Everyone's talking about Ello.co, the Internet's newest social network. I understand the excitement -- Ello is a new, shiny thing to play with and people like new, shiny things. The site has some cool stuff to offer though, so hear me out before you brush it off as just another fad.
"[Ello's] driven by awesomeness," Ello founder Paul Budnitz told us. Budnitz and six other founders -- Todd Berger, Lucian Föhr, Justin Gitlin, Jay Zeschin, Matthew Kitt, and Gabe Varela -- initially built the site as a private social network that started with just around 90 people. Then they launched the site to the public on August 7th. Now they have 45,000 people signing up per hour.
That sounds pretty damn popular to me. So what's with all the hype? Here's the deal:
1. Ello is, like, really pretty
The site's design is simple, clean and easy to understand. There's not a gazillion things going on at once.
Here's what your main profile looks like:
(I realize I don't have many Ello friends yet. Please add me. I'm lonely.)
2. You can choose which posts you care about
When you find someone you'd like to follow, Ello asks you to categorize them as either "friends" or "noise" -- but the person in question will never know which label you give them. Each category has a separate newsfeed.
This is what the "friends" feed looks like:
And here's the "noise" feed:
So you know when you're obligated to "like" the Facebook page of a friend's secretly-terrible-but-you'd-never-say-that-out-loud blog? Now their constant status updates won't clog your feed -- and no one's feelings get hurt.
3. There are no ads
I repeat, there are NO ADS. You'll never again mistakenly click on what you thought was a listicle posted by your BFF...but it was really just another sponsored post that inevitably led to pop-up ads. Hallelujah!
4. Your friends won't creepily know your exact location
If you've updated your Facebook app recently, you may have noticed that you now get a lovely notification whenever one of your Facebook friends is nearby, like this:
Maybe it's just me, but this seems creepy to the nth degree. Luckily, it won't happen with Ello. According to the website's "WTF" section, Ello collects only anonymous info about your location, language, referring website and time spent.
"When you hit the Ello website, your location data is anonymized and then captured so that we can't see who you are, and we can't even really track what you're doing," Budnitz said. "We do this because if we see a lot of people signing on from Germany [for example], it might be a good time to translate instructions into German."
Because the collected info isn't linked to your IP address, it's much more difficult for Google to trace that info back to a particular Ello user -- which means Google can't use that info for advertising.
And if anonymized data tracking is still too much for you, you can switch off all analytics in your Ello account settings. But to be fair, you can turn off Facebook's Nearby Friends feature as well.
5. You can use whatever name you want
Ello became even more popular these past few weeks, after Facebook started cracking down on people who chose not to use their real name in their profile. This is a huge problem for members of the LGBT community -- or anyone, really, who wants to keep their birth name private for whatever reason. Thankfully, Facebook recently changed this very rude policy after getting a ton of backlash. They're now trying to save face by teasing at an upcoming app that lets users anonymously talk via Facebook.
We're not sure how Facebook's new app will play out yet, but in the meantime -- "[Facebook] wants you to put in your real name," Budnitz told us. "Your data is more valuable because they can track you for the rest of your life [with your real name] ... They can use that data forever to sell you to advertisers."
Uh, thanks but no thanks.
6. Racy images aren't censored
"We didn't think that we were able to decide what's art and what's not art and what's appropriate and what's not appropriate," Budnitz said when asked about the logic behind this decision.
Users who post sexually explicit content will eventually have to tag their profiles as NSFW, though. The NSFW flagging feature is still in development, but Budnitz told us it'll be introduced soon. Users who don't comply with this rule -- or who break any of Ello's rules, for that matter -- will have their account terminated and their IP address banned from the site.
Budnitz also clarified that "Ello has completely zero tolerance for hate [and] racism of any kind against any group of people."
7. You can't join unless you're invited
Ello is basically like the cool kids table in high school. You'll never admit it, but part of you secretly wants to sit with us.
There's still no word on when Ello will stop being invite-only, but don't worry -- getting an invite isn't as impossible or as exclusive as it seems. You just need to know someone who's already on the network.
Ello is also still in beta, which means there's still some bugs to fix on the site and new features are rolling out all the time. Keeping the site invite-only for now allows Ello to monitor how quickly users sign up so "our servers don't have a nuclear meltdown," Budnitz said.
8. You can post gifs
Ello lets you upload full-screen, high quality photos or animations to your profile, and the images really pop against the site's mostly black-and-white design. It's no wonder Ello has become a great resource for artists looking to showcase their work. Musicians and producers can also join the party, since Ello will soon add audio and video support. Some people even use their Ello account as their creative portfolio.
But don't feel deterred from Ello if you're not an artistic genius -- Budnitz assured me that users also post pics of their cats and updates about their normal, boring, everyday lives.
9. You know how many people are seeing your posts
Look! 16 people saw my Patrick post! Tell mama I'm famous! Sometimes it's just cool to know how big your audience is. You're probably reaching more people than you think (you know, when you're actually friends with more than two people on the site -- unlike me).
10. Your Ello experience is totally unique to YOU
So if Ello doesn't have ads, how will it make $$$? By selling additional features for the site. An add-on feature would cost a dollar or two, and it allows you to customize your Ello account to your needs.
Budnitz compared Ello's add-on system to the Apple app store. "Everyone gets an iPhone and it has all the basic features that work very well," he said. "Ello in its basic version is wonderful, but I don't think there's anyone with an iPhone who hasn't downloaded apps to customize it."
He gave the perfect example of a potential add-on -- many people want to be able to control multiple Ello accounts from the same log-in. It's not a capability that everybody wants, but the people who do want it are probably willing to dish out a buck or two for it.
"The payoff is that nobody has to see advertising," Budnitz said.
11. Ello isn't trying to be the next Facebook
"Because we don't sell ads, we don't consider Facebook to be a competitor," Budnitz said. "We consider [Facebook] as an advertising platform."
It's clear that Ello values privacy in a way that no other social media site does.
"We're not trying to sign up everyone in the world," he told us. "If you're not into what we're doing, you can go use Facebook and that's cool."