I spent most of this past week trapped indoors with the flu.
Twelve hours a day in bed is not easy for me. I’m the type of person that doesn’t really care what the weather’s like outside — I just want to be out in it.
What lying around did do was give me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on Ello. And the deeper I went, the more amazing stuff I discovered. I spent eight hours a day on Ello and the experience was inspiring, beautiful, and incredibly positive.
Someone sent me this commentary by Umair Hague about Twitter dying because it’s so negative. There are also many recent articles on how the Internet in general, and social networks in particular, cause so much anxiety and unhappiness. Statistically, the more time you spend online, the less happy you are.
Ello is definitely, completely, and totally unlike that.
I’d like to offer a totally non-scientific explanation for why this is.
Ello was originally a closed network used by a bunch of friends as a way to share creative work and ideas. When we opened it up to the public we had no idea what would happen.
A year later Ello could be full of people posting mean cat pictures, or horrible stuff about their friends, or ads for car insurance. Or it could be full of trolls bashing one another for fun.
But Ello is filled with artists, designers, photographers, cooks, storytellers, car enthusiasts, fly fisherman, you name it — from around the world sharing their best work. And more keep joining every day.
I have friends who work at Twitter and Tumblr — and none of them believe how few problems we have with negative behavior on Ello. It’s not nonexistent, of course, but it’s near close if you just follow the people who post things you love. Lying in bed and watching the leaves on my neighbor’s sugar maple turn from green to bright pink for a week, I’ve had time to consider why.
There’s an innocence to Ello that reminds me of when the Internet was first born (c’mon — you remember!) — in 1997 when I put up my first web store, we all did pretty much whatever the hell we wanted. We felt safe because we knew NOBODY WAS LOOKING. Nobody was tracking us or recording our moves. We were anonymous, and we were free, and in that we felt secure.
What’s happened over the past 18 years is that most major websites, including search engines and social networks and stores, have begun to take advantage of us. There are people with a hell of a lot more money than we have, and armies of smart people doing stuff that we don’t know about. And the things they are doing aren’t all good or friendly things meant to make our lives better. They’re bad things.
The way buttons pop up just at the right time (asking to do something we don’t want to do) or the way ads ads appear just at the moment we’ve found something interesting, or the fact that they always seem to know who our friends are just feels wrong. And creepy. It's not OK.
We know we’re being fucked with, but we just don’t know how.
The Internet has turned into a schoolyard where all the big kids with all the money are in charge. The vibe is more and more totalitarian.
But as human beings — smart, sensitive, intelligent human beings — we instinctively don’t like being in an environment that isn’t trustworthy and safe. This is what leads some of us to say to ourselves, “OK, you big greedy network: if you’re going to fuck with me, I’m going to fuck with you back.” That leads to crabbiness, short tempers, frustration, and ultimately a lot of negativity.
I have a relatively wealthy friend, whose name I’ll withhold because he’s well known, who thinks Amazon is an evil empire that hurts small businesses by running a ponzi scheme that never will make money. So my friend did this: he signed up for Amazon Prime last year and spent most of 2015 buying and returning extremely heavy items via 2-day air on his Amex card that has no spending limit — over and over — knowing that Amazon would have to foot the bill for shipping stuff both ways. It‘s been his way of hastening Amazon’s decline.
I think in their own ways, when people erupt with negativity, they're secretly hoping for the same thing.
Which brings me back to Ello, and why things are different here. We created this network, first for ourselves and then for everyone else, to be the best place in the world for creative people to be inspired, and to inspire others. Everything we do is focused on this one goal. It’s a very simple mission.
But to pull this off has required something that’s not so simple.
We almost immediately discovered that a network for inspiration couldn’t have ads. And then we realized that if we were going to retain really serious creators like ourselves, we couldn’t collect and sell user data. Creators aren’t going share their best work if they don’t feel safe. Nowadays safety means optional anonymity (we only reveal what we want to reveal), and a firm sense that where I am is somewhere I belong. And that I’m never going to be fucked with.
Basically, along the way we (Ello’s founders) drank our own Kool-Aid. We closed the door to doing just about anything else— the nail in the coffin was when Ello became a PBC last year.
A year ago, for a few months, Ello had as many as ten thousand people joining an hour. At that time we could have decided to cash in, to create another Wal-Mart of the Internet where humans are sold as data, and where negativity ultimately rules the day.
We looked at one another and said, “no way.”
I’ve been making and running creative businesses my whole life and I’ll tell you a dirty secret: it’s not hard to make a lot of money if all you want to do is make a lot of money. All seven founders of Ello felt that this wasn't what we wanted to do— not at the expense of creating a place that was open, free, fun, and an echo of the Internet that all of us loved when it was still young.
Anyway, this, I think, is one secret behind why Ello is so positive. And why more remarkable creative people keep joining every day. Ello grew 10% last week alone. And 60% of the people using Ello are outside the USA, so we’re truly an International movement. And we still don’t have a major troll problem.
Ello is growing because the people that are building Ello, and the people that are using it, are in partnership. We’re empowering one another. The opposite is called oppression, and it’s what’s happening too many other places on the Internet.
To inspire, and to be inspired, is ultimately an act of love.
Inspiration is what we offer each other naturally, when we we feel safe to act with innocence, with love, and to offer ourselves as we are to the world, asking nothing but the same in return.
PS: Love to hear your thoughts.