Do ad-free social networks have a real future?
The news of the funding reveals just how serious Ello is about pursuing its ad-free dream. The Vermont-based start-up has even traveled to Delaware to file as what is known as a Public Benefits Corporation. Until today, like most of us, I didn’t know what one was, but apparently it’s a company that aims to make money while, first and foremost, being “a benefit to society.” Imagine that!
The founders even signed a document saying they’d rather give away their first-born than accept ads. Oh, wait -- overstatement alert! -- they did pledge in their charter never to take ads or mine our data, which is almost the same thing,
Now, about that making money thing. Ello claims it plans to open a store to sell all sorts of apps that would let users personalize the service. The company says there’s interest from “thousands of users” per my MediaPost colleague, Mark Walsh. Interestingly, the idea of one day making it subscription-based does not appear to be on the table, though if user growth is the early priority, I get that.
But what Ello may be most right about is the state of the Internet today. Ello founder Paul Budnitz said in a statement accompanying the funding, “The Internet is turning into one giant billboard, and with essentially all social networks relying on advertising, data mining and selling user data, it can be hard for some people to imagine a better way.”
He’s right about that, and I’m beginning to wonder if public opinion may sway in his favor. Increasingly, data is getting so good at helping advertisers target that it’s hard not to feel a little, well, creeped out. Yeah, I may really want that new coat I was just looking at over on L.L. Bean’s site, but that does not necessarily mean I want to see an ad for it in my News Feed five minutes later, in between the status update about my friend’s dad dying, and the one about someone else’s new baby. Ick.
Watch this space. Ello may be onto something -- and have the money to prove it.