I, like a number of my friends, have been itching for some alternative to the mind-altering, all-consuming world of Facebook, now that the company has proven itself to be less than progressive when it comes to ideas about identity. And while it's hard to imagine an upstart social network being able to achieve the reach, scope, functionality, and unprecedented cultural influence of the Menlo Park-based behemoth, it's a comforting thought right now that change is in the air, and all such fads (like MySpace and Friendster) must ultimately run their course. Enter Ello.
Ello is a new, cleanly designed, "ad-free and porn friendly," still-in-beta social network that caught some grassroots buzz in the last two days just as the controversy over Facebook's asinine "real-name policy" came to light (a story that first broke on SFist and that the NYT caught onto yesterday, just sayin). The public site was founded in March by Paul Budnitz (billionaire founder of Kidrobot) and a group of "seven well-known artists and programmers" who had originally started as their own private social network. A few of you connected geeks likely received invitations to it over the last few months, but as SFist's Eve Batey says, as of July, "It seemed to be all Brits on there" and the population was pretty sparse. Enter Rupaul and various others in the LGBTQ community tweeting and Facebooking about it, invitations flew everywhere, and now Budnitz tells BetaBeat that join requests went from 4,000 per hour to 27,000 per hour in the last 24 hours. I was also just informed by the site (see above) that new invitations were temporarily frozen while the team can "make sure that Ello remains stable as the network continues to grow."
But we're talking about a site that has VERY little functionality yet beyond a basic news/friend feed, no mobile version, and no protocols yet for content flagging, user blocking, or, like anything. Even the search function is a little slow at the moment. But you are able to separate people to follow as "friends" or as "noise," which will separate their posts into different feeds unbeknownst to them. Programmer/designer Todd Berger says, "We spent most of this Monday discussing user blocking, inappropriate content flagging and private accounts. That’s because we want Ello to be a safe place for people to be whoever they want to be. Then on Tuesday Ello just blew up and now we’re all on a wild ride!"
Safety features and other functionality are in the works, and you can bet now that the site's rapid explosion has made it on TechCrunch, the Washington Post, Gizmodo, Business Insider, and many other places, they may end up with more staff really soon.
Currently, Ello remains invitation-only, much like the original Facebook, which is likely adding to its allure. Even if it could be a year or more before it reaches critical mass and usability, it may not matter. The Ello team posted this rainbow GIF of their logo to welcome the LGBTQ population in particular.
Meanwhile, the drag queens who started the protest in San Francisco, including Sister Roma and Heklina, are encouraging people to change their Facebook profile pics to this #MyNameIs graphic in protest of Facebook, and many, many of them are jumping onto Ello in the hope that it becomes a thing. There's even a drag queen parody song about the real-name policy, with a video below, called "WTF, Zuck?" And, in related news, somebody's already started Dragbook.