By Justin Sanders
You’re tired. Tired of the data breaches, the fake news, the foreign meddling, and the vile rhetoric from partisan trolls. Tired of scandal. Tired of feeling manipulated by algorithms and smug CEOs offering patchwork solutions that fail to wholeheartedly address the problems at their core.
You’re tired of social media, and you’re not alone. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are addictive, corrosive societal forces doing devastating harm to civility and to democracy itself. We should all probably quit them right now, step outside, and hug our neighbor.
Or, since leaving social media entirely probably isn’t an option for many of us, we can find some healthy alternatives. As the major players of the day flail and flounder, other social networking sites are stepping up to fill the gap, offering refreshingly different features ranging from enhanced privacy to chronological feeds (as opposed to the algorithmic feeds that scramble everything up based on your activity history).
What’s more, many of these online connection outlets have a creative bent designed to inspire you or get you making things rather than mindlessly scrolling through yet another onslaught of birthday announcements and food pictures. And so, for those whose soul has been sufficiently sucked by the Silicon Valley corporate powerhouses that be, we present six lesser known options that might put a little strut back in your social networking step.
Promising to never sell its users’ data, Ello was launched in 2014 by Paul Budnitz, a former bike shop owner in Burlington, Vermont. At the time, he told one publication that the company was “aiming to be the Vermont of the internet.” Such a descriptor implies a low-key and earthy feel, but Ello proceeded to explode, pulling in more than 1 million users in its first year of existence.
Dubbed at one time as the “Facebook killer,” Ello has since slipped down the zeitgeist ladder a rung or three, though it’s hard to imagine the company caring much. What they do care about are artists, and lots of them. Essentially a micro-blogging site, Ello makes it easy to mix and match photography, videography, and text in every post. With no user data, there are no ads, no annoying influencers, and no promoted posts. Creatives who do good work are rewarded with exposure through Ello’s “Discover” tool, or you can be inspired by and submit to one of its many creative prompts – some of which tie into brand partnerships that pay real money. Your cool designs might even be selected to be made into a t-shirt through Ello’s relationship with another nifty creativity site, Threadless.
Don’t let its loopy excess of consonants fool you – Dribbble might be the sharpest graphic design oriented social network on the internet. The basketball metaphor inherent in its name extends across the site, from its goofy pink basketball logo to rules of engagement that are defined by terms from the court. Users are called “players” and their posts are called “shots.” Retweets or reblogs are, naturally, “rebounds” and if you get enough of them, you’ll find yourself in the “playoffs” – Dribbble’s trending section for its most popular projects.
An extremely enthusiastic and welcoming community greets you on Dribbble, and the posts are cleanly displayed and beautiful to look upon. It’s also a great place for professional networking, with all kinds of brands, agencies, project managers, and even potential clients perusing the site for their next great hire.
This chic alternative to Instagram was one of the first social media sites to capitalize on users’ desire for a purely chronological feed. It also promises to fulfill “the need for a Truly Social Network that celebrates people’s passions without algorithms, ads, or bots.”
The app has cool functionality for sharing just about everything, but its calling card is photography and the ability for users to minutely tailor sharing on a post-by-post basis. This ability to limit your audience is meant to encourage a less socially fraught kind of sharing, allowing you to “just be yourself,” said Vero founder Ayman Hariri, speaking with The Verge.
Upon its release, Vero’s user base quickly swelled to more than 3 million users, overwhelming its servers and forcing the app to shut down. Eventually, Vero intends to offer a subscription model to new users to keep itself ad free, but for now the disruptions have prompted the company to offer “free for life” access to “all new users until further notice.” You might want to get in now while the getting’s good.
Known for using artificial intelligence to help brands cull amazing photography, EyeEm also has a community of more than 20 million creatives. Photographers love its sleek design, its truly impressive online magazine, and the promise of payment if your photos take off. Artists retain their own copyright and earn 50% on all sales, including to buyers like Getty Images.
But perhaps the most fun element of EyeEm is its “Missions” section, which sends participants on photography expeditions with themes ranging from “The Great Outdoors” to “Paint the Town Yellow.” The prompts are inspiring, the prizes are awesome, and winners draw attention from global brands such as Apple, Spotify, and many more. If there’s any doubt about the company’s devoted user base, just look it up on the App Store where it has a nearly 5-star rating from more than 1,300 reviews.
An entire online community built around cool typography? Count us in!
Fontli, “the social network for typoholics,” delivers exactly what it promises – a beautiful, easy way to discover and share type. Magazine layouts, graffiti, signage, hand-lettering, packaging, invitations, woodcuts, etched lettering, and the list goes on. If it has words on it, it’s likely on there, along with tens of thousands of devoted users talking about it.
In its current manifestation, Fontli is kind of like an Instagram that offers nothing but images of words, but its surprisingly fascinating – and beautiful – to scroll through, and will put you on the lookout for cool signage and other lettering occupying the ins and outs of daily life.
Who knew online writing could be so exciting? National Novel Writing Month, or “Nanowrimo,” is an annual event that finds participants attempting to craft an entire, book-length work in the month of November. But what started as just a neat thing to do each year has blossomed over several years into a global hub of digital expression and networking.
Simply monitoring your daily word count on Nanowrimo (the goal is 50,000 words by end of month) is immensely satisfying thanks to the site’s addictive tracking tools, but the site is also an amazing way to meet other writers and is packed with tons of inspiring content ranging from pep talks to in-person group writing meet-ups.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel but were afraid to try, Nanowrimo will get you moving on your dream at last. Even if you’re a seasoned writer, the site is perfect for shaking things up and unlocking something new inside yourself. There’s no more satisfying way to leave Facebook than to dive off of it and right into a judgement-free, global group of writing buddies.
In conclusion, if you feel anything like us, you might be ready to jump off a cliff before reading through your polluted Facebook timeline one more time. At the very least, everyone needs a break sometimes. The options we’ve listed here offer social media with the potential to nourish your mind and get you engaged with passionate communities of interesting individuals. Or, to put it another way, they do what Big Tech social media was supposed to do before they became some of the world’s most powerful corporations.
So, give these sites a try – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll never look back.