Niche networks Ello, Let gain dollars and fans as Facebook looks stale

Ello has become popular with designers and creatives due to its minimalist approach and lack of ads.

Recently launched social network Ello is one of a number of new niche social networks that is continuing to gain ground as consumers seek alternatives to mass-market giants like Facebook and LinkedIn.

The Vermont-based platform announced on Thursday (US-time) it had secured $US5.5 million in venture capital funding.

Ello also sought to resolve suggestions it wouldn’t stay true to its ad-free manifesto, which went viral last month, by signing a legally binding charter that prevents it from making money from ads or selling user data.

Ello staff signed a charter to prevent the network from ever showing ads or selling user data. Photo: Supplied

Ello released a copy of the charter, dated October 20, in which it declared it had become a State of Delaware Public Benefit Corporation – a for-profit company that is legally obliged “to take its impact on society into account in every decision it makes”.

The agreement requires that Ello not gain profit from selling “user-specific data” or displaying paid advertising. Any parties who buy the company in the future would also be bound by the charter.

“There has been some speculation in the press since our launch 11 weeks ago that Ello will someday be forced to allow paid advertising on its network,” the charter reads.

Los Angeles-based social network Let has targeted the teen demographic. Photo: Screenshot

“But 2014 is not 2004, and the world has changed. … Ello exists for your benefit, not just to make money.”

The social network also said it had completed a Series A round of funding totalling $US5.5 million, led by Foundry Group, Techstars’ Bullet Time Ventures and FreshTracks Capital.

Each of Ello’s backers expressed support for the network’s ad-free philosophy.

Paul Budnitz, co-founder of Ello, a refreshing alternative to mass-market social media platforms. Photo: Supplied

“We’re committed to their manifesto and are in this for the long haul,” Foundry Group managing director Seth Levine said.

Ello said it was “still experiencing invite requests at a rate of 45,000 per hour during peak times”, although it did not disclose current user numbers.

Launched on August 7, the network made waves across other social media networks as well as traditional media, as people flocked to get their hands on an invitation to join the network.

Ello is invite-only for the time being. This is in order to cope with sustainable growth of the platform while it is still in beta, the company has said.

Ello plans to gain revenue from yet-to-be-introduced features and services “at small prices through an online store inspired by the Apple App store”, with input from users.

The unique social network was founded by a group of designers and artists. Its minimalist design lends itself well to sharing images and designs. It has proven a hit with the design community as well as with people who are gay, lesbian or transgender, after reports emerged that Facebook was enforcing its policy of users attaching their real names to accounts.

Ello isn’t the only new social network to gain popularity in recent months.

Let, founded by millionaire Pascal Lorne, has attracted teens and members of the entertainment industry.

The company moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Los Angeles two months ago to be closer to the industry’s heart.

The network is on track for 1 million users by the end of the year, and recently raised $US600,000 in seed funding.

Mr Lorne said he realised teenagers had abandoned Facebook because feature innovations were dwindling and it was becoming more a marketing platform and less a dating app.

Let’s key play is turning Facebook’s “Like” button into a star. The total number of stars people receive across all posts is plastered on top of their profiles, and they have a chance to compete for spots on global and local leader boards.

Another upstart based in Los Angeles, iOS app Fameus, is trying to get off the ground in Hollywood by promising people in the entertainment industry a better way to connect with gigs and potential collaborators or crew members.

“LinkedIn is for suits, and there’s nothing for creatives,” Fameus co-founder Kent Speakman said. “Updating their IMDb pages is way more important than anything on LinkedIn.”

Several attempts to challenge social media stalwarts over the last several years, including many based on anonymity, have yielded only a rare success.

With Los Angeles Times