There’s been lots of breathless Internet chatter about the sudden social network phenomenon, Ello. Constructed by a group of seven artists and programmers in Vermont, Ello seeks to be the anti-Facebook — an ad-free, exploitation-free social system built on a manifesto that exclaims: “You are not a product.”
Yet, concerned enthusiasts of the concept claim that Ello may have already sold its visionary future for scrap, by taking $435,000 in venture capital funding back in January. Those investors, the assumption goes, will want a return on their investment. And returns at the scale they usually want will force this new venture down the most obvious road — gathering user profile, preference, and behavioral data, and selling it to advertisers.
So the question now is whether passionate social purpose can be trumped by the markets that make it possible. And if that doesn’t sound like life in the nonprofit/for-profit/unprofit arts, I must have misread the concert program.
I’ve written before about the complex interplay of mission, motive, and other people’s money. It’s intriguing to see a very old problem with a smiley new face.