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Advertising Privacy Social Networks The Almighty Buck

Ello Formally Promises To Remain Ad-Free, Raises $5.5M 167

Social media site Ello is presented as the anti-Facebook, promising an ad-free social network, and that they won't sell private data. Today, they've also announced that Ello has become a Public Benefit Corporation, and that the site's anti-advertising promise has been enshrined in a corporate charter. The BBC reports on the restrictions that Ello has therefore entered into, which mean the site cannot, for monetary gain,
  1. Sell user-specific data to a third party
  2. Enter into an agreement to display paid advertising on behalf of a third party; and
  3. In the event of an acquisition or asset transfer, the Company shall require any acquiring entity to adopt these requirements with respect to the operation of Ello or its assets.

While that might turn off some potential revenue flows (the company says it will make money by selling optional features), as the linked article points out, it hasn't turned off investors; Ello has now raised $5.5 million from investors.

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Ello Formally Promises To Remain Ad-Free, Raises $5.5M

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  • by IANAAC ( 692242 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:06AM (#48212855)
    I don't know that many people that have gotten an invite to join, but the ones that have don't really have anything positive to say about it.

    I would imagine it's down to too few people being on it still. There was such initial hype for it, then nothing. How long do you suppose people will wait before just not bothering with it?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know that many people that have gotten an invite to join, but the ones that have don't really have anything positive to say about it.

      I would imagine it's down to too few people being on it still. There was such initial hype for it, then nothing. How long do you suppose people will wait before just not bothering with it?

      I've got an account and it hasn't reached that critical mass of users that you know to make me want to do anything with it.. I haven't logged in since I registered.

      I cant see it taking off

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My experience with the Ello crowd is the same as with the Google+ crowd. About 8 of my friends left Facebook, cursing the day it was made and whipping it the cyber finger saying they'd never deal with Zuck and his ilk again and every one of them was back within three weeks. Fewer left for Ello but every one of them is back in Facebookland without so much as a peep about their experience abroad. Meh. It is what it is.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I left facebook shortly after signing up, and haven't looked back. It's been about 4 years now.

        Now if only I could convince Verizon/HTC that I don't need the facebook app on my phone.

    • It's one of the same problems that Diaspora encountered. Widespread adoption is a bitch.
    • by dmomo ( 256005 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:40AM (#48213219)

      The site just wasn't ready for mass adoption. There's a great idea behind it, but as of last week, it was just so damn unusable. I'm tempted to think that their marketing blitz was premature. But perhaps the goal wasn't to show off the site so much as to get just enough attention to turn the heads of investors. If so, maybe it worked. They've gained some cash flow while also validating the idea that there IS a desire for what they are building.

      Now, they can use some of this funding to actually make the UI usable and add in those missing features. Maybe when their next media campaign comes around, there will be a site worth applauding. We can only hope.

      Good for them. I'll keep my account active and hope it turns into a site

    • by hodet ( 620484 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @12:17PM (#48213621)

      Most people don't give a crap about Facebook's privacy policies. I personally don't touch facebook with a 10 ft pole but that is my choice and understand why others keep going there. That makes me about the only person in my family and social circle that does not use it. Stay in touch with the people you care about and you can always connect with them, it just takes effort. I don't know anybody who would move from facebook because people are there already. It's a noble thing to try and create something better. However, if you have ever seen the Personal Power Grid, any company would be in the Ceaselessly Striving box, they are taking action and have no control over the outcome. Most users just do not give a crap and are in the Acceptance (Let It Go) corner.

    • I would imagine it's down to too few people being on it still.

      Not just too few people... it's also feature incomplete.
       

      How long do you suppose people will wait before just not bothering with it?

      It's already started... Ello has failed to learn the lesson of G+ and odds are, it will suffer the same fate. Gatekeeping at launch is just shooting yourself in the foot - people want to try your system, and if you lock them out... they aren't coming back. First impressions matter, and a barred door with a sign saying "only kewl kids allowed" makes a powerful first impression. In addition, G+, and Diaspora, and now Ello can't seem to grasp that to most people, personal privacy is just one of the many factors that they weigh. On top of the network effect there's also the features the system supports (chat, pages/groups, games, etc...), and all of the would be pretenders have fallen short on that front. (Or added them too late to make a difference.)

      On top of that... Ello is going to have to come up with some pretty impressive optional features in order to induce people to pay for them - things the users can't get elsewhere while *also* providing a complete set of the features users have come to expect. That's a very tall order.

      There's no doubt that like G+, Ello might be able to eke out a meager living on the fringes... but as a Facebook killer, or even serious competitor, it's already dead.

      • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @02:04PM (#48214627) Homepage

        It's already started... Ello has failed to learn the lesson of G+ and odds are, it will suffer the same fate. Gatekeeping at launch is just shooting yourself in the foot - people want to try your system, and if you lock them out... they aren't coming back

        There are scalability issues that need to be addressed. It's simply impossible without an incredible risk and cost, to have the same scale as an established competitor, so gate-keeping is one option.

        but as a Facebook killer, or even serious competitor, it's already dead.

        Why does everything have to kill what's already there? Did Ello ever claim to be such? Talk about a strawman.

        • by jfengel ( 409917 )

          In the case of a general social networking tool, there kinda can be only one. People won't check every site every day, and the one they check most often will be the one with most of their friends. If you have "Ello friends" and "Facebook friends", odds are you'll visit one site much less, and your friends there will drift further away.

          There's room for various niche sites, but they need a differentiator. I can imagine Ello wanting to be the social networking site for those who want privacy, but strikes me as

          • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @07:08PM (#48216785) Homepage

            In the case of a general social networking tool, there kinda can be only one.

            You're again... making assumptions. What precludes Ello from occupying a target niche of social networking? Have you not heard of LinkedIn? Did Stackoverflow *have* to beat out Yahoo Answers in order to gain traction and meet it's need?

            It's a massive simplification to assume that a dominant player in a space where network effects reinforce their position is unassailable. How do you think Google and Apple were able to make any inroads against the Windows ecosystem? By addressing an area where Microsoft simply could not compete (mobile). Facebook likewise simply *cannot* compete where strong privacy is a key requirement. Their entire business model goes against it (similarly Google to an extent). Diaspora was a failure simply because people don't want to self-host, though technically their proposal had merit. Also 10 years ago, Friendster and MySpace were dominant - where are they now? Not to say that Facebook is doomed, more to say the market can and will evolve.

            What is more interesting than competing with Facebook, IMHO, is to assail the entire concept that personal (sometimes PII) user data is a business asset that should always be sold, licensed or exploited. Legally preventing themselves from profiting from that data poses a very interesting business limitation and a possible template for others to copy - sometimes you gain more by leaving something on the table.

      • This. And what do you do when you get an invite. Tell your friends about it? But wait, they have to wait now to join so you get to have a power social networking site with the only person you can share with is yourself.

      • Gatekeeping at launch is just shooting yourself in the foot - people want to try your system, and if you lock them out... they aren't coming back.

        This. This is totally why Google Wave failed. What could have been a revolutionary collaboration tool set to replace email, Google Docs, and all other similar services into one unified interface failed totally by only allowing invited users to participate, IMHO. What good is a collaboration tool if the people you want to collaborate with can't access it? Talk abou

    • In my local area, the only Ello users are me, that guy at the bong store, and that guy at the coffee shop who keeps telling everyone that he doesn't even *OWN* a TV.

  • That it is easy enough to work around such promises. (Not saying Ello would do that, just saying this depends on their intentions not on these promises)

  • by RJFerret ( 1279530 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:08AM (#48212873) Homepage

    So it's trying to be Google+ without the popularity? Oh, but pay for aspects of it directly?

    • Re:G+? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:09AM (#48212887) Homepage

      Google+ is popular?

      • Well, it must see some traffic ... I see a lot of users posting here on Slashdot which apparently authenticate as their Google+ users.

        Me, I've avoided it like the plague. But someone is clearly using it.

        • Torvalds [google.com] uses it occasionally.
        • I see a lot of users posting here on Slashdot which apparently authenticate as their Google+ users.

          Using Google+ for authentication is not the same as using it as a social network. I use my Google+ ID to log in to a number of Google services. I never use it for socializing.

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          Well, it must see some traffic ... I see a lot of users posting here on Slashdot which apparently authenticate as their Google+ users.

          Using Google+ for authentication (really, just using your Google Account) is different from using your G+ account as a social network account.

          You can use Facebook to log in to a lot of services as well, but that's not really "using" Facebook because you're not doing anything with what Facebook offers. You're just telling a website that you are who you say you are.

          Hell, some s

          • You can use Facebook to log in to a lot of services as well, but that's not really "using" Facebook because you're not doing anything with what Facebook offers. You're just telling a website that you are who you say you are.

            Sounds like you're using Facebook for exactly it's intended purpose: to allow someone to build a big database of things that you do to target advertising. You're not just telling a website something, you're telling Facebook what other sites you visit and care enough about to log in to and what your identity on those sites is.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sometimes "whoosh" just doesn't seem adequate...

      • Re:G+? (Score:5, Funny)

        by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:26AM (#48213061)

        On Slashdot, an alternative joke might've made the OP's intent clearer:

        "So it's trying to be Diaspora without the popularity?"

  • by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:09AM (#48212889)
    I don't see this business model of theirs being sustainable. Not to mention nobody in their right mind is going to want to acquire them with these restrictions bolted on.
    • If they managed to invent some super-efficient P2P protocol, they could steal some cycles and disk space from their users as a payment. But that seems a little bit far-fetched. A pipe^H^H^H^Htube dream of sorts.
      • Eh, I'd see normal users getting more up in arms over this than what Facebook currently does (ads and selling their data).
        • Well, obviously, it would have to include provisions for making sure that no storage node could actually access the stored information of others (exclusive client-side encryption). Plus a lot of other things. Well, that's one part of the "pipe dream" thing, but at least, there would be no central authority in a network like that. No CEO to send NSLs to! I'm sure a lot of people would appreciate that...
    • What, you mean a business model in which they expect people to actually pay in order to use something, on the Internet!? Outrageous!

      In all honesty, whilst it is refreshing to see a business plan slightly more concrete than the usual "1. build a huge client base, 2. ????*, 3. profit," I can't help agreeing with you. They won't succeed without offering something very, very compelling compared to the existing offerings, and what makes the existing offerings compelling derives from the fact that everyone is

      • If they had a federated model and I could easily migrate away from storing stuff on their servers, then I might be tempted to pay them so that I didn't have to go to the trouble of running the server and keeping it patched. The last time I paid to be in a walled garden, it was CompuServe, and I learned my lesson.
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:11AM (#48212903) Homepage

    Wow, they formally promised.

    Is a formal promise more legally binding than a non-formal promise? Is it transferable and binding to someone who subsequently buys Ello?

    It sounds good in principle, but is it really legally binding in any sense?

    As always, I remain skeptical about such things ... because time and time again companies have reneged on such promises. Or after they've gone through bankruptcy/get sold the new owner simply ignores any of these things.

    • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <tms@@@infamous...net> on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:26AM (#48213059) Homepage

      It sounds good in principle, but is it really legally binding in any sense?

      Yes. A corporation's charter is legally binding on it, and "benefit corporations" are a distinct type of legal entity [slashdot.org].

      • Well, you've not given a meaningful link since it's the same slashdot article we're all reading right now.

        But, I'll tell you what ... you go ahead and trust them, and I won't.

        We'll see which of us gets disappointed in that scenario.

        • by praxis ( 19962 )

          Mr. Slippery did not say he trusted them. I'm not sure why you would think he does. He might for all we know, but he did not indicate so.

      • by hsmith ( 818216 )
        Doesn't matter. Acquiring company can just purchase IP and not the corporation - thus invalidating all the cute "do no harm" language.
        • The IP is nothing special. It's the user base that has value. They can't get the users without the restricitons.

          • Can you cite specific legal precedent to support that claim? Or are you merely hoping it's true?

            If they go bankrupt, do you really think when their assets are being liquidated you can enforce those restrictions?

            My guess is, this isn't nearly as iron clad as people think it is.

          • They can't get the users without the restricitons.

            At least, until the first post-merger unannounced unilateral no-notice change of terms of service.

      • What happens to the promises in the event of liquidation and firesale of assets and IP? It sounds like the charter is only binding if the sale is voluntary and the purchasing entity agrees to it - if the sale is involuntary then the purchaser doesn't have to agree to anything other than the sale price.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do their statutes forbid that?

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:13AM (#48212927)

    Ironic: when you "OK" the manifesto...it invites you to "Share the manifesto" on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Google+, Tumblr, Reddit and LinkedIn.

    • The page also has Google Analytics tracking bugs in it.

      • I don't see how anyone can believe this:

        Ello uses an anonymized version of Google Analytics to gather and aggregate general information about user behavior. Google may use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the site, compiling reports on site activity for us and providing other services relating to site activity and internet usage. Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. To the best of our knowledge, the information gathered by Google on Ello’s behalf is collected in such a way that neither Ello, nor Google, can easily trace saved information back to any individual user.

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:22AM (#48213011) Homepage

      And it serves up data from cloudfront, which is just a front end for Amazon's analytics, isn't it?

      It also makes references to integrating with YouTube, and doing an auto-push to "other" networks (which I assume is the list you gave).

      So, we won't sell your stuff, but we'll be so tightly integrated with these other sites that they'll know what you're doing anyway.

      If the whole point is to avoid Facebook et al, WTF is the point of broadcasting to them everything you do?

      Goodbye Ello.

      • I'd respect the intent if "Sell user-specific data to a third party" was replaced by "Allow 3rd parties any access to your online transactions" since metadata correlations -> identity match.

        Further, I expect identifying the class of people who move from the other social networks to Ello due to tracking concerns provides a very valuable dataset.

  • Some really dumb investors. Ello looks like something I could write in PHP in about a day for $100 bucks.

    • I haven't explored their site. I get your point, but don't undermine and undervalue the work of software professionals. It devalues the line of work, debases earning demands while distorting expectations regarding quality, duration and cost of software products.
      I challenge you to recreate their homepage in about a day in whatever! There is much planning, thought and work that went into it I'm sure. Even the templates you buy for X amount schlep together in a day took more than a day to build.

      As to you
    • Some really dumb investors. Ello looks like something I could write in PHP in about a day for $100 bucks.

      Get on with it, or get over it.

      If you're sitting around here on Slashdot lamenting how you could write the same thing and be bilking investors ... then why the hell aren't you?

      Either you can, and you're just too damned lazy.

      Or you can't, in which case nobody wants to hear it.

    • The news here is that you're willing to spend an entire day touching PHP for only $100.
    • by praxis ( 19962 )

      Seems like you missed out there, but there's more to a business than a codebase.

  • n/c

  • What I'd like to see in the near future is the concept of social media turned into an open standard (much like e-mail) and built out as a non-centralized, distributed network, with DNS controlling which server(s) power which domains. Your social network domain could either be a stand-alone domain (think an internal site for businesses, schools, etc), or it could be hooked into the greater social network, where status updates, messages, etc could propagate between domains and, depending on who your friends
    • or it could be hooked into the greater social network, where status updates, messages, etc could propagate between domains and, depending on who your friends with, you would get those updates to show up on your own feed

      Fuck that.

      What you're suggesting means that all of the social networks we're trying to avoid will still get all of our data.

      The last thing I'd want is some open standard where every damned social network cross-talks with one another.

      Some of us are trying to get away from the intrusive crap wh

      • What you're suggesting means that all of the social networks we're trying to avoid will still get all of our data.

        It sounds like you would be a good candidate for the disconnected mode of operation then (IE, don't propagate information on your domain to other domains). The key here is control is being given back to the users, not owned by a single entity with a vested interest in selling your information.

        • See, that assumes I place any trust in the domains to actually follow my wishes, or not change their minds, or not get bought.

          For crap like this, the only way to win is to not play.

          At the end of the day, all of these players want to sell your information ... because that is their actual product.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Tent [www.tent.io] is attempting to do this.

    • We already have that. It's open and it's not centralized. It's called email and websites.

    • The problem is, social networks invariable involve sharing data with your friends. With most of the current models, that means that you need to trust the server that your friends are using. Even for email and XMPP that's a problem: if half of your friends are using GMail for both then there's a good chance that Google can get a big chunk of our email and your social graph. Privacy preserving protocols are an ongoing research area, but I've not yet seen anyone trying to integrate them into a well-defined
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:30AM (#48213101) Journal

    And no matter what the charter is, if they are liquidated the court will sell all of your data to the highest bidder to pay off creditors.

    • And no matter what the charter is, if they are liquidated the court will sell all of your data to the highest bidder to pay off creditors.

      That is true if the user data is considered part of the bankruptcy estate. But that won't necessarily be the case. Under US law, everyone automatically has copyright for anything they write or compose. If the primary concern is to protect user privacy, the user agreement for the site could stipulate that users retain copyright to all their data, and the site has a nonex

      • Data is not copyrightable. Your posts extolling the virtues of free living and your treatise on the need for end to end encryption in email would be completely safe from sale, but your height, weight, dog's name, friend list, favorite meal, phone number and the fact that you spoke often of your hemorrhoids is all just data about you which is non-copyrightable.

        The ability to even write a licence where you retain your data and still give them permission to transmit it to a third party (the entire reason for a

  • Keyword 3rd party. Yes you will get ads but they will be served by themselves or second party partners instead of 3rd. Trust no corporation, especially ones who play with words. That is IMO
    • Keyword 3rd party. Yes you will get ads but they will be served by themselves or second party partners instead of 3rd.

      Holy shit, users will be serving advertisements to themselves?

  • by enjar ( 249223 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @11:44AM (#48213251) Homepage

    "user-specific" = "we are going to sell aggregated data"

    "on behalf of a third party" = "we are going to get direct ad sales up and running soon"

    #3 is just hysterical ... if they get acquired, they lose the right to any such thing as they become a wholly owned subsidiary, subject to whatever policies the parent company deems fit. As if it hasn't already happened about a billion times by startups who did one thing, then were bought up and summarily dismantled. Ello makes a false assumption that people give a damn about their product. An acquiring company may see it as a way to get a seasoned dev/qe team and shutter the service entirely. The examples of plucky startups that got pulled into the Apple/Google/Microsoft/$GINORMOUS_COMPANY orbit and summarily forgotten or dissolved is pretty big.

  • Ello has a steep climb ahead of itself. They seem to have adopted the mobile app business model. You get most of the functionality for free but if you want the good stuff you'll have to spend a few bucks.

    Personally, I'd be happy to give them a few dollars if I had an iron clad guarantee that none of my personal information is going to be shopped to the highest bidder.

    But in the social network space it's all about scale. Massive scale like Facebook and Twitter have. It's going to be a tough sell to people th

    • You also can't build that kind of scale for $5M, even today.

      Its like someone announcing that they're getting into the atomic collider game and have raised another $107. Just makes them look silly.

  • 1. Enable JavaScript (OK, everybody requires that, NBD) but then the real kicker 2. You have this mass of circles that heave and scroll as you move your pointer. Sea-sickness. OMG, you're supposed to click those circles? Why???

  • It would be nice if the company was run from a country that didn't throw its constitution out the window when it becomes inconvenient.

  • What happens if they don't follow the rules? Will they serve prison time?

  • I would have thought this would be the elephant in the room, but maybe I'm the only one missing it:

    Company takes in a five million dollar funding round.

    Company promises to never make a profit.

    How are they going to pay back the funding?

    What exactly is the company that paid the money "investing" in if the recipient company never plans to get money from their "customers"?

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