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Ello: Facebook's destroyer or a fleeting fancy?

When you visit the landing page of recently public social media site, Ello, it feels new. It feels like the homepage of a design agency. You are greeted by a vacillating mosaic of round photographs presenting an array of, what you assume must be, the cool, fun people already pouring their individualities into Ello on a daily basis. You scroll down and discover typed there, a disconcerting thought – “Your social network is owned by advertisers.” What follows is a warning about the lack of privacy on other social networking sites, written in thriller trailer style: 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 How heinous! What a nefarious plot! How dare Facebook track my every digital move and then have the gall to....show me ads... that, actually, I am quite interested in. I thought about the ads that appear at the sides of my newsfeed. At the moment they are mostly pictures of platform shoes, ankle boots and occasionally a polo neck top will crop up. This is because for the last week or so, I’ve been combing the depths of ASOS and Office for a particular pair of shoes that I’m not convinced actually exists apart from in my own mind. As a result, I get to see the pedal offerings of retailers who might stock that perfect pair. It’s not as though I’m being forced to buy or even look directly at any of these ads! While the thought of being “watched” and turned into quantifiable data isn’t the most warm and tingly of notions, it is just squeamishness - the same squeamishness that created films like Vanilla Sky and iRobot. Despite the fact that I personally may not feel as violated by ad-ridden networking sites as Ello thinks I should feel, I can’t fault its simplicity and sophistication. Furthermore, it is palpably geared towards artists and creativity, which I love. Ello, brainchild of short-film maker Paul Budnitz, began life as a private social network for artists and programmers. After a year, the site was redesigned and launched as a public, invite-only platform with the slogan, “simple, beautiful, ad-free”. So how exactly does Ello make money? (They’re innovative, but they’re not that innovative.) The idea is that every user’s profile is bespoke, and you can pay a few dollars for features that take your fancy. As Budnitz explains, “say you’re a musician and you want to control multiple accounts from a single login, we can charge $2 for that. It’s not for everyone” Not only this, you can request new features that you would be willing to pay for. This seems like Ello’s best idea; use your users to generate new products and you will never run out. Launched in March of this year, Ello grew rapidly, gaining around 27,000 signups an hour by September. However, internet trends, by nature, are fickle and have a brutal habit of launching people to stardom and then dropping them right out of the sky. Ello, is discovering how mercurial the internet community (which is, let’s face it, everyone) can be. After stirring up a frenzy of interest in mid September, the ad-free networking site peaked as we entered October according to Google Trends. However, as an article for the Guardian points out, searches don’t always correlate with usage. I’m interested to see how far it will go; Ello has been speculatively named “the Facebook killer” while “Goodbye Ello” articles are popping up all over the place. To my mind, its success will not be based on the fact it’s ad-free – it will be how user-friendly, well managed and adaptable it proves to be.

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