Ello 'ello: Users flock to anti-ads social network

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 26 September 2014

Are advertisers facing an anti-advertising, anti-data backlash? Ello, the new social network that has sprung up in recent weeks is promising users an ad-free environment in an effort to appeal to consumers who are sick of their data being collected and being sold to at every opportunity.

It's a “protest movement” against the collection and use of data, according to Thomas Lyngsfeldt, director of digital at MEC, and while agencies aren't quaking just yet, they are watching the site with interest.

The site emerged in July as an invite-only netowrk, but has gained momentum this week. According to Canadian site CBC Ello is receiving 4,000 requests for access every hour. That's 96,000 a day. In a week that's more than 670,000 requests globally.

Ello is openly attacking established players, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ and Instagram, claiming social networks driven by data collection and advertising are “deceiving, coercing and manipulating” users.

Elsewhere it describes the “collecting and selling of personal information, reading of posts, and mapping of social connections for profit” by social networks as “unethical” adding that each new feature added by social networks is designed to gather more data about users or show more ads.

The social network states its “manifesto” on the  homepage: “Your social network is owned by advertisers. 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.

“We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership. You are not a product.”

The site, which is currently in beta and accepting requests in small batches, invites all wannabe users to spread its manifesto, and asks people to submit whether they agree or disagree with its manifesto statement.

The site does collect data, although it allows users to opt out. It collects location, language, referring web site, and time spent visiting Ello through an anonymised version of Google analytics that strips out the IP address and renders user behaviour on Ello “useless to Google for advertising purposes … to the best of our knowledge."

Nicola Swankie, managing director of IPG Mediabrands' Society, said: “It's early days but it's one to watch. It's got all the makings, and a lot of people are totally over the increase in ads on Facebook and Twitter. It's becoming cool to buck the system and be underground.”

“If brands go into social networks with something that stinks of marketing, people will reject it. If they feel they are bombarded, they will switch off. It's a challenge for brands to be interesting,” she added.

Ello is going for the underground movement and the founders photo, she adds, which shows their faces covered with black and white smiley emoticons, “has something of the hacker movement” about it.

MEC's Lyngsfeldt, doesn't believe the network will be around in the next 18 months and that it isn't a threat to Twitter and Facebook. But, he says, interest in the site from consumers is a sign that there is a “general anti-advertising data privacy movement” and that, he reckons, is a threat to established social networks.

“Ello is a protest movement against advertising in the digital space and the use of data for advertising. There are an increasing amount of people who dislike established social media networks like Facebook and Twitter because of their use of data for advertising as their business model,” he said.

Revenue will be the deciding factor in whether Ello has legs and can move beyond it's manifesto and become a sustainable business. When it comes to building tools, hiring developers and growing the network – it all takes dollars. Without ad revenue, that has to come from somewhere. Ello, while a free-to-use service, is going for a “freemium” model and will ask users to pay for additional features it launches. There's no detail other than it will ask for “a very small amount”.

Lyngsfeldt added: “There are currently only two sustainable revenue streams available for social media platforms: Advertising or Subscription model. Ello would not be able to run a social media network with critical mass without having any revenue streams to cover the substantial server and maintenance costs.”

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