deal of my time. There is, in fact, no notification system whatsoever, so every time someone new follows me, or mentions me in a comment, I get an email. I really hate that system–I have all email notifications turned off on all my social networks. I get too much email as it is. Ello has a list of its features and future features here.
- What is it?? Other than “the anti-facebook,” no one seems to really know. I can live with this, though. In the olden days of Twitter, for example, we didn’t really know what we were doing, either, but it grew into this really cool thing. I see Ello having the possibility to do that, as well, but right now, things are a little… foggy.
- Many members of the LGBTQ community are embracing Ello because it doesn’t require you to give your real name when you join. Understandably, members of the LGBTQ community are concerned that they may expose themselves to hatemongering (or worse) if the world knew their real names. However, NotYourExRotic debunks that here.
- How are they going to make money? I think it’s very idealistic (and admirable) to want to create a social network that (supposedly) protects your private information, and won’t have ads. But at the end of the day, Ello is a business, and at some point, they need to start making money. How are they going to do that? Aral Balkan wrote a great piece about Ello’s monetization called Ello, Goodbye.
- Ello says, “Very soon we will begin offering special features to our users. If we create a special feature that you like, you can choose to pay a very small amount of money to add it to your Ello account forever.” So, essentially, they are talking about a freemium product. It could work. Hootsuite is a freemium product that has been incredibly successful–but it is also incredibly useful, and I don’t see Ello being that yet.
As with any other new social network, I tend to take a “wait and see” attitude. After all, the network that launched three years ago to great acclaim is now, according to many reports, on the rocks. And while I, personally, would appreciate an anti-Facebook, Ello will have to be more than just that one-trick pony to tip into the mainstream.
In the mean time, if you want to check Ello out for yourself, email me for an invite.
UPDATE: Ello gave me 25 invites, and they are now all gone.