“Ello” is a new social network that promises an ad-free experience and a minimalist design. Its website is at ello.co. Credit: ello.co

What is “Ello?” A few weeks ago, no one had heard of it, but suddenly in September, it was the hottest new social network, an invite-only service that some think could be an alternative to Facebook.

Launched in March after a year of testing and tweaking by designers and programmers and based in Vermont, Ello (at ello.co) promises a simpler, ad-free network with no tolerance for hate speech and fewer restrictions on certain kinds of content and the use of real names than competitors like Facebook.

The site is stripped-down, with a black smiley face as its logo and Courier as its font. In a manifesto posted on Ello, the site founders say, “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. You are not a product.”

However, the company has faced criticism for accepting venture capital funding, a sign to some that its intentions may not be so pure. Invites to the site are much in-demand right now, but that could easily change if people become disenchanted with Ello.

In this space every week, we’ll define a tech term, offer a timely tip or answer questions about technology from readers. Email ogallaga@statesman.com