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The Social Network That Never Was, But Could Be Again: Elftown

Social networks come and go, especially with changing Internet security concerns stemming from identity theft, but one of the social networks that never truly came of age and is having a slower collapse than others is Elftown.  Elftown – – is an online artistic community and it was one of the earliest social networks online.  Founded in 2002, it predates both Myspace and Facebook.

Despite Internet security concerns, the site is not dead yet!  Many artists are still discovering Elftown as a viable off-site option for data.  In the last year the reference photography page on Elftown has become a resource for digital artists with tens of thousands of images that users have made available.  Despite concerns over Internet security, Elftowners use the site for data backup of their artistic works.  As a relatively unknown site, Elftown does not have as many Internet security issues, making it an ideal place for artists to store digital copies of their artwork.  This makes it an ideal site for data backup for artists who are storing their works on older systems.  Using Elftown for data backup and data recovery is certainly what Elftowners do with reference pictures.  A simple Google search of “reference pictures” puts Elftown as the second result out of 283 million results!

Elftown is most analogous to deviantART, though Elftown follows a less commercial model.  Elftown has never effectively monetized the site and relies upon donations of funds and equipment to keep the Elftown servers running.  Elftown’s distinction is that it focuses on the creation of art, while protecting artists through reasonable Internet security, screening methods and protected data backup options.

What Elftown has that the other social networks lack is a strong sense of community involvement.  When you sign up for Elftown, your application has to be approved by the site’s founder, Hedda.  After Hedda approves you, Guides greet users, and artists on the site randomly say “hello.”  A bar on the right side of the Elftown page shows a list of the Elftowners who are currently online.

As artists, artistic integrity is very important, as is Internet security to protect their intellectual property. The social aspect of Elftown is visible by Guards who patrol the site to enforce the terms of use and prevent violations to copyright laws, as well as guard against Internet security violations and threats to data backup on the site.  Elftown runs contests where users are encouraged to generate original art for specific themes, encouraging healthy competition.

Elftown started as a virtuous idea: to connect artists of all mediums with one another to encourage art and the free spread of ideas.  As and Facebook decline, perhaps the Elftown model will have its day simply by enduring through Internet security threats and by providing reliable data backup for artists.  Social networking is about connecting, not monetizing, and Elftown has endured when others on the Internet have not.  Elftown is still ahead of its time.


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