By now, you’ve probably heard of Ello (the latest trendy social network). You maybe even be thinking of signing up and trying it out.  The entire internet is alive with talk of Ello. Is Ello just a hype or will it live up to the intensive publicity? Well, that’s really up to users.

Ello is  a free and an ad-free social networking service created by Paul Budnitz (founder of Kidrobot), graphic design lab Berger & Föhr, and technology collective Mode Set. Launched in March 2014 amid little fanfare, Ello exploded in popularity in late September 2014 when many people, particularly in the LGBTQ community, flocked away from Facebook following the controversial enforcement of Facebook’s real-names policy against drag queens in San Francisco.

But what is Ello, and why should you care?

Ello is the ‘anti-Facebook’. Ello promises to be everything Facebook isn’t, and it even has a manifesto.

“We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.”

How Ello is different from Facebook

Ello promises to uphold its proposition and remain ad-free forever.

“Ello is totally ad-free. Ello does not sell data about you to third parties, including advertisers and data brokers.”

The reason goes back to Ello’s philosophy — the only way to sell ads is by harvesting user data, and the company does not intend on doing that. But Ello has taken investor funds and investors always want an exit. Seed funding of $435,000 from venture capital investor FreshTracks Capital in January 2014 helped sustain the company. Ello is looking to provide premium features to make money.

People are flocking to Ello because of a genuine dislike for Facebook. Facebook has ads, is currently noisy, and sells your information. Facebook is flooded with games you don’t want to play and be friends with people you don’t like. But the main reason that people are leaving Facebook in droves for Ello is Facebook’s naming policy, which states that people must use their real names to be a user.

For these reasons, an ad-free social network that doesn’t sell your information and allows you to mute your friends is a welcome alternative. But can Ello live up to its promises.

The Ello viral effect!

To join, you need to get an invitation from someone who’s already a member. That just happens to be a very effective marketing strategy that’s been used by the likes of Google (Gmail) in the past. (**Unfortunately, all the hype about the service has caused the developers to put a halt to invitations. This is a temporary issue, but it showcases the fact that it’s brand new and still in beta.)

Ello went viral after the Daily Dot published an article titled “The great gay Facebook exodus begins.” Almost immediately, new members were flocking to the site at a rate of 4,000 new users an hour. The unexpected uptick caused founders to worry that Ello might collapse, but Budnitz told BetaBeat that their tech team worked overdrive to keep the site up. By the evening of September 25, 31,000 people were joining Ello every hour.

–Ello isn’t open to everybody. Invite-only still works as a great marketing strategy (if you get it right)

Ello requires an invitation. Just like the early days of  successful “invite only” startups, Ello has gone the invite-only way. Facebook was limited by university, and then by invitation. Quora implemented it with huge success. Gmail did pretty well with the same strategy. Dropbox announced a ‘Special’ Invite-Only when it started.

Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox) attracted hundreds of thousands of sign ups before launch (they even had thousands of invite waiting list). And when it launched, users had to wait in queue before they could even use it. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you join a queue to start actually using it.  So exclusive is still damn good.

Each new Ello user is allotted 25 invites. The social network is supposedly attracting about 35,000 invites per hour, so your chances of getting an invitation are kind of good. Once you’ve gotten a golden invite ticket, signing up is easy. Ello asks you to choose a username, which is also your URL. You can change this at any time.

You’ll also be asked to choose a display name, which you can also change at any time. In the spirit of Ello, you may choose to make it entirely anonymous. The only other required information is your e-mail address. (Compare this to Facebook’s sign-up, for example, which also requires a birth date and gender.)

A few reasons to go invite only:

1. You can generate buzz through exclusivity.

2. Your first few users will be very important in helping you to determine your product roadmap. Especially useful if you have limited resources and can only work on certain important features. This will help you in prioritizing and pivot quickly if needed.

3. Slow or controlled ramp up of infrastructure and cost containment while searching for a business model

What you can do with Ello?

1. Like every other social network you can post status updates and photos. Unlike Facebook, it supports GIFs.

2.  You can also comment on posts and reply directly to your friends and you can also see how many people have viewed a post and edit a post if you missed a typo before pushing it live.

3. There’s also a Noise section that showcases posts by people you might not know arranged in a loose grid. It’s like an online art show at the neighborhood gallery.

4. Your Ello “news feed” can be filtered in two ways: Friends and Noise. When you’re viewing the Friends tab, you’ll see complete posts from anyone you’ve marked as a Friend. In the Noise tab, you’ll see a Pinterest-like grid of posts from people you’ve marked as Noise. It’s designed this way so that you can quickly scroll through content you’re less interested in.

5. Ello uses Google Analytics, which tracks visitors and anonymizes their activity. Unlike any other major social network, Ello lets you opt out of this activity. You may also choose to disable the Public Profile option, which prevents people who are not members of Ello from seeing your profile. Note that anyone within the network can still see your profile and posts.

6. The team has a pretty substantial list of new features its working on including support for inline video and audio posts from YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Instagram and Soundcloud.