Why Ello is not yet well-considered.
Since two days I’m using Ello, the social network for creative people, that got covered in quite a few news stories last year for its promise not to sell ads or user data. I’m testing Ello since it seems to offer loads of inspiration and easy possibilities to showcase own art as well as being a not too crowded place on the internet. That alone is a rare thing in the times of facebook, twitter and instagram.
I already discovered a lot of interesting designs, artworks and photographies that I liked, but I actually wanted to have a closer look at functionality and design choices first:
Some things are familiar, some are not. Like in many other social networks, you are able to like and share other people’s works, in Ello terminology this is called “love” and “repost”. Of course you can also comment on all kinds of posts and mention users by putting an @ in front of names, which suggests usernames before you even finished typing them. Tags are managed with the # signs that you’re already used to from pretty much any other platform. One common functionality, that is not a part of Ello, is direct messaging. This could be due to the fact, that Ello doesn’t make the impression of being a friend network, but rather a place for individual creative people, that don’t know each other personally. So it would at least make sense to me why the makers didn’t implement this feature.. so far. How a platform is used can change quite quickly, which then often makes the platform adapt to its users.
A big plus for Ello most certainly is its posting feature, called Omnibar.
The omnibar accepts .jpeg, animated .gif and .png (transparency support!) as image inputs, so you usually shouldn’t have to struggle with any extra conversion before you can upload what you had in mind. It also lets you highlight a text and link it to a URL, make parts of a text bold or italic or even write it completely in Markdown! Content of video/audio websites like YouTube, Vimeo or Soundcloud will be embedded directly into Ello. All of these posting features can be used simultaneously and everything can be edited afterwards. And something I also noticed is the omnibar’s ability to continue uploading images in the background, so you don’t have to interrupt browsing on Ello and switching sites there. That really made me happy!
Now to the things, that I don’t quite like.
Ello wants you to discover new stuff you might like and therefore has a dedicated discover stream. Here you can explore new posts from users all over Ello, sorted by either recommended, trending or recent. That alone are three different content streams you can choose from in order to “discover”. What I actually also discovered, is the problem, that many if not most of the posts I explore, are part of two or all three of these categories, which makes the differentiation kinda meaningless. In addition you also have a followed feed, which only shows you the new content provided by the persons you decided to follow. (I think we now have completed our social media vocabulary.) A total of four (not really) different feeds, that could easily be changed to two streams in my opinion.
And then there’s also this thing called “starred”. People you star, you automatically follow and starred creates a fifth (!!!) content feed, probably dedicated to the people you really adore on Ello. I guess the existence of all these feeds is well-intentioned, but I think it only makes the whole user experience more cluttered than it would have to be.
The look of a stream can’t be customized apart from switching between a grid and a list view. This wouldn’t be a big problem for me, if that switch would actually work. On user pages for example, I can’t set it to be in grid view, which I prefer. Things like this drive me crazy over time.
On the iOS app I also ran into some issues. The bottom bar is devided into five sections: discover, notifications, followed, profile and the omnibar. Worth mentioning is the fact, that a search bar can only be accessed from the two feed sections and a side bar with some additional pages and information is only accessable from the followed tab. These are some really odd design decisions, that need to be re-thought about in order for the experience to become more user-friendly.
I hope the issues I have with Ello will get fixed in the near future, but I’m also sure that those are just little hickups. We have to keep in mind, that it’s still a young service. Hopefully things will get better both on the web and on iOS! Apart from that, I’m really enjoying Ello so far. The pictures I discover are great and of high quality and I can’t wait to see how the platform will develop! #ello there.