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Will Ello's Stance on Social Advertising Hold Up?

Published: October 13, 2014

Author: Molly Shotwell

Ello, the fledgling social network, is priding itself around one primary thing: it’s completely ad-free. Social advertising is so taboo to the network, they make frequent reference to their distaste throughout the site.
Going to ello.co right now brings you to a page saying the site is beta-only. Scroll down below the fold, and you see this:
Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 2.52.16 PMAd-free is mentioned almost immediately. Scroll further down, and you get the site’s manifesto:

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.

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.

It’s pretty obvious that Ello hates ads. It’s also brand new, doesn’t have a mobile app, and has a sparse layout, but does it pose a real threat to Facebook? Dave Yoo, COO of 3Q Digital, thinks they have a shot, but it’s too early to tell.

In the world of social media, it feels like something new becomes trendy every 3-4 years: Friendster -> MySpace -> Facebook -> Twitter -> Pinterest -> Instagram, etc. (I know I’m missing a few). It might be Ello’s turn in the spotlight.
They’re going for simple, clean, “beautiful,” and ad-free. While it sounds noble, if they seriously want to fight Facebook for users, they’re going to have to innovate beyond just adjectives. In the examples above, each social network relied on buzz to reach a tipping point in viral growth, but those that innovated have seemingly built lasting power.
I’m not convinced that the ad-free model will sustain. It hasn’t yet virally exploded for others (both mainstream and niche) that preached this model (app.net, Diaspora), and Ello is relying on a passionate response to ad-free from the get-go.
As long as Facebook continues on a “no news is good news” path around privacy, which I feel is the bigger risk around alienating users versus the ads themselves, and continues to innovate, they shouldn’t be too worried about Ello.

Facebook and Ello’s success doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive affair. They could potentially coexist along with the other networks. The driving force isn’t going to be the ad-free stance (or gimmick, depending on your feelings), but how well the network can innovate.

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