Sunday, 10 January 2016

Ello: The Exodus That Facebook Cannot Ignore

Yes, "exodus" is the right word here. If Facebook is the Pharoah's Egypt then Ello is the new promised land. And what exactly is being promised there? Anonymity, no ads, no commoditisation and many others claims Facebook cannot make anymore.


Ello, a social networking site that started last year, is gaining momentum. The nitro-boost it needed came in the form of Facebook's rigid "real name only" stance. San Francisco, which has a large LGBTIQ community, did not welcome this move. Many drag queens and trans people took offense to the fact that their Facebook accounts were blocked because they were not using their legal names — something many people in the LGBTIQ community avoid, either for fear of being outed or because most of them do not identify with the gender and the name they were assigned at birth.

Ello, on the other hand, was started by seven programmers and artists, who collectively believe that Facebook is not a social network anymore. It is more of a marketplace where the members are the products whose data is sold to the actual customers, the advertisers.

Right now, the word is that there is a buzz around Ello even though the site is still in beta phase and membership is by invitation only. That's the thing about the digital world, isn't it? All you need is a buzz and your idea is suddenly big. Not downplaying the attributes of Ello here, but after a certain point, you do get wary of the term "buzz."

Google+ had buzz, so did App.net or Path. However, none of them actually managed to shove Facebook from the top position. The truth is, Ello offers things that most social networks are already offering. It's charm lies is how it protects its members — from advertisers, analytics and even Internet bullying: Ello has a zero tolerance policy against hate speech, especially one directed against people of the LGBTIQ community. But does all of this really threaten Facebook from being the most popular social network? Not really.

Facebook runs on ad revenue and there are way too many people in this world who still have not figured out how their data is being used by advertisers. There's also a group who are quite happy to be targets of advertisers. So, does this mean Facebook shouldn't care about Ello? Err... it would be unwise on Facebook's part to do so.

Ello is just one site. The bigger question is: Who exactly are these social networks serving? Anonymity is a huge part being online. This is why Reddit works. Even data security is turning out to be a huge issue. There's a reason email clients like Protonmail exist. Facebook must understand this if it wants to survive the next 10 years. Ello might not be a threat right now, but 10 other similar sites that can fulfil the anonymity void that Facebook has created, might do the trick.

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