Whatever Happened to Baby Ello?
Like a lot of people, especially people who care about social media, online privacy, and design, I was briefly fascinated by ello.co back in October, 2014. Ello swept through the online world, billed as a Facebook replacement with clean design, no ads and no content gathering. It had a bold, if vague, manifesto:
We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.
You are not a product.
Ello backed up their claim by becoming a becoming a certified Public Benefit Corporation, legally binding them not to generate money by selling data or ad space. This isn’t quite the same as being a certified B-Corp like LimeRed is, though one of Ello’s co-founders are the B-Corp design firm Berger & Fohr. For now, Ello’s only source of income seems to be t-shirt sales, with future plans for premium features.
Ello probably “went viral” too early. Back in September 2014 it didn’t have basic search, share, or like functions, features people expect from a social platform, especially one hoping to go head-to-head with the Zuckerberg behemoth. It was nice to post moving gifs and browse a site that wasn’t constantly selling you junk, but it lacked that little endorphin pop you get when people interact with your posts. And, of course, the many glitches were frustrating.
So, I mostly forgot about Ello with the rest of the world. But I still periodically get email reminders from it, so in June, I decided to log back in and check out what was new. First, no one I know in real life has posted on Ello in over 5 months. When I clicked “Discover”, though, I, well, I discovered some interesting stuff. Ello has become a repository for pretty things: art, photography, illustration and design. There are some nice features, like easily switching between your friends’ (theoretical) posts and posts by strangers you follow, who are called “noise.” I wish more platforms would do this.
While it’s a lovely and pleasant place, after an hour, I felt like I mostly maxed out on new content. I was seeing the same posts over and over in “Discover” and many of them were as old as the posts from my friends’ defunct accounts. I’d find an awesome artist, then realize they hadn’t posted since January. There are still glitches galore, too. One particularly annoying bug means you have to click back two or three to return your feed after clicking on a post or profile.
No one I know in real life has posted on Ello in over 5 months.
But the biggest problem with Ello is it doesn’t seem to offer a significantly new user experience. Despite the hullabaloo about it being the anti-Facebook, Ello actually feels like a slightly improved Tumblr. It’s nice but new platforms take off because they offer something new, and not just in the EULA or the graphic design. It’s just another place to scroll through pictures and gifs right now.
Ello is still trying to define itself and build an audience. If it’s built a community, I’m still finding it. But I think Ello has promise. I like their message and mission, especially their commitment to privacy. It’s also exciting to be on a platform that’s so young that there’s a lot of room to explore, define, and innovate how the platform is used.
Ello launched its iPhone app last week,* with Android and Windows apps coming soon, which they’re hoping bring a wave of new interest and users, reminding people of its existence and showing off the new features. For now, I’m going to keep checking in on Ello. I’m rooting for it, I always like an underdog.
*I use an Android phone so I haven’t been able to check it out yet. Darn iPhones get everything first.