Last week, the Internet and my Facebook feed, exploded with posts about the new social network Ello. According the BetaBeat, the interest in Ello grew after an article by the DailyDot proclaimed there was a “great gay Facebook exodus.” For those who aren’t familiar with it, Ello.co is a social network that lets users broadcast conversations, photos and videos. Users can follow their friends, and have people follow them. Sound familiar?
A few months ago, the founders of Ello posted a manifesto that accused their predecessors of profiting from our data, and says it will remain ad free. The biggest advantage of this is that users are free to post anything they want, without Ello bending to appease advertisers.
FYI – it appears that the porn is here to stay. BetaBeat reports that NSFW flagging is in development, suggesting that it won’t be taking down pornographic content.
But I digress.
“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,” the manifesto reads.
But don’t we already know this? We volunteer personal information for what we get in exchange — a connection to the outside world from the comfort of our home.
And, from what I have observed, Ello is a very public forum. (Private accounts are coming soon.) We have vanity URLs from the start, and I can’t post a note to a friend’s page. Instead, it broadcasts that note on my page. It feels more like Twitter and Google+ than Facebook. So, why should I care about companies collecting data if it’s already available to the public?
A May 2013 Pew study of teens (read: our future overlords) said that only 9 percent are “very” concerned about third-party access to their data. The survey compared teen behavior in 2006 vs. 2012, and how much information they share. When it comes to photos, school name, where they live, email addresses and cell phone numbers, the trend is up. Although, so is the number of social networks available.
I think it’s fair to ask: Are we really that concerned with our privacy? Having covered countless hacking stories and the NSA leak for a mainstream media outlet, I can say — anecdotally at least — that those were not the stories people clicked on.
If privacy is what we seek, why not create a closed platform like Snapchat, Secret or Whisper?
My opinion is that people either want to be very private or very public. When it comes to our digital relationships, gray areas just don’t work.
Let’s take a look at Path, for fun. The social network limited users to 150 friends. It had a slick design, great sharing features, and a lot of industry buzz (and backlash). A 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal called Path an “intimate social-networking app that’s like a personal journal,” and then reported that it had gained 100 million users in a week. (Wow!) I won’t go in to the allegations made by Valleywag that Path was spamming people. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that while it was gaining all that buzz, I had virtually no friends on Path. What friends joined were not really close enough for me to share deeply personal posts on Path. And the lack of my best friends on the app deterred me in the same way.
Ello is in a gray area of its own. It’s public, but it claims to celebrate your privacy. It’s a friends network, but I can’t easily find my friends on it. It says it will never show ads, but there has been some controversy at the fact that it is backed by a venture capitalist firm.
Is it really never going to show ads? Ello has gotten $435,000 in seed funding from Fresh Tracks Capital. Designer Aral Balkan believes this conflicts with Ello’s core goal because, as he says, venture “capital means exits” — as in exit strategy.
“When you take venture capital, it is not a matter of if you’re going to sell your users, you already have. It’s called an exit plan. And no investor will give you venture capital without one,” Balkan writes.
But Fresh Tracks doesn’t believe its involvement will have an effect on Ello’s stance against ads. In an interview with GigaOm, partner Cairn Cross says that the company is not a typical VC.
“We practice venture capital in a way that very few people practice it. We’re really small-town venture. We’re patient, we have long exit horizons, we’ve had some successes, we’ve been around for awhile,” Cross told GigaOm.
I think Ello is a really interesting experiment, but I’m not sure if it has staying power because I already have what it offers in other social network. If being ad free is its biggest selling point, it doesn’t feel meaty enough. (The porn, however…)
I think it’s a noble cause, and support any attempt to smash the status quo. I commend them for trying to build trust in a landscape of tech giant’s that are hanging onto it by a thread.
And to be fair, it is still in Beta. I’m not convinced it’s a Facebook killer, but it’s not what they’re aiming for anyway. It’s founders say that is was built as an alternative social network, and they don’t plan on trying to “rule the world.”
I wish them luck.