Ello, a new social network that's trying to make a name for itself as the latest alternative to Facebook, sure isn't much to look at. In fact, there really isn't much to do or see on Ello at all.
It doesn't even have a mobile app, and yet Ello has inexplicably caught the social Web by storm within weeks of launching on an invitation-only basis. The company's timing and decision to add new users by invitation-only were incredibly shrewd, but it also got a lot of outside help along the way and from the unlikeliest of sources.
As is often the case in situations like this, Facebook unintentionally sent droves of users to Ello when it implemented a policy requiring all of its users to use their "real" names.
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Ello, which describes itself as a "simple, beautiful and ad-free social network," has also gathered steam from those interested in a less intrusive social framework for the Web. In a matter of weeks, Ello became a place for those wanting to maintain their identities of choice and those who don't want their social activity to be bought and sold for the almighty advertising dollar.
The company's manifesto is equal parts idealism and chastisement:
"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 hard not to applaud and root for something as grandiose and altruistic as Ello's vision, but a social network is only valuable to those who perceive it worth their time and energy. If something gets posted on Ello, who is there to see it?
The site is still in beta, and since Ello is allowing users to join only by invitation (existing users get five invite codes to share) it remains closed or at least restricted by design and technical capability. Like other sites that began via invite only, Ello is riding a wave of interest because being or becoming a user of Ello still comes with at some perception of exclusivity. These things are important to some people and Ello knows it, even if the company says its "servers will melt down" if too many people join at once.
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