With the rapid growth and sudden popularity of the new social networking site Ello (ello.co), I took a bit of time this week to poke around the public facing side of the site to see what it was all about.

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First off, as of 9/30, Ello is getting 40,000 invitation requests per hour.  I was not told how many actual users/signups that means but it does give one a sense of scale.  If that were to continue for a year, just at that rate that would mean 350 million invites.  Again, who knows how many users that will mean.  To give you a sense of scale facebook launched in Feb 2004 and had 1 million users by December 2004.  This is tiny in comparison to the potential growth of Ello but that’s really a comparison of apples and oranges.  The social networking world, I would argue, is a quite different one than what we had in 2004.  Other social networks (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) are driving the popularity of Ello through the sharing of links and stories so, the message is more easily spread.

The manifesto does not mention facebook directly but takes a shot at social network(s) that use their constituents merely to sell advertising.  “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. ”  I would hope that most facebook users realize this is going on but accept it in order to use the massive behemoth to stay in touch with friends and family (in public and on a convenient multi-platform system).   However, I would say , “OK, Ello, what do you have for me as an alternative?”  – I mean, the price of entry for the user has to be free right?

The manifesto continues ”

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.

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.

You are not a product.

“OK,” I say to myself, “this is neat but how are they going to make money?” – I assume businesses exist to make a profit.  I sent over this question regarding partnerships – “This is great and I’d like to understand the nature of the partnerships and basically how will Ello keep the doors open (e.g. pay for the hardware required to run the thing and the staff required to run the hardware/software)?  If Ello grows significantly, these costs will not be cheap and thus, I would argue, there has to be a way to make money.  If not advertising, what?  or, if it’s advertising what can be shared about the model that turns users from products to partners?”

One of the creators Paul Budnitz replied as follows  “Ello is a business.  Sort of like the app store, the main features of Ello will always be free. For a very small amount of money we are going to sell special features that certain community members may want to add to their account. We have thousands of people writing in requesting features they would be willing to pay for.”

I am eager to see how they develop the platform and the feature set users may be willing to shell out hard earned cash to use.  Facebook provides a lot of functionality (at the cost of privacy) for what feels like free.  Beyond the advertising approach, what would cause a significant number of users to move from one platform to another?  Will Ello drive change at Facebook?  I can’t wait to see how it plays out.  I have my Ello invite in hand and will be signing up shortly.

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