Every generation has a counterculture. Some say they are simply those who go against the grain. Others argue that countercultures seek to break down the status quo and break free of the establishment.
Whatever your definition may be, one thing is for sure; this generation’s counterculture will be the first to possess its very own media outlet, one free from the grips of advertising and marketing – or so we’re being told.
Enter Ello: a “Simple, Beautiful, and Ad Free social media outlet.”
Although Ello is still in Beta, the homepage provides a form field for you to enter your email and request an invitation to this currently exclusive club of chic artistes—if you are deemed worthy. Who judges you, I honestly have no idea – I’m just going to imagine it’s some sort of Hipster demi-god.
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, simple is definitely something that comes to mind when you take a look at the monolithic Greyscale template that is the Ello homepage. The hub is so simplistic that it’s enabled its artistic user base to utilize the platform in a number of ways, raging from the stream-of-consciousness postings of Twitter, to the digital art gallery viewership of Etsy. In fact, the simple and customizable interface calls to mind the sometimes overly-versatile customizability of a Myspace page—albeit minus the low-quality media player blasting Fall Out Boy on someones’ page.
Maybe the designers of Ello were inspired by the archaic origins of modern social media and, much like a hipster in a thrift shop, repurposed an old-school template for the modern age.
Because that’s what every “next big thing” in the social media world is trying to be, right? The actual “next big thing”?
I mean take a look at their manifesto – which even just by its’ name is as counterculture as it gets. It’s essentially a call to all those who imagine themselves as different, and a warning to all those ‘sheep’ that follow the trend-herd. In other words, it’s a heavy-handed way of saying, “We’re sticking it to The Man, man.”
For the most part, the Manifesto is just words. Sure, the creators of Ello probably mean that they “believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.” They also probably truly want to make this platform “a tool for empowerment, a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.” I have no doubt this manifesto is what they truly want to see their product stand for.
But here’s the rub: who doesn’t want to say that?
If you don’t think there’s a Powerpoint presentation happening somewhere at Facebook headquarters right now that says they’re a “platform to celebrate life and a tool for empowerment” then you’re just naïve. Every social media platform envisions themselves as revolutionary and that their form of communication is the most powerful, whether that communication is through photos, trending hashtags, or viral videos.
The fact is, Ello’s manifesto says probably the same thing that every slideshow at every shareholders meeting said last year; We’re different. We’re special. We will make you money.
It’s the last point, however, that makes Ello different. Rather than pretending like they’re the only ones to believe they are taking the road less travelled, the other portion of their manifesto focuses on breaking away from the moneymaking structure that propels the social media boom: Advertising.
In this manifesto the founders of Ello have placed a warning; Your social network is owned by advertisers.
And it’s true. Every click, follow, like, share, view, or post can be turned into consumable data that advertisers like myself use to help sell you more shit. It’s like the census of capitalism, all this free information everyone is throwing out there is like a 500 question survey you don’t even know you’re taking.
Just saying you’re counterculture doesn’t mean diddly in the world of spin marketing, but actually becoming an isolated, ad-free social media outlet means you’ll directly attract those who want to break free of the mainstream. Artists, photographers, indie filmmakers and musicians all came flocking to Ello for a clean creative slate and have become not only its first test subjects but its foremost brand ambassadors, their opposition to traditional media lending immense authenticity credentials – and a whole lotta coolness.
In fact, Ello has announced that they are under a “legally binding” duty to never sell ads (although currently, that “duty” has yet to be legally bound).
For the time being, the whole of Ello stays true to their manifesto and provides a whole playground for those Bohemian artists wishing to express themselves somewhere free of marketing’s overbearing presence. But coming from the world of marketing myself, I’ll issue you a warning of my own. There comes a moment with nearly everyone where price outweighs passion. And just because Ello is currently ad-free, doesn’t mean they won’t sell their soul.
Whether it’s an e-commerce fee that brands like Etsy employ on the sale of all their artist members’ goods, or a deal with data miners to quietly sell information via third party, there are ways of turning a profit on what appears to be a virtuous platform.
Bottom line—the company has made some pretty big promises. But without anything but a manifesto to back it up, it’s all just marketing smoke. Ello appears to be that Hipster-esque mixology speakeasy that just opened up on the outskirts of town—cool, trendy, and very exclusive – but leaving everyone wondering if and when they’ll sellout like the rest.
(Featured image courtesy of Ello’s homepage)