By now you might have heard about a new social network called Ello—plenty of other people sure have. With more than 34,000 Ello invite requests every hour, the site, still in beta, reportedly came very close to cutting off access on Thursday. But while the site soldiers through, it’s not  something the masses can ditch Facebook and sign up for, yet, but its promise of an ad-free environment where people can be themselves in a new, unique space is drawing the curiosity of the Internet.

Ello was created by a team of artists and designers—and it’s obvious. Web-based Ello is nothing if not pretty. The artistic vision behind the site also includes promises not to share personal data with third-party services, and it’s gung-ho about never showing you advertisements. Because advertisements, in addition to being targeted to your personal data, are tacky, and would really kill the mellow Ello vibe.

“You are not a product,” reads the social network’s manifesto

Of course, there has yet to be a successful social network entirely built on an ad-free model, because advertisers are the money spigot. Instead of taking money from advertisers, Ello says it will eventually sell premium features on the social network.

Though it is smart to be cautious. As Andy Baio pointed out, Ello has already taken $435,000 in venture capital from a firm in Vermont. Whether or not the investors are as altruistic as the founders remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Ello reneged on the deal to keep you free from ads. 

Ello: Your Real Name Is Not Required

So why is everyone jumping on the Ello train? The surge in popularity this week could be due to Facebook’s “real names” policy that caused many people, especially those in the LGBT community, to rethink where they congregate online. Facebook requires people to use “real,” legal names, or they could be kicked out of their account. Ello does not require users to share their “real” names.

See also: Drag Queens Read Facebook’s Real-Names Policy For Filth

Paul Bundtiz, creator of Ello, told the Daily Dot that there appears to be “a bit of an avalanche” in new users since a group of Radical Faeries joined the site last week. It could, of course, just be a timely coincidence that a beautiful new social network is making its splashy entrance the same time Facebook is under fire for its real-name policy.

How Is It Different?

Though some people may drop Facebook for Ello, the two sites are hardly the same. For one, Ello is based on the follow model, so anyone in the Ello community can be your “friend” simply by clicking a button. You don’t have to accept their request in order for your information to show up in their home timeline.

Ello is very different from Facebook or Twitter. If anything, Ello is more like Tumblr, but instead of following blogs, you’re following people.

The differences really stop there. Unlike the range of content you’ll find on Tumblr, Ello promotes a safe, creative environment for its users. Rules on the site include, “Don’t hate,” “Don’t hurt young people,” and “Don’t impersonate others.”

In a recent email regarding privacy updates, the Ello team reminded users that Ello is a place for love, not hate.

Ello has a zero tolerance policy towards hate, trolls, spamming, stalking, impersonating others, threats, and abusive behavior towards anyone.

For now, it seems like a relatively safe space, considering it’s still small and invite-only. But as the community grows, the team is working to implement additional privacy policies most social networks have. Soon, people will have the ability to block specific users from viewing their Ello feed and profile, as well as commenting on posts. A system to report abuse will also be implemented shortly.

It’s impossible to reblog posts, or like them, or do anything besides comment on the image, link or status update your friend posts. These are all features that are coming soon, along with private messaging, and iOS and Android apps.

Ello is by no means the first or only independently-owned social network that promises to keep your data private and ads off the site. Disapora is another, however, for the average user that’s accustomed to a simple sign up and a model like Facebook, Disapora is even more complicated than Ello.

My First Impressions

I’ve used Ello for a few days now, and while it looks nice, it’s been hard to wrap my head around. For one, some of my friends use handles that make them unidentifiable, while others choose names that let me immediately identify who they are.

When I first logged into Ello, I was very confused—it’s clearly created by designers. People are greeted with white space; a home timeline that includes all your notifications, including new follow notifications and friends’ posts; and icons that are barely readable which allow you to comment on, and share your own, updates. The default font looks like what you might see in a terminal window.

On the profile page, a small avatar image appears next to the bio which includes the number of followers and people you follow, and the number of posts you’ve written, topped with a large header image. In that respect, it’s just like literally every other social network.

The ability to post updates longer than 140 characters and hyperlink text makes it more like Tumblr. And it’s cleaner than posting to Facebook, where link previews and advertisements can clutter up the feed. It’s still not a full-fledged social network, but really, I can’t expect it to be one at this point.

Ello is pretty, but it’s not substantial—yet.

I won’t be deleting Facebook and migrating to Ello anytime soon. It’s still too open to be considered a replacement for a social network in which you allow access to your information, rather than deny it, to individuals. For now, I’ll just keep playing around with it, and hope that my friends can be convinced to join me in an artsy community that isn’t salivating over our data. 

Lead photo by Somaya Langley on Flickr

selena larson