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September 29, 2014 / carlispina

Ello – A New Social Network

Ello LogoLast week Ello suddenly burst into the collective consciousness of many tech-savvy social media users as the next hot network. While it has been around since last March, it didn’t go viral until last week, when Mashable reported that Ello was “receiving anywhere from 4,000 to more than 30,000 requests an hour.” Suddenly, traditional social networks are full of people looking for invitations to the service, which is still in invitation-only private beta, and publications as diverse as The New Yorker, Gawker, and The Atlantic are reporting on it. Much of this interest comes from the perception that Ello offers a stark alternative to Facebook. Ello initially launched by posting their “manifesto,” which starts with the phrase “Your social network is owned by advertisers” and ends with the phrase “You are not a product.” As privacy concerns and advertising presence has increased on Facebook, many users are suddenly searching for an alternative. However, the jury is still out on whether Ello will really be able to fulfill this role. Even if it is able to build a sufficient user base to compete with Facebook, some have raised concerns about Ello’s lack of privacy features and the fact that they accepted venture capital funding, which leads some to believe that the network won’t stay ad free and committed to its principles for long. The company has responded to these concerns by listing several privacy features in their Coming Soon section and stating that they plan to make money by selling premium features (including privacy features) in the future.

Intrigued by both its sudden popularity and all the commentary swirling around it, I decided to try Ello out myself. Many are describing it as some combination of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, and some elements do feel that way. The layout and look and feel are much more pared down than the average social media site, which has impressed many design fans. The minimalist design consists mostly of black and white with the only colors coming from users’ avatars, items that are posted on the site, and the banners that are hidden at the top of each users’ profile if you scroll up. When you follow people on Ello, you can sort them into Friends  or Noise and they will never know which category you assign them, which offers a way to focus more attention on some users and less on others.

However, with this spare look and approach comes a distinct lack of some features, at least as of right now. For example, the site doesn’t currently support hashtags or any other way of organizing and connecting content, the search functionality has never worked for me (and I haven’t heard of anyone having luck with it), and the user interface isn’t terribly intuitive, which leaves a lot of users feeling like they are blindly clicking around a lot of the time. Some of these limitations are definitely because of the site’s sudden explosion in popularity. While every new user is given a large number of invites to share with friends, the site has had to close off new accounts when it has hit capacity at least once since I started using it less than a week ago. The list of features that are under development (which includes mobile apps, video and audio integration, and notifications of whether someone is online or offline to name just a few) suggests that these growing pains may be short-lived, but it is hard to know whether those features will address all of the concerns people have with the platform and also how much those features might cost given the business model that Ello seems to have in place. As the site becomes more widely known, I’ve seen many people saying that they are starting accounts to reserve their username or to see what everyone is talking about. The true test of Ello will be whether it is able to move beyond this current bout of novelty to become something that users continue to come back to over and over again. For now though, it is an interesting new approach to social networking and if you do check it out, you may be happy to know that Ello has an option to delete your account, though their privacy policy notes that your data “may” remain on backup serves for an unspecified period of time.

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