Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat all launched with promises of protecting user data and existing only for virtual interaction. But fan bases grew, privacy statements bent and today we are more or less sitting ducks for marketeers to target their promoted campaigns at.
And then came Ello. Simple, clean-cut and with an ad-free promise. Their manifesto alone, here, should be enough to send all those promoted campaign enthusiasts packing. It reads beautifully too, ending with a resounding: “You are not a product”.
Preach. Still, skepticism remained tangibly sky high. Ello launched its Beta version in October 2013 relying on capital from venture investors. Based on preceding examples, both the press and community deemed it a matter of time before it eventually caved in to their demands.
One of the main investors, Seth Levine from Foundry Group, openly acknowledged the wide spread doubts in a blog post where he wrote:
“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.”
However, the real difference between Ello and all previous platform promises, the one element that needs to have knocked out the majority of skeptics is that Ello put its ads-free vision down in legal, binding terms. In October 2014, the organization legally filed itself as a public-benefit corporation. Its founders and investors all signed a charter stating the platform will not make money from selling user data or advertisement space.
In addition, the charter also states that any company that should ever acquire Ello in the future will need to abide by the same principles. Rather than monetize on user data, Ello envisions generating revenue by charging a small fee for additional, personalized features and widgets from the application store.
It remains to be seen whether or not this could be a viable business model for them. Whatever the outcome, it is refreshing to see a new platform take real, concrete steps towards steering social networks away from monetisation at the expense of user privacy. P.S: if anyone wants an invite to the platform, you can reach out to me via Twitter on @Itsdanbam