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Recent buzz surrounding certain Bay-Area drag queens has rocketed the popularity of Ello, a brand-new social-networking site that’s still cooking. The particular appeal for cross-dressers concerns Facebook’s policy requiring users to use their real names, forcing many drag performers to put themselves in vulnerable situations. Ello, on the other hand, allows people to use the site under any name they like, an aspect that triggered what some people are calling, “the great gay Facebook exodus.”
But Ello’s appeal goes beyond drag queens being allowed to maintain their anonymity. More central to the site’s identity is its branding as the “anti-Facebook.”
Before logging in, Ello’s homepage proudly displays a very short manifesto, which reads: “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… We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate… You are not a product.”
The aggressive phrasing may come off as a little tin-foily, but Ello has a point. Sites such as Facebook and Google have been getting healthy shares of flak recently for their practice of selling user data to advertisers, and when we add this seemingly minor invasion of privacy to the whole NSA-as-Peeping-Tom outrage, we get a whole lot of unhappy Web surfers.
Ello wants to be our knight in shining plaintext to save us from our current distress. And while it’s a perfectly good concept in theory, the site has a long way to go before it can legitimately threaten any existing social websites.
The site is in beta right now, meaning the creators are still jimmying with some odds and ends. To minimize strain on Ello’s servers, traffic is currently monitored by keeping the site’s membership invite-only. Once you’re actually allowed on the site – which, without the help of someone already on the inside, can take weeks – a reiteration of the manifesto appears again: “Ello does not allow paid ads and will never sell user data to third parties.” The website itself looks like the design equivalent of a Bon Iver demo: spare, monotonous, slightly grating and not quite in tune with itself – yet.
While Ello brands itself as the anti-Facebook, it runs a lot more like Twitter, with the content of a graphic designer’s Tumblr dashboard. You can add “friends,” but these are technically a little more than subscriptions. The primary feature that separates Ello from Twitter is the ability for users to separate their subscriptions into categories of “Friends” and “Noise.” This creates two entirely separate feeds: one for people whose thoughts you actually care about, and one for those you only followed out of courtesy.
This is probably the only great thing about the site so far. Unless you’re a photographer or a graphic designer, Ello has very little to offer you that goes above and beyond the social networking platforms you already use. Perhaps it will get more interesting when it opens to the general public, but for now it’s just a place to be other than Facebook, if only for the sake of not being on Facebook.
If creepily personalized ads aren’t your thing, for the time being try shutting down the laptop and picking up a book. If it doesn’t have any pictures it will actually look a lot like Ello.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lauren Thurman at firstname.lastname@example.org.