I became briefly acquainted with Ello last summer, while the firm was still operating stealthily. They were collecting email addresses for potential new members during their beta period, and so I dutifully entered my address and waited … and waited. At the time all I knew was that it existed.

a profile photo used to protest a Facebook policy about personal names

Image: Sister Roma

Fast forward a few weeks and the world changes, possibly in response to recent actions at Facebook that have targeted people who don’t use their legal names on the iconic social media site. This dispute has been described in the mainstream media and some folks are protesting, as they can, with a “#MyNameIs” profile photo. Facebook has come to an accommodation and will make changes to their policy.

Others are protesting by looking for other venues that aren’t as focused on the “real name” aspect of social networking. Google Plus recently announced that it had given up on its “real name” policy but Google has a lot of its own baggage which might put off new members.

Still, it’s good to have options. Last week Ello members with invites for new members started to appear in my online community, and seeing as I was already interested, it was easy to pry an invite from a friend.

There’s a Manifesto!

On the front page (before the sign-in) there’s a manifesto which is clearly meant to engage and excite new members. The manifesto ends with “You are not a product.”

… And There Are Always Rules… 

Ello’s policies (terms of use, rules, etc.) are all accessible from the front page by everyone (even users who haven’t yet decided to sign up). One rule which stuck out for me: “Ello is a platform built for posting and sharing public content. You should assume that anything you post on Ello other than private messages will be accessed by others.” This means: no private content, no content limited to specific collections of friends or followers, etc. This will, no doubt, ruffle some feathers.

A profile page on Ello.

The spare design of a profile page on Ello. Image via latest.com.

Those policies also don’t require the use of “real names,” so new members who are concerned about this may feel more comfortable using their stage name, casual name, etc.

Ello states that it will run an ad-free site. This lines up nicely with the manifesto, but also raises questions about the sustainability of the service. It has already accepted nearly half a million dollars in venture capital funding from Vermont-based Fresh Tracks Capital, which lists the Ello investment on its site in plain view. Also, Ello plans generate revenue from premium services that members choose to pay to have. This model already works well in other venues (online games), and both Ello and Fresh Tracks think this is a reasonable way to generate revenue in the future.

The Expected Controversy 

Some folks are concerned that, by accepting venture capital support, Ello’s direction is predetermined and that member data is at risk. In fact, this becomes a problem whenever a prospective new user of a service gives their information to that service no matter how that service gets initial financial support.

Eventually the service will be bought and sold, and all those users (and their information) are in the hands of another. This is something that anyone should consider when joining a new online service (whether they pay for it or not).

There are also the usual set of bugs and incompatibilities that come with any new product or service. The search feature isn’t very good yet. The entire experience on a mobile device isn’t very good. Ello has stated that they’re working on more privacy options. Members are still figuring out how they might use the service.

On the other hand, I find the spare appearance quite attractive. By comparison, the Facebook home page resembles the inside of an aircraft cockpit. Setting up a member profile was pretty easy, and there’s no excuse for not having one completed (although, of course, you can preserve your privacy by selectively completing or omitting specific parts). I also can’t wait to see what they offer in the way of freemium services.

Have you tried Ello? Do you think you will? What features would you like to seeShare your thoughts in the comments.