An honest review of Ello

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It was bound to happen eventually. Everyone's favourite social network, Facebook, has allegedly met its match in the form of a newer, ad-free social network.

If Facebook were a person, they would be that well-connected social butterfly at everyone’s parties. They know how to make good chat - you know, they've seen things and they're always doing something new, plus they're a really good person to know and network through. Because they know EVERYONE, they've helped everyone get a leg up in some form or another. Perhaps they introduced you to your current lover, or maybe you met an existing business contact through them.

And then this slightly younger, attractive hipster sashays through the room. All eyes are on them. Ello is mysterious with an air of innocence - no business agenda (that we know of, yet). Elegant. And for the moment, slightly exclusive. You can't even speak to Ello without a personal invitation from a mutual friend.

Perhaps it's shiny object syndrome, but for the past two weeks, new social media network Ello has gone viral online and been touted as the new anti-Facebook, responsible for a ‘gay exodus’ from Facebook, and the technological salvation for all of those bent on utopian dreams of a democratic internet.

 

So what is Ello?

Ello is a new social network created by a team of designers and artists as a reaction to other social networks’ technological and sociological failings. Aesthetically, it looks like a stripped back version of Twitter mated with an art-student’s Tumblr.

Complete with a ‘Vive le Proletariat’ style mantra – “You are not a product” – Ello takes aim directly at other social networks which capitalise on user data. Privacy is hot on the agenda for social media users, and people just aren’t too fond of being sold to on a platform originally built for authentic social engagement.

The creators of Ello think social media is a pretty crummy place to be selling things and commodifying humans, too:

Collecting and selling your personal information, reading your posts, and mapping your social connections for profit is unethical. Every new feature on an ad-driven network is either a new way to gather more data about you (which can be sold), or show you more ads (which are auctioned), or both.

Ello is totally ad-free. Ello does not sell data about you to third parties, including advertisers and data brokers.

So is Ello all it’s cracked up to be? I sent out message on Twitter for an invite, and within 2 minutes I’d signed up. Here are my thoughts.


5 things about Ello

1. If you're not Gen-Y, design-minded or into stark-minimalism, Ello probably won't be your jam.

For the moment, it looks like Ello's primary target market is young creatives with a particularly fine design palette. Part of Ello's appeal is it's zen-like approach to displaying your feed and friend profiles, which some may like. I find this a bit too minimalistic, almost to the point where it's hard to navigate. I'm so used to having so many places to navigate to on Facebook - my profile, my timelines, my Facebook Business page, my Page insights, messages, notifications, etc - that Ello's simplicity is actually confusing.

 

2. Ello promises to forever be ad-free. But what about all those other social networks who’ve promised the same, and then switched gears?

The whole premise of Ello is built upon an anti-establishmentarianist manifesto:

Ello’s entire structure is based around a no-ad and no data-mining policy. Quite frankly, were we to break this commitment, we would lose most of the Ello community. Including ourselves, because we dislike ads more than almost anyone else out there. Which is why we built Ello in the first place.

To make this crystal-clear to everyone, we’ve put a very obvious DELETE ACCOUNT link on every user’s settings page. If you ever don’t like the direction Ello is heading, we invite you to delete your Ello account. Of course, we’d prefer you to stay a part of our community, so please send comments and ideas to hello@ello.co.

However, it’s been revealed in the past 24-hours that Ello isn’t really the Robin Hood of social media that it’s made itself out to be. Tech blogger Andy Baio recently discovered that Ello’s founders accepted $435,000 in funding from a small venture firm called FreshTracks Capital. If you have a look at Ello’s site info pages, you won’t see any reference to this key fact. In a recent blog post from indie web advocate Aral Balkan, Balkan describes Ello’s secretive funding as “the nail in its coffin” that will compel its creators (like countless startups before them) to eventually choose between their principles and profit. “When you take venture capital, it is not a matter of if you’re going to sell your users, you already have,” he writes.

For venture capitalists – unlike angel investors – their primary concern is profitability. They need to see a return on investment, which usually comes in the form of an acquisition or an Initial Public Offering. Remember, they won’t just be selling Ello – they’ll be selling Ello’s users’ data, too.

Wuh-woh.

 

3. The Omnibar rules.

Facebook, and particularly Twitter, fall short of Ello’s impressive word limit for status updates, all made possible by the Ello Omnibar. The Omnibar – which is where you type your status updates - appears as a black bar at the top of your stream.

As a woman of the written word, sometimes I feel like firing off more than a 140-character missive (or not, see above). Short and succinct is the key to sagaciousness, but if essay-long updates appeal to you and your cause, you’ll enjoy Ello’s micro-blogging capacity. And yes, you can videos or images, too.

No private messaging is available yet, but mentions use the @ sign in the same way as Twitter, and private messages will double it--@@username when the feature is added.

 

4. GIFS + Emojis + # = YES!

I will probably be burned at the stake for this, but gifs and emojis are a major staple of my lexicon. Where words fail, an emoji speaks. Luckily, Ello also supports my penchant for posting Liz Lemon reactionary gifs.

 

I'm starting to like Ello, but...

 

5. Ello won’t kill Facebook.

While Ello is a treat for the eye – if you’re fond of zen-minimalism and art student blogs –it’s hardly the death knell for Facebook. Ello’s already being tipped to go the way of Google+ (which, by the way, only has 70,000 active Australian users).

Ello signals a need to change privacy and user rights, and indicates consumer fatigue from the commercialisation of our social networks.

But people still love Facebook, and Ello’s functionality hardly mimics that of its primary competition. With friends on Ello being more like Twitter or Tumblr followers than Facebook friends (the relationship doesn’t have to be mutual, like on Facebook), Ello looks likely to follow in the footsteps of user-friendly microblogging platforms.

In addition, the scale of users they would need to even be a viable contender is mind-boggling. Who wants to hang out on a social network all alone?

I'm all for new technology, so I hope that Ello succeeds in providing people with a social media alternative - sans commercial realism. But without any advertising revenue and a public declaration that hasn't held tight, I'm taking all the Ello hype with a grain of salt.