What is Ello? And why is it being called the anti-Facebook?

With more users becoming disgruntled with Facebook's policies, Ello, a new ad-free social network that touts its privacy, transparency, and simplicity, could become a legitimate competitor to the social media giant.

Ello website
Ello is a new social media site. Being called the anti-Facebook, Ello has no adds, no tracking, and no marketing.

You've probably never heard of Ello, but you will soon. 

Ello being called the anti-Facebook. No ads. No tracking. No marketing. 

"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," Ello says on its website. "You are not a product."

Ello is catching on fast, and some are saying that it could be the next new big social media site. It's become so popular in fact that the website became invitation only because its servers couldn't handle the traffic. Invitations are going for up to $100 on eBay

Vivienne Gucwa, a travel blogger and photographer from New York, was able to get her hands on an invite. She told the Monitor that she joined Ello after she began seeing posts about it on Facebook and Twitter.

"I like it a lot," Ms. Gucwa says. "Ello feels like a mashup between Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook to a smaller extent. It's great that you can selectively decide what content you want to follow from your friends by separating their content into either noise or the default friend stream."

Ello was the brainchild of Paul Budnitz, founder of the high-end Budnitz Bicycles, as well as a toymaker and an author. With the help of his seven person team, Ello launched in March and began its roll-out in July. The site started with a few signups, and then people began joining in the thousands. Mr. Budnitz told BetaBeat that request to join the site went from 4,000 to 27,000 an hour. That number can't be verified, but earlier this week, Ello was one of the most searched-for terms on Google, with more than 150,000 searches in two days.

“Ello is clean and simple and let[s] us connect with our friends and see awesome stuff, without feeling manipulated by a big system that was making social networking no fun,” Mr. Budnitz told The Wall Street Journal.

A lot of social media sites have tried – and failed – to compete against Facebook. Think Google+, Diaspora, iTunes Ping. None of them worked, but Ello could be different.

“I don’t know if it’s going to ever be ‘the next big thing,’ but it is definitely in the right place at the right time,” said Christopher-Ian Reichel, a user-experience executive in New York, told The Wall Street Journal. Reichel added that the site is buggy and lacks content, but people are still joining. “Facebook is at a critical moment where entire segments of its audience are all looking to jump ship.”

Many Facebook user are disgruntled by Facebook's tracking of users and the recent manipulation of news feeds to see how people reacted. And members of the LGBT community became extremely upset when Facebook announced that all users must use their legal names. Many in the LGBT community were upset that they were kicked off of Facebook for failing to comply with the new mandate, including well known drag queen RuPaul. 

“Artists, bloggers, people who are concerned about privacy, people who have had problems with stalkers, celebrities, and members of the LGBTQ community sometimes choose not to use their real names — out of personal preference, or to protect themselves,” Mr. Budnitz told BetaBeat. “All these people are being kicked out of Facebook.”

Gucwa, who is still on Facebook and has more than 400,000 followers, she says she can understand why people want to leave. 

"Facebook seems to have reached a plateau over the last few months," she says. "Between issues with their algorithm and the newsfeed and the recent drama with names, I think a lot of people are waiting to see what else is out there." 

Because of network effect, users have stayed on Facebook, even if they are upset at the company, because that is where their friends are. But if Ello can begin to attract people away from Facebook, then the company could be a legitimate competitor in social media.

Without any advertisements on the site, many are questioning how Ello is going to make money. Andy Baoi announced that Ello received $435,000 in seed money in January from FreshTracks Capital, a venture capital group. 

Mr. Baoi wrote in an Ello post, "Building something like Ello takes money. [Venture capitalists] don't give money out of goodwill, and taking VC funnding– even seed funding– creates outside pressures that shape the inevitable direction of a company."

But Ello said they do have a way to make money, but exactly how much money it will bring in is another question.

"Very soon we will begin offering special features to our users. If we create a special feature that you like, you can choose to pay a very small amount of money to add it to your Ello account forever," Ello states on its website.

Ello is still in beta mode, and there are some glitches with posting pictures and searching for friends. 

"I think people need to remember that Ello is still very much in beta and that the developers have a lot planned for the site" Gucwa says. "They have a rather robust features list including features that are coming soon."

As with any social network, getting users is important. But if enough people are disgruntled with Facebook's policies, Ello could be there to take them in.

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