I don't usually post about consumer technology trends, but this week I've been amused and concerned by all the rumblings, especially from my Bay Area friends, about a new service called Ello. Because social media and networking platforms are so critical to the engagement efforts of -- well -- every NGO or nonprofit I know, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on why I'm mellow on Ello for now.
Ello is a for-profit social network built in collaboration by a small team of designers, developers and product folks mostly in Colorado, Vermont and New York. With the promise of being "simple, beautiful, and ad free," the as-of-now invite-only service seems to have caught a wave of perfect dissatisfaction with Facebook. As a result, my feeds have been lit up this week with requests for invites from those who don't yet have access to the site.
Here are five reasons why I don't think Ello is for me -- and why, in fact, the new service might be a bad idea for anyone who cares about the influence of social networking platforms on community and on culture:
Not being able to trust Facebook has been the number one issue that those in my social circle have complained about. Indeed, this unease is so often projected onto Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that I bet most Facebook users feel they know the guy.
I don't see how Ello -- a for-profit -- serves in this regard. If trust was your key complaint about Facebook, then a community-run, distributed, decentralized service like Diaspora would be a much better option. But to date I haven't see much chatter or interest about the four-year old nonprofit service.
In my case "simple, beautiful and ad-free" aren't really the core features that I am looking for. With social networks so critical these days I'm more interested in "ubiquitous, solid, and community-owned."
I know the Bay Area is a place where load of folks think nothing of plopping down $2,500 for a bike (which, ironically, is exactly what Ello's CEO Paul Budnitz is best known for selling), but a social network where you have to pay for the service will inevitably just become a gated community. Is that where you want to spend your time? One of the reasons FB has gone global is because everyone can afford it, including those in the developing world.
Want a web app or mobile app version Ello? Too bad, and Ello doesn't think that's a big deal: "A standalone iPhone and Android app is coming later this year. Until then, just bookmark Ello on your device. Ello works great."
I get that Ello claims to still be in beta mode, but launching a social network in 2014 without mobile tools means these guys are nowhere close to ready for primetime. What are they planning to do for scalability, security, multilingual, etc.?
Ello says they designed a web service they'd want to use. Fair enough! But rather than beautiful I just see retro twee. In fact the whole thing reminds me of fancy pickle makers trying to make their products evoke Delancy Street nostalgia. When 2014-era software designers feel they need to "harken back" to the glory days of typewriters it's a good indication that innovation won't be the main driver of the experience. Not saying it needs to be, of course, just saying that a web service built for web designers may not be for all of us.
Does all this mean I love Facebook and G+?
No way. I worry all the time about the corrosive nature of equity investment and shareholder expectations for these for-profit behemoths. But while those two services certainly don't pass all (or most) of the above tests, both have crack product teams developing tools that really do work for most people, and both have made access a huge priority.
I also recognize and acknowledge that my own ability to criticize may be limited. I'm no first mover, wiling to jump ship to a new service before everyone else gets there. I just don't have time or interest. But I am a huge fan of the idea of all of us migrating to a social platform that is more community-oriented.
So I'm mellow on Ello, at least for now. But I'll be keeping an eye on my Facebook feed just in case, and I'm sure my network will let me know how it goes.