There’s a good chance that within the past two weeks, you’ve heard something about the “new” social network coined as the “anti-Facebook.” This new network, which actually launched in March, promises to be an ad-free zone with an emphasis on protecting the privacy of users by not individual tracking data and user behavior, and promising to never sell that data.
Sounds like the dream social network, right? Well, that is what the currently invite-only network, Ello is aiming for, and through their recent PR campaign where they invited influencers to give the site a test drive, the network has grown and landed some huge media hits and endorsements, which in turn, increased the site’s invite requests.But, as someone who has watched the social media industry from its humble beginnings (or at least from when Twitter hit the ‘net), I am quick to be skeptical of a network that feels it can rival the Facebook giant that has captured the hearts, images, emotions, and data of 1.3 billion users since its days of infancy in 2004 (when I joined as a naïve college student to share photos from parties).Here’s quick overview.

According to Ello.co, Ello is, “a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers,” who built the site as a private social network that morphed into a public version. The site very boldly states, “Ello doesn’t sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties.” And when it comes to cost, the Ello manifesto provides this disclaimer: “You never have to pay anything, and you can keep using Ello forever, for free. By choosing to buy a feature now and then for a very small amount of money you support our work and help us make Ello better and better.”

So, does this mean it’s the next big thing?

Even though there’s been a lot of hype, I honestly haven’t heard too many positive things about the site – and definitely nothing mind-blowing. Although some say the site has a nice user interface (and it’s been compared to the early version of Facebook), most agree that the draw of the network is yet to be discovered.

Their main play seems to be on the data and privacy aspects, as many Facebook users have felt violated for the blatant misuse of data and unclear ULAs. So yes, Facebook users are worried about their data, but honestly, everyone who is online has put so much data out there that it is hard to get away from companies collecting and using it – it’s kind of a fact of life at this point (thanks, Google).

But if Ello is using that as their play and it is positioning itself as the Facebook alternative, then they are essentially asking the 1.3 billion monthly active Facebook users (or at least a significant portion of these) to migrate from an established platform and change their daily habits. Users have to be enticed by something very convincing for them to take all their digital assets and move them.

Consider some stats. According to a study of 623 Facebook users, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers found the number one reason why Facebook users use Facebook is “To see what my friends are up to.” A Pew Research study showed that 44 percent of Facebook users “like” content posted by their friends at least once a day, with 29 percent doing so several times per day. Other reasons for logging onto the network included looking at friends’ photos and to send messages to friends. The key word there still being “friends.”

Right now, the user-base of Ello isn’t competitive to Facebook by any means (although it’s growing steadily), so most people can’t log on to connect with friends, find out what their friends are doing, and/or look at their friends’ photos.

However, one opportunity some sites are pointing out about the Facebook vs. Ello debate is that Ello seems to be grabbing a niche audience that is a gender reversal – meaning more men are using Ello than women, which is the opposite when it comes to Facebook. The problem I see there is that when Ello made their huge PR push to get the word out, they targeted a lot of online influencers who are in the tech space, and let’s be real, the ratio of men to women considered influencers in the tech space is highly skewed.

So, is Ello our future social network of choice?

I doubt it.