@mikeleepearl joins the army of tech journalists -- there are veritably pairs of them! -- offering their after-the-rush assessments of Ello. And while critical, I think Mike's more than fair.
@wayves commented on Mike's post that it was difficult to tell if he was for or against Ello. That's rather missing the point.
A review needn't be "pro" or "anti". The best ones are objective, and I see a lot of that in @mikeleepearl's piece. His assessment, as with the TechCrunch article a week or three back, is pretty fair: a lot of people signed on to Ello. Many or most have left. Much of the conversation that remains is navel-gazing.
@joshconstine's article hit a lot harder, and its key insight bears repeating:
Here’s the problem. Beating Facebook at its own game is like punching a wall 1.35 billion bricks thick. The network effect of its critical mass means you can’t usurp it by being a little better. The only social apps to really succeed since its launch have tried to go around Facebook’s wall by being different.<br><br>
I have to absolutely 100% agree with this.
Technically, Ello has some good bones, and I've written on that pretty extensively. It's also got technical and design problems, and those are becoming increasingly glaring.
The cool part of Ello for me was that a number of folks who aren't elsewhere on social were posting here, though they too have been falling off: @zephoria @cshirky @cstross @quinn @mlp most especially. Really smart people with really good insights. Sadly, people who write really good stuff 1) have to work at it, 2 are doing it as part of their job (so much of it's elsewhere), and 3) tend to produce slowly.
A huge problem with social, one that Ello has utterly failed to address yet, is that currency trumps quality. Someone who spews a dozen "how are you my love" posts (or as a since-uncircled G+ acquaintance did earlier this week: fifty images of roadkill -- and yes, she had a point doing that, but it's counterproductive to message) crowds out the one really awesome Clay Shirky or Merideth L. Peterson post that I'll treasure for months or years. Quality is a huge failing of "social networking" in general, not just Ello.
That's been a constant theme and gripe on Google+, the network I primarily use as an alternate.
Speaking of G+: while there's a lot of talk of it being dead, and I've contributed to that myself, what happened was that, after about two years of excessive navel-gazing, mutual glad-handing, and "what do you use this for" posts, the network started to get useful largely as 1) there were sufficient people to find connections, 2) it developed search, and 3) the early "farmers" who'd been posting links and original content had created a trove and archive of works that could be explored, via Search (really crappy search in terms of specificity, search that did not exist -- from a fucking search company -- for the first months of the product, but comprehensive search indexing everything and turning up results fast). Which was an epiphany moment.
Constine's message is worth hearing. Ello needs to focus on something other than the social graph, because outside a very small group (mostly Ello employees and a very few "friends and family" of them in the founders' circle), your friends aren't here. You may make new friends here (as I did on G+). But what's going to drive associations is the interest graph: shared interests and topics you have with others here, whether you know them personally or not.
That's a graph Ello doesn't present at all for now. The best you can do it attempt to search Ello via external tools (Google, DDG), which is limited at best. (Much as I prefer DDG these days, Google's indexing is far more comprehensive.)
There's some slight movement in that direction. In the past day or so, Ello's been creating some topically-oriented accounts that are serving as a bit of a proto- group-oriented discussion concept. The mechanics are awkward at best, but as a leveraging of the existing technical infrastructure to an ends, I actually applaud it. I suspect it means we'll see something -- channels, communities, forums -- in the future.
It's also worth remembering: social networks that have emerged have taken a while, usually years, to find their legs. Facebook emerged on Harvard's campus (with about 7,000 undergrads), then spread over its first several years across selective-admissions colleges and universities. I was long outside the system then, but was hearing of it from friends. And the idea of a community of bright, Harvard, Ivy, Stanford, UC Berkeley students had an appeal. But with "your Mom is on Facebook", that cachet was lost. Reddit similarly grew out from a single forum to multiples, with a heavy tech bent, until it's come to dominate topical discussion. I use reddit heavily, and am a fan, though it's also got limitations, including a search that while powerful -- it's got great syntax and refinement options -- is incomplete -- comments are not indexed yet are the most valuable aspect of the site. Yes, there are trade-offs everywhere.
I also use Diaspora (ghost-town, no search, limited blocking features), Hacker News, Stack Exchange, IRC, and a number of other sites.
Quite honestly, if blogs can figure out syndication and comments without the scumminess of Disqus or whatever the syndicated Universal Log In flavor of the week is, I think they could well make a comeback. In looking for topical discussion, I was shocked that of all places, Wordpress dominated in terms of posts concerning my sentinel topic ("Thomas Piketty"). Though for discussion the winner seems to be reddit.
Back to Ello
There are some good mechanics. I'm a huge fan of Markdown. I like the fact that I can do inline images (though that plus image hosting would be freaking awesome). Maybe I really want a site more like Medium or its ilk, though something about them's turned me off to date.
Despite numerous UI glitches, the basics aren't bad, and as someone who's taken to hacking site CSS to fix what I can, Ello supports my efforts well with its clean and clear elements naming. I can't say nearly the same for Google+, which is a complete disaster (and I've got the 2000+ lines of CSS to prove it).
The crowd here is small, but has a few interesting lights. Despite my "how big is it" queries, I'll take small if it is interesting and high quality. Ello, to date, has been of middling quality. That's not compelling for now.
The crew have been responsive. Yes, I get frustrated, though I try to keep that in check. My concern is that this will be yet another effort to fizzle. Social is hard. Hell, Google can't even figure it out for chrissakes. A lot of it is dumb luck, catching the wave, and getting the fuck out of the way as it rolls. It also requires having a clear sense of what you want to be (as the service provider) that aligns with users' interests. That last is one of Google's biggest problems: Google wanted "an identity service". Its users, by and large, didn't. Some want to share photos (they seem relatively happy), some wanted to pimp their brand and SEO (FOAD). Some wanted to talk and share with interesting people (increasingly disenchanted). Google's gotten in the way of a lot of that.
But Ello have a huge task in front of them. I've worked on public Web infrastructure. It takes, usually, a minimum of about six weeks to roll out a basic feature. Bugfixes, if they're easy, a few days to a week (hotfixes can go out in minutes to hours if the site's on the line). Simply communicating to your own staff what you've got and are trying to do is difficult, and here a lack of clarity of vision will kill you. What's worse is when people start getting different ideas of the objective in their heads and fail to realize that they're all pursuing different goals and models. Big features? Months. Years if your initial architectural decisions turned out to be misguided. Forever if you simply cannot admit mistakes.
What's frustrating about G+ is that it continues to have really stupid bugs persisting years after I'd first reported them (along with many other users). Far worse was the company's simple failure to admit that bugs were in fact bugs. The fact that G+ reversed itself in 24 hours on a Notifications change was absolutely stunning. It suggests some measure of a learned humility at the giant.
Your friends are your worst enemies, your enemies can be your best friends. The problem with friends is a fear to criticise. Enemies don't always provide actionable criticism, but when they do (again: @joshconstine and @mikeleepearl are doing Ello a huge benefit here through their critiques), it's a hugely useful service. Someone outside the organization, with no real stake, giving an unvarnished view of the product. I've been striving to be generally positive, but when frustrations build, I'll rant. I typically prefer to swear at things rather than people, but believe me, I'll cuss up a storm at stupid shit. And my general experience has been that the frustrations I feel aren't all in my own head.
I've said before and I'll say again: Ello's got a good start. But it's also facing many, many paths to failure, a large number of which are its own to choose. It's a minefield.