Ello is the new social network being billed as the ‘anti-Facebook’ because it’s free from advertising and trying to attract users leaving the latter, those annoyed by ads in their feed and data from personal profiles being sold to help companies target their marketing.

Created by Californian artist Paul Budnitz in March of this year, Ello only really took off in September when #ello (and #elloinvitecode) went viral. Developers have been struggling to keep up with demand for the ‘invite only’ service ever since with 31,000 requests an hour flooding in.

“Simple, beautiful & ad-free”

Anyone can request an invite via Ello’s homepage, just don’t expect to get one straight away. Take a look at some of Ello’s favourite user profiles and you can see that some of the early adopters were inundated with invite requests and are unsure about being followed by those they don’t know – nothing new there, though. What’s more surprising is their willingness to plug products (mostly bikes) in their timelines.

However, the feeds are “simple, beautiful and ad free” – as Ello promised they would be. Ello is stripped back and feeds are populated with big, bold images. There might not be any ads, but the project had to get funding from somewhere. As one user soon discovered, Ello received $435,000 from FreshTracks Capital – a Vermont firm anticipating an attractive return on its investment… one day.

Ello has since come out in defence of its position – it doesn’t believe the funding will prevent it from achieving what it set out to do and ultimately intends to make its money by providing users with free accounts and the option to pay for a variety of upgraded features based on the ‘freemium’ business model.

Why has Ello arrived?

Few will have failed to notice that Facebook has come under fire recently – especially for the psychological experiments carried out on users. They issued a public apology this summer for doctoring status updates to test users’ responses to more or less emotionally charged statements. Whether the network actually broke any laws, it is too soon to tell.

Facebook aren’t the only ones to be taken to task by their users over concerns about data and privacy. At the end of 2012, Instagram was forced to revert to its original terms & conditions after changes caused a backlash amongst users concerned that the content they’d uploaded could be sold on and even used in advertising. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom denied that was the case and everything went back to normal.

Ello isn’t the first social network to be ad free, Twitter was one of them. It’s gradually becoming more commercial with the introduction of ‘website cards’ and ‘lead generation cards’ joining the ‘promoted tweets’ and ‘promoted accounts’ which are by now well established. The latest innovation to be tested is the ‘buy now’ button.

Whether or not Ello can access the resources it needs to resume normal service and really compete with the world’s largest social media platform remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, online communities are a force to be reckoned with.

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