Over the last week we have finally managed to get to grips with new(ish) social media platform Ello. Clean, minimal and a little unusual, Ello is the rival to Facebook that it aims to be nothing like!
After a surge of media attention at the back end of last year (resulting in approximately 30,000 sign up requests per hour), membership had been capped to spare their servers. This meant that registration for Ello was handed out on an invitation-only basis. We requested an invitation a few months ago now, and last week our “welcome” email came through.
When first visiting the site, you might be forgiven for thinking that it hasn’t loaded properly. Where are the colours? What about the menus? Where do we click!? Ello’s tagline is “A simple, beautiful, ad-free social network”, and to be honest that’s exactly what it is. A no frills, no hassle way of connecting with friends and people you are interested in. Facebook is constantly coming under fire over its advertising and privacy policies and Ello aims to be the antithesis of the social giant, while simultaneously overthrowing them. The creators of Ello have recognised that people are growing disillusioned with constant advert bombardments, recommendations and changes to features and so have stripped everything down to the bare bones.
The basic black and white design has a simple lay out with your feeds displayed on the right and options and settings on the left. Like Twitter, you “follow” people rather than request to be a friend (as you would on Facebook). Once you are following a person you can place them in one of two feeds; “Friends” and “Noise”. This allows you to separate your friends’ posts from the ones you’re simply interested in. In one respect, this helps to organise and sort your news feed, in another it just complicates things. You may well find yourself just sticking to one feed anyway.
The real selling point however is the fact that there are no adverts. Whatever you choose to follow is the content that you’ll see. Nothing else. No more annoying auto-play videos or promoted posts from brands you have no interest in, just pure, self-curated content. Just like the good old days! How long will this last though? PC World make a good point…
“Facebook was ad-free for years. Tumblr’s founder hated the idea of ads. But sooner or later, every free network embraces advertising. How else are you going to make money?”
Ello aims to appeal to those tired with mainstream social media, and while it clearly has its own identity (a complete lack of one), it doesn’t have a specific use. PC World also points out…
“Facebook has your entire life. Twitter is your news source. Tumblr is your creative outlet. Instagram is your photo studio. Pinterest is your inspirational scrapbook. Each has something that differentiates it from the rest”.
Ello actually feels like a mish-mash of all of these. There is clearly a strong visual element to it, much like Tumblr or Instagram. It is used for connecting with your friends as with Facebook, and the idea of having separate feeds is derived from Twitter (more specifically, Tweetdeck). It very much feels like a “Jack of All Trades” social network.
What's In a Name?
This isn’t to say that there aren’t positives to Ello though. As highlighted by many news sources recently, Facebook insists that you use your real name when creating a profile. How does it determine you’re using your real name? Based on assumptions about gender, race and nationality. If, for example, you are a British female trying to sign up to Facebook with the name Jose, most likely you won’t be able to create an account. This has caused a lot of anger, and large groups of people are migrating from Facebook in protest. Ello gained popularity when drag queens, on discovering they weren’t allowed to use their stage names to create Facebook accounts, set up accounts on Ello instead.
Content is King
So where Facebook falls down on its “Real Name” and advertising policy, Ello has moved in to target those that have become frustrated with the popular platform. Unfortunately for Ello and its user base, we’re quite a way off of seeing Facebook being overthrown. Ello has a tiny user base and its “invitation only” scheme has hindered its growth. A few months ago, everybody wanted a piece of the action, but after taking months for us to receive an account we just don’t care anymore. Social media moves fast, and Ello has been left in the dust. Couple all this with a strange and confusing interface and the fact that there still isn’t an app available.
Ello feels hollow and isolating. Another negative is that there are no privacy settings so you are completely searchable to anyone and everyone with no say in the matter. There is absolutely no personality to Ello whatsoever, it’s hard to distinguish who is active and who isn’t, and to be quite honest we just don’t get it. Ello has stripped social media naked, but has left us wishing it would put some clothes back on.