You may be fooled into thinking that “ello” is half of the popular wartime comedy featuring René and LaClair: disguised as an onion seller… well it isn’t. It is the latest kid on the social media block. It has seen a large amount of press activity over the last few months, defining itself as the "anti-coercion" platform that prides itself on being the only one of its new peer group that doesn’t bow to the commercial appetite that so much of today’s popular competition has, with their endless advertising and paid promotions littered across all.
"Your social network is owned by advertisers."
Ello was conceived earlier this year by seven creative designers and developers including Paul Budnitz, the guys from Berger & Föhr, and technologists from Mode Set. They set out to create something simple, beautiful and as I said, ad-free. The feeling that all other social channels had started to mine your personal information to such an extent it had become no more than an advertising platform that was fuelled by the likes of you and me, but paradoxically no longer about us. It is starting to feel like 1984 all over again. You have to see their point. Intended as a mini-hub exclusive to their friends, with an invitation only policy; it soon became apparent that there was a growing appetite as the number of active users started to spiral. They soon realised they were onto something and their ambitions widened quickly as the invites were flying out of the door.
So what is it and why is it so appealing? Well the concept is one that has purity at its heart and the manifesto reads as if it were torn from the pages of a historical visionary believing utopia is within our grasp. This to many is enough to elicit the kindness of an existing member to send you an invitation, but more than this, the pure fact you have to wait to be able to get on it pulls on the “I want to be one of the cool kids” strings creating yet more desire to be part of it… And that is all before you have even seen what it is capable of.
Simple white profile pages with black only detailing, designed with a Swiss minimalistic feel runs throughout delivering an uncluttered framework for the individual’s content to be the hero. The profile page comprises of a full-page image based header, profile image and a stream of content much like that of Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler. But that is it. No ads, no promotions, no candy crush or farm-ville request. Behind the commonly used icon indicating a menu it reveals your “friends" list and “noise” list. Noise is basically who you follow, friends reserved for the most special of members. All in all the UX is a double-edged affair, the drive for simplicity has the most savvy of internet users struggling to work out what to do next, but when you do, you realise there is no point searching for all of the other functional bloat found elsewhere. You start to love its simple approach and feel almost violated when returning to the likes of Facebook.
Currently additional functionality is limited and in development. Searching for other members isn’t the easiest thing to do, as being automatically ordered by the most frequent contributors means that time served will drive you up the list, and that for me is not sustainable. Having experienced the incessant posting of certain individuals that I went to school with on Facebook, I would dread the idea that someone telling me what they had for breakfast warranted more exposure than meaningful, interesting and personal content that many of the Ello audience are already contributing in large numbers.
All social media in one way or another is a bit of an ego trip, we all believe that people are interested in what we have to say and feel that genuine spike of joy when we receive the notification “someone liked your post”, and Ello is no exception to this rule, as the audience is predominantly fuelled by creatives, artists and designers. There is a lot of beautiful content looking for the recognition of followers and I am sure that as more and more people join outside of the industry, many within it will complain about the dilution from where it is now… but isn’t that the point? This is intended as free speech for the social masses uninterrupted by corporates looking to promote products and services. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Only time will tell if Ello will reach its potential as the “anti-facebook” platform many are touting it as, but that will all depend on how willing people are to jump ship from something they have lived with for many years and all of those hard fought for friends and likes. In my view, a simpler social media platform where the only return is dictated by what content you invest in it is a better environment to be in. Companies can register on Ello (via invitation) and create a stream just like everyone else, in fact Ello are hoping companies will do that because their success on the platform will be because of audience understanding and involvement, not just paying more money to come higher in the results.
So are you ready to say “Ello”? As an individual or a business it might be a good idea to secure your @name for when it goes big… and I really think it will do in time.