Ello is being billed as the ad-free Facebook, but cynicism abounds online.

Many have highlighted how social networks have reneged on their philosophies in the past (in the eyes of their users) and Ello’s terms and conditions don’t exactly rule out ads.

I’m not sure yet what I think about Ello (I’m waiting for my invite request to be approved) and I realise the headline of this blog is like one of those spicily titled but ultimately bland editorials in marketing publications. 

However, I thought I’d do a little run down of what Ello is, its USPs and where other social networks have held the same ground and ultimately decamped from it.

Why is Ello getting so much attention?

30,000 requests to join every hour

At time of writing, according to the founders.

Rhetoric

Its manifesto bristles with selfrighteousness – but it’s successfully struck a chord wtih many. And Ello talks up its manifesto from its homepage and within its emails.

Here’s a snippet: 

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.

Read the rest here.

Terms

It’s also got some interesting terms, highlighted in the tweet below.

Design

It has the same chops as Medium and other beautifully simple publishers. The typography is crisp and a little retro. Images are allowed to expand, too.

ello profile

Edginess and acceptance

Things like the Ello ‘about’ page being titled ‘WTF’ mark the network as unafraid to be bold.

Incidently there’s also a @WTF account on Ello which exists to maintain Ello’s policies. The network has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to abuse behavious and this is one thing that has helped to gain publicity recently.

Facebook briefly tried to clamp down on accounts using fake names and had to do a partial u-turn when some drag queens and people who can’t use their real name without fearing for their safety rightly kicked off.

Ello’s WTF ‘about’ page

ello wtf

Haven’t we been here before?

Whilst networks have rarely talked so explicitly of a commitment to staying ad free, Tumblr is perhaps the best example of a network that was successful and ad-free then sold to Yahoo and began selling ads.

There are of course some open source social networks out there, from Diaspora to Movim.

The reason for scepticism, though, is that the history of the web is littered with acquisitions and the sense that success in gaining users predicates ‘monetisation’. It’s simply too tasty a carrot to hang back from.

So, how does Ello intend to make money?

Paid features and donations. See this list for planned features, though I’m not sure which will be paid.

With many successful websites running off donations, Wikipedia to name the most obvious

Will Ello take off?

At the moment it doesn’t have a mobile app, which is now the primary way to engage in social networking.

I also have doubts about how attractive the network is to younger users. The fact is that a strongly defined feature seems to be the way to get a younger audience, perhaps with an emphasis on imagery, too (think Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp).

I can’t see a no ads experience being that vital to younger audiences. Surveys constantly show that privacy isn’t as important to them.

However, I do think there’s room for a social network where everything is above board when it comes to content surfaceability (I think I’ve made that word up) and commercial considerations don’t impact on the UX. I also think it helps if that network is beautifully designed as increasingly users are demanding this.

Maybe Ello will be that network and we’ll all support it.