To be completely honest, I started this column expecting it to be an Ello postmortem. After a mass exodus from Facebook led by drag queens frustrated over Facebook’s real name policy, Ello, the little social media platform that could (or couldn’t) seemed to have faded from the public eye amidst reports that spammers were taking over and real accounts were lapsing into inactivity.
Imagine my surprise when I found the ad-free social network not just alive, but growing. Here are four cool ways that Ello evolved when you and I weren’t looking:
Ello Has Raised $5.5 Million in Venture Capital
When Ello first appeared, plenty of commentators asked (rightly) how a social media platform with no ads could hope to make enough money to sustain itself. Ello’s founders responded to that criticism by raising $5.5 million in venture capital last month. Their biggest investor is the Foundry Group from Boulder, CO.
"We're strong supporters of the Ello team's unique vision for the business,” Foundry managing director Seth Levine wrote on the company blog. “It's important that we state this clearly, since there are bound to be people who view this financing with skepticism. Foundry Group is completely supportive of the Ello mission. We'll either build a business that doesn't rely on third party advertising or the selling of user data or we won't build a business."
Ello cofounder Paul Budnitz is similarly staunch in his assertion that Ello will remain what it claims to be, and even told the Burlington Free Press that he turned down larger investments to retain the platform’s integrity.
The Financial Community is Booming
Finance reporter Joseph Weisenthal was between jobs last month when he decided to start broadcasting his thoughts about an earnings announcement from King Digital on Ello. His unusual use of the platform drew in finance reporters and bloggers from Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Financial Times, and Economist.
According to a recent Nieman lab report, these journalists are using the platform to share news, post commentary, upload graphs, and engage with each other. The birth of Ello’s financial sector marks a sharp departure from its usual demographic, which had been ruled by designers and artists until now.
“We’ve been waiting for something like this to happen,” Ello Cofounder Todd Berger told Betabeat. “It’s a little humorous that it’s the financial community that embraced it first, but it makes sense for guys to be highly focused on efficiency would jump on a platform that’s highly easy to use.”
Ello is Actually Brand-friendly
When Ello first staked out its territory as the Land of the Ad-Free, many marketers were left wondering if it was a social taboo to set foot in Ello’s hallowed webspace. Sonos made headlines by being one of the first companies to adopt, then seems to have gotten cold feet and posted nothing.
But after a period of uncertainty, Budnitz said that brands are “totally welcome,” but there won’t be any way for them to pay for ads or promote their own posts. According to creative director and designer Greg Foley, this limitation could actually push brands to be more creative and engaging. “It's so personal that I've got to wonder, if I were a brand and I wanted to engage on this, it'd have to be in a really unique and personal and ultimately fun way, and not selling at all." he told Fashionista.com.
Budnitz agreed. "You're paying for people to see things they wouldn't organically want to see, so their interest level is fairly low,” he said. “If you put up stuff that people are really interested in, you can gain a relatively large following fairly fast."
A Fake Art Show Turned Out Kind of Awesome
When I was still using Ello actively in October, I saw an update that sent my social-media loving heart aflutter. Klaus Biesenbach, the director and Chief Curator of MoMA PS1 in New York City was accepting submissions for an art show cultivated and shared exclusively on social media.
Ello is a platform built on anonymity, but the story seemed to check out. The profile picture was even the same one used on Biesenbach’s Twitter page. Incredibly creative works of art flooded in from all corners of Ello, all tagged with the @klausbiesenbach handle. The art explosion lasted for about a week before Biesenbach’s page vanished, and Ello developer Justin Gitlin announced that the page had been a hoax.
But erasing @klausbiesenbach didn’t erase the tsunami of art generated. Participating artists gained levels of exposure and engagement that should have been nearly impossible to cultivate on a beta site that doesn’t have a search function yet. The artists who posted may have lost their chance at MoMA-recognition, but they gained membership to a gifted community of content creators.
If you’ve already joined Ello, it might be time to dust off that old account and poke around. It’s still too soon to say if Budnitz’s unusual strategies will sink or swim, but there’s still plenty to explore in the meantime.