Facebook's success, at least initially, was predicated on the idea that it was "cool." In the mid-2000's, as the social media giant stormed through college campuses, it was trendy and desirable, the first in a series of social networks that everyone felt would change the world. And it did. Everyone wanted, needed a Facebook account...until everyone got one.
These days, "cool" would be one of the last words used to describe Facebook. Monolithic, invasive, tedious and stinking rich come to mind as better descriptors. A well-circulated study released in January of this year by iStrategy Labs showed that 3 million teens abandoned the platform between 2011 and 2014. During that same time, the 55 and older age group—those teens' un-cool parents—exploded on Facebook, growing by over 80 percent.
The revelation that young people are leaving Facebook in droves opens up an opportunity, and social media is a vacuum. Something will have to step in and be "cool" again.
Ello—which bills itself as "a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers"—has been getting buzz recently as next in line to take up the "cool" mantle. The network's creators are positioning themselves as the anti-Facebook in two major ways—by taking a stand against Facebook's new Orwellian policy requiring users to use real names "associated with a government ID" and by promising to never sell user data to advertisers or have ads on the platform at all.
"Your social network is owned by advertisers," Ello's "About" page declares. "Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold."
There's no telling if Ello—or any other social media network—will ever unseat Facebook in mainstream popularity. The startup is still in Beta, and its currently invite-only (a pretty "cool" scarcity strategy.) But pronouncements like Ello's stand against data trafficking will certainly help its case, especially amongst jaded Facebook abandoners.
Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bw_greene