What became of 2014’s social disruptors?

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It’s been more than a year since ClickZ wrote about the advent of alternative social platforms Ello, Tsū and Bubblews. We thought it was time for an update. 

Last year was a big one for Facebook. When the social media powerhouse wasn’t acquiring WhatsApp for $19 billion, it was busy revamping its Atlas advertising platform. But as Facebook continued its quest for world domination, new social networks were popping up, as well.

Bubblews and Tsū pushed a new model of social in which people – and not the platform’s advertisers – would be paid for their content. Ello promised an experience free of tracking and ads.

Simon Mansell, general manager of paid social advertising at Sprinklr, isn’t sure any of the three have the potential to blow up. Unlike Snapchat, the last social platform to really take off, he doesn’t think the others fill much of a need.

“People want to share photos with their friends and let their grandma know what they had for lunch. I don’t think people are annoyed that Facebook is a profitable company; it provides a great service and a small portion of the population thinks about [its revenue]. They’re doing it more for the intrinsic value of sharing,” he adds.

Despite Mansell’s skepticism, two of 2014’s social disruptors have thrived in the year since I wrote “Can Ello Dethrone Facebook?” and “Are Paid Platforms the Future of Social?” Journalists have a tendency to think of stories as being over as finished as they go live.

But of course, that’s not really the case. Last October, Bubblews, Ello and Tsū back when their platforms were in their infancy stages, so I thought I’d check back and see how the platforms are doing now.

Bubblews

Bubblews launched last summer, paying “bubblers” one cent for each click, like or share their content generated. Avi Dixit, the company’s chief executive (CEO) and co-founder told me that “social media conglomerates are creating the world’s largest unpaid workforces” and that paid social platforms were “helping to bring ethics back to what is turning into the Wild West era of social media.”

The platform shut down in November. According to its homepage, “the climate for display advertising has drastically changed and made it impossible for [Bubblews] to sustain the business model and operations.” Before shutting down, Bubblews also came under fire for allegedly not paying out its membersClickZ reached out to Dixit, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

Either way, Bubblews’ content was difficult to monetize. At a penny an engagement, users would have to generate 10,000 clicks, likes or shares in order to make $100. That’s a lofty goal, especially for a platform that just started building an audience.

I’ve been an active user of the much more established Twitter since I started writing for ClickZ a year and a half ago.

I have about 900 followers and according to my analytics, the best of my recent Tweets (a pinned link to my friend’s cancer fundraiser, if you’re feeling generous) garnered 2,708 impressions, but only 28 engagements. In Bubblews terms, my most engaged Tweet is worth slightly less than a pack of Wrigley’s gum.

Tsū

Tsū, which is a Japanese word referring to an aesthetic ideal, has a much more complicated payment system than Bubblews did. It rewards content creators, as well as the people who invited them onto the platform, whom CEO Sebastian Sobczak compares to real estate brokers.

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“In social media, it’s not just about the content; it’s about the network adoption,” says Sobczak.

“Justin Bieber has great content and a great audience. His manager Scooter Braun doesn’t have any content, but has perhaps even greater influence because he knows everybody who’s anybody who moves things in Hollywood and music. I would argue that Scooter Braun has major social influence and our algorithm values that,” he adds.

Since last year, Tsū has grown to a global network of 5 million content creators and 28 million content consumers. Sobczak attributes that success in part to his business model, in which it’s much easier for people to feel rewarded. The average user who posts regularly but not obsessively and doesn’t have a massive following (Tsū is pretty popular among musicians, models and artists) gets a royalty check of about $65 per month.

Tsū’s success also led the company to be temporarily banned from Facebook, which censored any mention of the platform historically. Sobczak doesn’t think Facebook was aiming to go after a competitor, especially one with less than 1 percent of its own market share. Instead, he believes Facebook was trying to silence a company with a mission potentially harmful to its own.

“What we are doing is planting seeds of doubt in the content creator community. If Disney says, ‘I make 5 billion impressions a month on Facebook with my properties – Star Wars, The Avengers, the parks, Cinderella – and that generates $20 to $40 million for Facebook and nothing for Disney,’ that’s very dangerous,” he adds.

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Ello

While Ello hasn’t seen Tsū’s explosive growth, it doesn’t seem to want it. The company remains committed to being a niche network that will never sell ads or data, despite all the venture capitalists eager to invest in a “Facebook killer.”

“Ello is not going to grow as quickly as possible. Last year, we did everything we could to slow growth, and to allow time for Ello to grow the right way,” says Paul Budnitz, CEO of Ello.

But Budnitz points out that the platform will grow in other ways – in quality, in positivity, through community, as well as in new features and updates “designed to support a visual network filled with love, light and unbridled creativity.”

Sprinklr’s Mansell is still skeptical about the company’s mission, however.

“It’s either going to be eventually charging for the app or some sort of virtual goods or an upgraded version of the product,” he says. “WhatsApp said they’d never take advertising or sell your data, and then it got sold for $19 billion. When you’ve got users, it’s going to be worth a lot of money.”

Ello may not have dethroned Facebook, but those were ClickZ‘s words, not Ello’s. By the company’s own standards, it’s had a very successful year. Will Ello keep the same principles going forward? Will Tsū continue to grow rapidly? We’ll have to check back in 2016.

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