Say hello to Ello, the sleek anti-tracking social network that's making headlines. The company claims that it's now receiving 45,000 requests to join per hour—far more than its beta platform can handle.
"We have more than a million requests in the queue. We're not telling people the number of people in the network because it will be completely different tomorrow," founder Paul Budnitz admitted.
Ello made headlines after some LGBT community members decided to flock there to protest Facebook's decision to shut down several drag queen profiles. The pages were removed due to the social network's fake name policy that bars people from using pseudonyms. Facebook stood by its decision in a statement to Business Insider: "If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a page specifically for that alternative persona."
Enter Ello, a social network that prides itself on the fact that it doesn't sell advertising or third-party data. Because Ello doesn't need to collect personal information on its users to monetize, it has no need for your real name. A basic profile is free; however, to make money, Ello has a store that sells additional bells-and-whistles that people can dress up their profiles with for a few dollars a pop. While it does anonymously track its users to see if certain buttons don't work or if features appear to be broken, people have the option to opt out of that as well.
"Facebook is basically an advertising platform. It's not really a social media network. The customer on the network is the advertiser. The product is the user. If they know exactly who you are, they can build a virtual profile for you and sell you," Budnitz—who also created vinyl toy shop Kidrobot and premium bicycle company Budnitz Bicycles—stated.
The seed for Ello was planted about 1.5 years ago when Budnitz explained to some friends that he was sick of how inundated Facebook had become with advertising. Together with about 100 friends (consisting of mostly designers and artists) and the help of some developers from Mode Set, Budnitz created the first iteration of Ello, which he admits was "really buggy and had no capacity to handle people." They raised funding, added additional support and launched a public platform on Aug. 7 with 90 active users.
While it has been steadily growing over the past few months, its first growth spurt actually came when a flood of people from Germany became interested in the site. Although he isn't exactly sure why Germans were keen to join the network, he suspects it had to do with Ello's anti-tracking policies. "I think the Germans really jumped onto the privacy part of it," he admitted.
Budnitz recognizes that Ello isn't perfect: For one thing, its servers aren't in Iceland. But, as technology evolves to help prevent data tracking, the social network is open to adding anti-tracking features. And, he's not anti-marketer: Brands are welcome to join Ello—in fact, Budnitz Bicycles has a profile— but their messages will only go to people who follow their pages. If they get extremely annoying about their posts, users always have the option to denote their profile as "noise."
Budnitz said he doesn't want to compete with Facebook, and thinks it's a great advertising platform. He just wants to provide an alternative. "It's going to keep going and doing its thing, but there is something creepy about how it does that in some ways," he said.
(And yes, for the record, Adweek is on Ello.)