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By September 26, 2014 Industry Topics No Comments

Privacy, Real Names & Social Networks: Hello, Ello?

By September 26, 2014 Industry Topics

Every few years, a new social network comes into play to “take on” Facebook’s market dominance:

  • Diaspora launched in 2010 as a non-profit, user-owned social network designed to avoid corporate control. As of early 2014, there were 1 million user accounts. (By comparison, Facebook has more than 1 billion user accounts.)
  • Google+ launched in 2011 and was considered by some to be a “Facebook killer” due to Google’s overall market power. Due to Google’s linking of Google+ to other services like Gmail and YouTube, exact usage is hard to estimate, but most estimates place active users around 550 million.

Google+ took a beating early on for requiring users to use real names – a policy created in 2011 and only reversed in July 2014. Facebook recently began to enforce a real name policy on its users, which caused particular outcry when applied to drag queens in San Francisco and Seattle. Both networks claim(ed) it a matter of safety, and of creating a community made up of real people. However, drag performers, transgendered persons and others who may have complex gender, political or social identities find these policies a violation of their health and safety.

Enter Ello.

Ello describes itself as “simple, beautiful & ad-free,” and claims they will not sell data to third-parties, advertisers or data brokers. It acts as a hybrid Tumblr-Facebook, allowing for both long-form and short, rebloggable updates. And, critically for persons impacted by Google+ and Facebook real-name policies, Ello does not have a real name policy.

Many people on both Twitter and Facebook are announcing their creation of Ello accounts and offering up invites for others. But will it stick? Is this a real exodus from Facebook?

Our take? Probably not.

First, for a network built on privacy, Ello has great intentions, but poor implementation. They’ve already taken some highly shared public criticism for their lack of privacy controls. All content is public access, and content owners cannot block access to any other user, or make it wholly private. Privacy, at this time, is based solely on the ability to use a handle or alias, instead of a real name. This is not real privacy. Twitter, Google+ and Facebook all offer privacy and blocking options.

Second, the popularity of Facebook ads suggests that most people don’t mind their data being used by advertisers to create relevant promotional content. Sure, at FRWD, we have some bias – we buy paid social ads, retarget paid media and use a variety of approaches to reach specific audiences with specific content. But we also see these approaches work.

Similarly, people use the social network their friends and contacts use. So unless you’re a part of a network making significant use of Ello, you’re likely to stay on Facebook.

Lastly, while the manifesto of Ello is very principled, terms of service are not carved in granite. In other words, they can change overnight. While Ello’s founders plan a revenue model of paid upgrades and features for interested users, if the platform grows sufficiently, this revenue may not be adequate to supply servers and bandwidth. They are not non-profit, so lack the ability of a Wikipedia to fund via grants and donations. Sites like Reddit and 4chan have large user bases that support them via both privilege purchase – and via ad sales.

So, if someone tells you about the new hotness and invites you to Ello, check it out. But keep your expectations of exodus low. Past precedent has not favored the giant killers, and implementation to date does not suggest Ello is the platform to break the trend.