Ello, the ad-free social network that once enjoyed a short-lived 15 minutes of fame, hopes to make waves again with a new mobile app to bring the Ello experience to the iPhone.
Although Ello's sudden fame died out quicker than it rose, mostly due to the lack of defining features that differentiated Ello with other social networks such as Facebook and the general unpolished finish of the entire site, the new app is actually much better than one would expect.
Ello for iOS debuts on the Apple App Store on Tuesday, but Nicole Lee over at Engadget has already scored a preview of the new app. From the get-go, Ello on mobile retains the same black-and-white, minimalist look and feel of Ello for desktop.
At the bottom, users will find five tabs. The first of these is an interesting Discover tab that lets users find posts and people to follow through a list curated by the staff of Ello. The other four tabs are for friends, which show users full posts, for Noise, which are summaries of posts from other people, the user's own profile, and a box for composing a status.
Ello also addresses a major weakness users quickly found on the website in 2014, which is the difficulty to add friends users already know. On the app, Ello allows users to import contacts straight from their phone and invite them to the social network. And, as with Ello's steadfast commitment to no ads, it is also turning away from collecting people's user information.
"We hash and encrypt all your contacts," says CEO and co-founder Paul Budnitz. "You're not sharing any data with us. None of that gets stored on our servers."
Skeptics raise their eyebrows at Ello's attempt at a comeback. Ello itself compounds the issue by refusing to provide numbers about how many users it currently has, only saying that it has "millions" on its social network, a number that may or may not have been the result of Ello's fleeting popularity fueled by its invite-only status in September. At one point, Ello was receiving more than 38,000 invitation requests in an hour, a number that quickly waned when users found out Ello didn't offer anything that Facebook already had.
But Budnitz and his close-knit team of 28 are optimistic about the future of the social network, which is quickly becoming a hub for artists, designers and other creatives.
"We wanted to create the tone for what Ello is and what it's become, ahead of time," Budnitz says. "We didn't want to be chatty, snappy, we wanted it to actually be a reall community where people posted high-quality stuff where it was very positive, with more long-form writing."
Over time, Ello hopes to monetize its community of artists through social commerce, by allowing its users to sell their artistic work and other artisanal wares, such as music and book downloads, and perhaps used items put up for sale by non-artists doing an online garage sale. Of course, Ello is going to take a small cut of sellers' profits, similar to what Etsy does. And Budnitz says he is hoping to integrate Ello with Apple Pay.
Even with an iOS app, and an Android and Windows app in the works, Ello is not likely to topple over Facebook as the king of social networks, but that's okay for both Ello and its users.
"We could have just let everyone in and let it become this gigantic who-knows-what-the-hell-it-was, but we looked at each other and said that's not our goal," Budnitz says. "We don't want to become the Walmart of social networks."
"I'm really enjoying Ello," says photographer Thomas Hawk. "It's a wonderful, vibrant community full of amazing content. A lot of the content is focused on art, photography and design at present and it's surfacing some of the best content I've seen anywhere on the web. I don't think Ello is trying to unseat Facebook. I think they are just trying to build out a nice little ad-free corner of your web to interact with your friends where they don't collect/sell your data and value your privacy."