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Exclusive social media site Ello seeks ad-free networking

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Screenshot of a user's profile on Ello.

Screenshot of a user’s profile on Ello.

A new site is looking to simplify social media.

Over the past few weeks, Ello has been getting a lot of buzz, in part because it was perceived as addressing some of the privacy and personalization complaints against Facebook.

Currently in its beta test, Ello is a free and invite-only social network created by a small group of artists and designers, according to its website.

Its manifesto reads “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.” Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Ello promises to remain ad-free and never sell community member data.

Networks like Facebook and Twitter “aren’t really social networks. They’re advertising platforms,” Ello spokeswoman Rachel Fukaya said in an email. “Eliminating ads gets rid of boosted posts, data mining, ad salesman and all kinds of other practices that are invasive on a social network.”

Ello believes in privacy and user rights. It’s a simple and modern layout with a clean-feel free of commercialization, Fukaya said.

Alex Harrison, a fifth-year in sociology, recently got an Ello account but is not yet sure if it has practical advantages over competitors.

“I’m a big fan of the ad-free policy, but it just seems like a simpler Twitter,” he said.

Ello is very much still a work in progress, Fukaya said.

Current features include being able to follow and group others as Friends or Noise. “Friends show up in your immediate newsfeed and their postings are much larger,” Fukaya said. “Noise is where you can add accounts that you want to scroll through quickly and not see all the time.

“Right now the biggest priority is to roll out new features, and make sure the community aspect of Ello is flourishing,” Fukaya said. In the future, Ello plans to introduce iOS and Android mobile apps, as well as audio and video integration.

“Things are still a little buggy, but it makes it an exciting adventure for everyone,” Fukaya said.

In the past, the ad-free model hasn’t been successful for social networking sites like Diaspora, which received significant financial backing from Mark Zuckerberg but never became popular.

“We’re doing it better,” Fukaya said in regard to other attempts to challenge the current social media giants. “Ello is still a business. For a very small amount of money, we are going to sell special features that certain community members may want to add to their account.”

Ph.D. candidate and French and Italian teaching assistant Paige Piper received an invite to join Ello about a month ago and said in an email that “the hype around the secretive invite-only beta testing was too tempting to ignore.”

“At first, people seemed to post mainly images in the vein of Tumblr,” she said. “But little by little it has become a bit more interactive between users with “status update” type posts and @ messages.”

There seems to be a fear of missing out on what could be the next great social network. Ello is up to “50,000 user invite requests an hour,” Fukaya said.

Lindsey Shaw, a third-year in industrial systems and engineering, said she is interestested in Ello but hasn’t been given access yet.

“I’m still waiting for my invitation code, then I plan to check out what it’s all about,” she said.

Ello began receiving increased attention online in late September amid complaints about Facebook’s policy of requiring real names. However, internet searches dropped in early October and media critics have already begun questioning whether the website is a fad that will fade away.

“I don’t know if it’s the next big thing in social media, but I’ll stick around, if nothing else because I respect their ad-free, privacy-first philosophy,” Piper said.

 

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