I've seen a lot of discussion about @Ello and how it compares to Facebook, Google+, and other social networks. I think that a lot of the topics can really be distilled down to three themes:
- Opt In
- Choice of Identity
- Understandable (and predictable) privacy
I don't care how nifty (or useful) a group, product, program, site, etc. is. If you are forced to join it, you probably don't want it. (I am not saying you need to be forced to join it because you don't want it. I'm saying that you don't want it because you are forced to join it. Personally, I think that this is one of the major issues with the ACA, but that is a different topic for a different time.) This is one of the major ways that Google has really screwed up, both with Google+ and Wave. No one likes to be forced to do things, so this created instant push-back. Facebook has been dancing around this a bit recently, but has mostly avoided this problem. (I've seen some issues with using FB as an identity or email provider.)
Choice of Identity:
A social network is a way for me to present myself to others, and no one is a better authority on me, than I am (except maybe my wife). This means that any social network that tries to enforce that I use a particular name is denying my ability to express my true identity. (The same can be said for gender expression.)
This seems to be the favorite (modern) way for a social network to commit suicide. If Google+ hadn't had their idiotic Real-Name policy (well, and not forcing people to join), they might have succeeded. Now Facebook appears to be making the same mistake. (Why? Who knows and it doesn't really matter.) If someone cannot express themselves, why should they be on your social network? (I think that Facebook has been the only social anything that I've been active on with my own name. This account is under one of my IRC handles that I've had for around a decade. I retired a bunch around 2002.)
Understandable (and predictable) privacy:
This is the one where I'm seeing some arguments about Ello (from various people I respect). Ello (currently) has no privacy controls. (The blocking mechanism as described is ineffectual and stupid and so is better ignored than anything else. Honestly, it moves them against this theme.) Facebook and Google both have extensive privacy controls. Twitter has limited. So, which is better? The one that works and that users can understand.
Different people have extremely different needs around privacy and it is difficult to build a one-size-fits-all scheme. The important thing is to make sure that users understand what they are getting into and what they are doing. This was one of the great strengths of Google+ (and something which pulled many users to it in the early days). It's not that G+ had better technical privacy controls than Facebook, it's that they were more understandable and predictable. One of the common complaints that I've seen about FB is that something which was believed to be private got leaked. (It's also part of what killed Google Wave.)
Ello has taken the philosophy of "everything is public". While this won't work for everyone, it is easily understood by everyone. No one will be caught off guard or betrayed. If Ello starts developing privacy controls (which I'd like them to do), it's critical that users are never in doubt of their effectiveness or the effects.
Ello appears to be avoiding (most) of the pitfalls of modern social networks (and is reaping the rewards). They are not perfect, and there are many people they cannot serve at all right now, but that's okay. They have a golden opportunity right now to earn lots of trust and learn from the mistakes of others. Let's hope that they can.