If you’ve been on Facebook in the last two weeks, you’ve probably noticed at least one of your friends has posted something like this:
i just signed up for ello? idk viva la revolucion i guess! hit me up for an invite! lol
Such a status update leads to a number of natural follow-up questions, some of which I’ll try to answer here.
Seriously, what the hell is Ello and why is everyone on Facebook talking about it?
Ello is a new, ad-free social network that is basically billing itself as the anti-Facebook without actually coming out and saying it.
Anti-Facebook? In what way?
The site goes to great lengths to tell you again and again that it will be ad-free forever and will not sell your data to third parties -- two not-so-subtle jabs at Zuckerberg’s social media giant.
This holier-than-thou mission statement has led to what can only be described as the world’s laziest form of social protest: people signing up for yet another social media site.
So does Ello describe itself specifically as the “anti-Facebook”?
Explicitly, no. For all intents and purposes, yes. When asked specifically about the “anti-Facebook” tag, Ello CEO Paul Budnitz told re/code that Ello isn’t “really anti-anything.” But then again, he also said: “We don’t actually consider Facebook a social network. We think of it as an advertising platform.” And Ello has set up the site so that anyone who disagrees with its mission statement is redirected to Facebook, so yeah.
If you press "I Disagree," you literally go to Facebook.
Do they have an overly emotional “manifesto” posted to their website?
Why, yes they do! Here it is:
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.
OK, you’re telling me they collect no data?
Well, it is a website after all, so they do collect some. The site collects basic, anonymous data on Ello users as a whole, so it can figure out where users are coming from, generally where they live and how much time they are spending on the site.
But as for the information they keep about you, Ello seems to have done a good job of keeping little to nothing. In Ello’s words, they have “stripped and anoymized” your IP address. You can read more about their approach to data here.
Why is it suddenly everywhere? And how can I join?
Ello existed for around as year as a private social network for around 100 friends, according to Budnitz. Then on Aug. 7, it went semi-public, using a limited-invite system that has created a “where can I get one” mentality among people like me.
The site is now supposedly adding up to 50,000 new people every hour and doubling in size every few days. If you don’t know someone with an invite, you can sign up to be notified when they switch off the invite-only system.
OK, that’s all well and good. But what’s the actual site like?
For a site that’s being billed as the anti-Facebook, it sure looks and feels a lot like an early version of Facebook. Even the profile pages look similar:
Yes, those are my Big Brother-like eyes.
Besides that, it’s mostly the same stuff. You joke with friends. Share the occasional comical YouTube link. The usual.
Is there anything annoying about the site I should know about?
Yes! In listicle format:
1. You can’t like people’s posts!
2. You almost definitely have more friends (and hence, more potential for fun) on Facebook. Ello is pretty sparse right now.
3. It’s extremely difficult to figure out which of your friends are on Ello. This probably explains why everyone has to take to Facebook to find companionship.
4. The “post” button is so, um, tastefully subtle you could say it’s essentially invisible. I personally had to go on a 15-minute journey just to figure it out, which led to personal protests like this one:
As my frustration grew, I became more and more convinced that Ello was actually just a complex marketing strategy to get me to crawl back to Facebook.
But I eventually figured it out:
It ends up you need to look very carefully...
Would you recommend joining?
If the idea of Facebook selling ads against you sends you into a blind rage, you might as well give Ello a spin. But if it doesn’t, the primary benefit of Ello is probably to cleanse yourself of the hundreds of high school and college Facebook friends you don’t really care about anymore (and start your social media circle anew).
Right now, I have under 20 friends on Ello, and I like them all. We’re having fun. It kind of reminds me of the early days of Facebook.