Another social media site is on the rise. The artistically designed Ello, created by bicycle designer Paul Budnitz and a team of programmers, is the latest one to hit the market, launching in beta last March and slowly rolling out the site to the public this past summer. This week, the site has seen a sudden uptick in sign ups—ever since Monday, aka: the beginning of the so-called “great gay Facebook exodus.” It has to do with Facebook’s policy that users register under a real name, something that’s been a problem for performers using pseudonyms for years now. More recently it’s become an issue for the LGBT community and drag performers who, like RuPaul, tend to have other names they’d like to be known by.
“Ello’s minimal design puts emphasis on high-quality content, and makes it easy to connect with the people you really care about. Ello does not allow paid ads, and will never sell user data to third parties,” the site says in its About section—not to be confused with its manifesto. The fact that there is a manifesto should tell you enough about Ello’s “idealist” creators, who are definitely setting the site up as the anti-Facebook. Given all the fuss about Facebook’s privacy settings the past few years, it’s no surprise the exodus to Ello is becoming a popular one.
But since invites are going like hotcakes, here are ten things you should know before signing up:
Ello’s defining feature right now—and the reason behind its newfound popularity—is that you can get an account and go by any username you want. Although since it’s early days you can probably also get in with your real name and no numbers, which is also exciting. Adding to Ello’s privacy advantage, you can even cover your face with the site’s trademark smiley, but it’s a hard to find the feature and hitting submit shares the picture as an example instead of submitting it to your profile. Try saving instead.
Given that Ello was supposed to just be a private social network between friends (most of whom seem to be artists) it’s no surprise that’s mostly who you’ll find on the site, although that might change now that it’s getting so much notice. As it stands, the site is definitely catering to that group with policies on copyright infringement and an upcoming feature that will allow you to repost while still sourcing the original creator.
While the fact that you can set up an anonymous account seems to be the biggest selling feature, Ello really prides itself on the fact that it’s ad-free and swears that unlike it’s competitors, it’s going to stay that way. Instead they’re hoping to roll out extra features that users would pay a small fee for. The plan sounds like a dubious way to support the site if it really explodes, but hey, people now spend money on Angry Birds. Anything’s possible.
Since Ello isn’t looking to attract advertisers, it really has no need to collect user data and sell it. “You are not a product,” is the line they use in the manifesto, saying it’s unethical for social networks to sell personal information. A closer reading shows they are collecting some information anonymously to apparently improve the site, a black mark against them except that opting out of that is the easiest thing ever.
There are basic privacy controls on the site, like making it visible only to other Ello users. You can also control whether people can comment on your posts, which only sort of deals with the hate speech problems Ello’s newfound LGBT community is facing. As of yet there’s no easy way to report a post or user without emailing Ello and hoping something happens. The site’s creators promise they’re working on it. On a brighter note, an easy-to-find Delete Account button actually deletes the entire account, a lesson Facebook still hasn’t learned.
As a site designed by conscientious artists, designers and programmers, there is something about the minimalist black and white design that really catches the eye. Fans of typewriters will probably also get a kick out of Courier font making a comeback too. But since Ello is going with a less-is-more approach, finding things (like the Facemaker feature) can be a pain and until you get used to the site, you will spend a lot of time just clicking around hoping something happens.
Google+ was definitely onto something when it came up with Circles to group connections—although the number of options meant a lot of time wasted assessing exactly what your relationship with someone was. Ello’s kept things simple with two categories: Friends and Noise. Your Friends feed shows all the posts in an expanded list format while Noise compresses everything into what looks like a streamlined Tumblr search. Since it looks like Ello’s mostly going to appeal to artists, Noise is actually a fun scroll.
Posting is easy enough either on your own feed or someone else’s. Tagging riffs Twitter’s “@” function, which Facebook has already basically copied but without the transparency. Extra features include being able to see the number of people who’ve seen your post, but the best has to be the ability to edit a post after publishing.
It’s too early to say if Ello’s really going to catch on with the public—the look and layout definitely won’t be easy for a casual Facebook user to pick up. Their potential sources of funding don’t seem all that reliable and the beta version of the site is already struggling under a load of new users (invitations have just been shut down while they try and catch up with everything). That being said, it’s an ideal site for artists with a polished look that makes for a better social media profile than Facebook, so chances are it’ll hang around in some form for a bit.