First impressions of Ello, on balance, good. The site is minimalist and elegant, reminiscent more of the old, classic iPod than anything else and of the Facebook of my high-school years. The font hearkens back to the heady BBS days of the 1980's, when you logged in by dialling a phone number, and text either appeared on your screen or was printed out. I approve greatly.
A few quibbles and niggles. One is about the business model. They pledge not to use advertisements on their network, or to give your data to third parties. Their manifesto (how very Communist of them) contains something along the lines of, you are not the product. The problem is, when you operate a free site, your clients must be the product. Any other free business model is either unsustainable, or not truly free. Most "freemium" products are intentionally hobbled to such an extent that usability is impaired. In plain English, they screw you at every turn, tell you to stand and deliver, and then they don't even have the common courtesy of saying good bye. They have no choice: they need the money. It's as simple as that.
I suppose I'm bound to talk about Ello's VC funding here. Venture capitalists are known for having fists so tight that if you gave them a lump of coal to hold onto, it would turn into a diamond a minute later. Kickstarter people just want a product to use and are dedicated enough to pay to have it made; venture capitalists want a return on investment. They will not support a product just because it looks pretty or because it works.
The key word is "exit". Venture capitalists pay money for an opportunity to exit. This comes in two ways: a buyout (big shark, little shark, little shark gets eaten) or a flotation (little shark, school of piranhas, little shark gets eaten). In either case, idealism goes down the longkang and the manifesto goes out the window. Such is the price to pay for venture capital. There are ways to defeat this. One way would be to use venture capital as, in effect, a loan. The Ello management could solicit people to buy shares, and buy out the vampire capitalists in the process. Of course, such a thing will get you burned, thanks to said vampires. "Don't buy, you'll be bought out", and all that jazz. Good luck getting a penny more.
There are a few exceptions, like this online marketplace that I won't name. Suffice it to say that it was invented by a man named Jeff B. and, apparently, run by members of the American investment community as a non-profit for the benefit of consumers everywhere. Profit? What's that? But this ain't Ama---whoops, I said I wouldn't name it.
The way I see this, though, is like a really good party. Facebook was a fun underground party at the beginning: it started with just a velvet rope, a bouncer to check student ID, trendy liquor, and some ultra-modern furnishings. At this point, it was just you and your classmates from Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, what have you. Then they let high school students in, and the party got wilder (but lost a lot of its maturity). The bouncer got too expensive, so they fired him. People started flooding in and they wore out all the furniture. That got replaced, but it was replaced with stuff of lesser quality. They got a game console in to attract even more people, but that's when the party got weird. Eventually, even grannies and grand-dads got in on the act, and, let me tell you, if your granny goes to the same parties as you do, it's time to pull chocks and take off.
Ello will likely go through the same phases. I wish it won't, but it will. All parties have to come to an end someday: it happened to Tagged, it happened to MySpace, it happened to Facebook... so let's just enjoy the party while it lasts, and when it gets weird, just kick the tyres, light the fires, and get the ground crew to pull chocks. On to the next one, and so on, ad nauseam (perhaps literally).
The furniture at the Ello party, unfortunately, seems to be from IKEA. It looks great, but it seems to be made in China, and as soon as you sit on the chairs to have a pint, BANG. The chair breaks underneath you. Some people have had the door fall off its hinges (browser crash at home page). And then there are the people invited to this shindig. From what I've seen, 99% of the Ello attendees are of three stripes. A sizeable minority are businesses, there to network and to gain more customers. Then there's the LesBiGayTrans crowd, tired of what they see as discriminatory policies at Facebook. Or just because the party got weird... but then again, they are largely a liberal crowd, and, as such, will seek any reason under God's bright sun to protest. Liberals love to protest like gin loves tonic. Finally, there's the $500 pram, organic-everything, neck-beard, thrift-store, fixed-gear bike, chunky black plastic specs crowd. I understand the word "hipster" is too mainstream (isn't it ironic?). I guess they all got in because "you've probably never heard of it".
The cynic with a degree in psycho or socio will point out that the popularity of Ello is linked to fear of missing out, while the economist may claim that demand is linked to scarcity, but I disagree. Vehemently. Honestly, I don't give a hoot as to whether Ello is invitation-only or not. I like it because of its underground ethos and its no-B.S. design. There are other reasons why I like it, but those require a fair bit of explanation.
I am an intensely verbal person. I see the world not in pictures or in textures, but in words. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am something of a grammar fascist, and most definitely a spelling fascist. I mean, I do like pictures, which is why I have an Instagram, but it's not a social thing for me, it's just where I put my family pictures. I "suffer" from alphabetic synaesthesia. Most of my creative projects involve words or letters in some way.
Social media wasn't built for me. Whenever I try to write something with some actual meaning on Facebook, it comes out as two sentences and then "Read more" under that. Instagram, well, that's purely a picture sharing site for me. Pinterest? What's Pinterest? And Twitter, well, it's great for political discourse (bile and venom from Scottish nationalists not withstanding) but the 140 character limit is extremely stifling. You try commenting on the exceedingly convoluted situation in Iraq and the Levant (that's Syria for you youngsters) in 140 characters or less. Can't be done. I assure you.
I think the whole thing started, rather unfortunately, with Google Plus. In fact, Ello reminds me a lot of Google Plus in the early days. Both platforms have had uniquely interesting early adopters. Plus had many tech people, geeks, nerds of all shapes, sizes, colours, and creeds. Ello has artists and designers. The discussions on both are, or rather were, germane, interesting, and to the point. The designs of both Plus in the early, closed beta days, and Ello today, subtly but noticeably encouraged this. Unfortunately, when Plus opened to the public, the design was changed to something more busy and the one feature the early adopters desperately needed was not implemented.
I am speaking, of course, about threaded discussions. When there were 20 comments on a thread, you could read the conversation and be enlightened by the sharing of ideas. I used Plus myself during the Republican primaries two years ago. Now, however, chaos reigns, because when there are 500 comments from some very intellectual (and a lot of not-so-intellectual) people, the conversation takes so many twists and turns that you eventually say "to hell with this" and facepalm.
That's just a minor problem though. The far bigger dealio is some picture blogging site called Pinterest or something like that. It's apparently like Instagram, but more for sharing what you like rather than your own personal pictures. I don't know. I don't use it, have never used it, and won't ever use it. But Google Plus and Facebook took notice, and so Plus was "artfully" redesigned so that everybody's pictures choked up whatever little space was left for text. Facebook created its "innovative" Timeline. Makes me want to bang my head against my desk every time I see it.
I honestly think the word "innovation" is being used today as a synonym for "shit". Look at Windows 8. It's full of innovations. Facebook, same. Myspace? Anyone remember Myspace? Also kept touting innovations. Someone has to get a chainsaw and cut through all the innovation!
And then there's the like "feature". Google Plus calls it +1. Twitter has Favourites. Facebook has Likes. Ello has none of these. The closest you can get is by commenting "LIKE!" or . I like this, because instead of the instant gratification that comes with mindlessly mashing the like button, you get a more lasting buzz by commenting and engaging in the discussion.
The downsides all come because Ello is in its infancy. It smells and hasn't yet learned how to walk properly, but it has the makings of a great adult within it. The big problem is the grey text on white background. White on black would be much, much better. Another problem is the lack of a private messaging facility, but I think this will be sorted out in due course as well. The crashiness on the home page has already been resolved.
There are some things I miss. Notifications need to be on their own, separate page. As of now they're on the main Friends page, rather than on Noise. I'd much rather have them either on Noise, or on a separate notification page. Also, if you're reading this, Ello team, please release an Android app. Trying to read Ello on an Android tablet is hell on wheels.
Anyway, I hope this thing becomes the new Facebook. But I gotta take an innovation now.