The most buzzed about trend in social networking, Ello, has seen explosive growth leading up to and following a promise by founders that the service will always be ad-free. It has been called the anti-Facebook, although Ello’s creators state plainly that Ello is altogether different from, not necessarily better than, Facebook. Still, the infant company has seen an influx of investor capital and an incredible amount of public interest in its two-month lifespan.
The site claims to represent an alternative to the targeted marketing and data mining that users have to grin and bear on other popular sites. Facebook has undergone many changes in the past year, and as users flock to leave the world’s foremost social media hub, Ello fills that void almost perfectly. The purchase of Instagram ($1 billion) and WhatsApp ($19 billion), the institution of a real-name policy for its users, and the roll out of in-app purchases and “buy now” options are some of the changes that have younger Facebook users seeking out another platform. In short, Facebook is becoming too commercial to hold onto its audience.
It is estimated that e-commerce is a $300 billion industry. Twitter and Facebook each began trials for in-app purchases this year. Amazon and eBay report that mobile traffic from sites like Twitter and Facebook account for a whopping 30 percent of their site traffic, and Facebook’s profiling engine makes the social network a perfect indexing tool for creating targeted, effective advertisements online. This is great news for big business. However, these and other changes have many users looking to retreat.
Ello aims to change the face of social networking. The company, an intimate startup manned at the helm by author, designer, and entrepreneur Paul Budnitz, proclaims that it will never sell ads to users, nor will it collect user data. The company’s prerogative is bound by legal terms which, as signed by investors and founders, prohibit a later change.
These terms lie in the very structure of Ello as an entity. Heretofore, the budding social network will be known as a “public benefit corporation.” This type of corporate body has been cropping up all over the country in recent years. Benefit Corp, a non-profit organization that provides business-related resources and research studies, indicates that there are over 1,100 businesses that were formed under the classification of a PBC.
In a press release, Ello explains a PBC as a for-profit institution that exists to produce a benefit for society as a whole. With this kind of business classification and company bylaws, Ello is—in theory—free from any pressure to ever profit from ad sales to its users. Even if Ello is ever sold, the conditions of this charter would prohibit such activities.
The news about this new agreement has been well-received. Founders at Ello have reported that there are a million users currently registered with the fledgling social network, which is presently in a beta, invitation only sign-up phase. Another three million, according to reports, are presently in queue awaiting approval. Active since August 7, the site has been up and running for only two months. It is reported that as many as 45,000 users per hour are signing up for accounts on Ello.
The company has an interesting profit model. Budnitz described the commerce of Ello as being similar to Apple or Google’s app store, and compared Ello’s platform to a smartphone’s built-in marketplace. All users on the site will have access to the same basic functions that are considered standard in a social networking platform: messaging, emojis, mentions and hashtags, customizable privacy settings, and more. However, the service also intends to offer Android and iOS apps on Ello, as well as more than a dozen upcoming features that are currently not available in beta.
The site is best described as minimalistic in its present state of development. Ello proclaims on its manifesto that it is “beautiful, simple, and ad-free.” New users can visit the site to request an invitation to join.
By Mariah Beckman