Hype is king in this day and age. Ello’s rapid rise to prominence in the world’s media and online was fostered by a PR masterclass.
At a time when disaffection with Facebook is at its highest, and Twitter’s continual ignorance and mis-handling of abuse and harassment has angered a large number of its users, the stage was set for a new challenger to rise up and cause a scene. Ello’s growth was so rapid that it went from a mere 90 users at the beginning to August to one million with a further three million on the waiting list as of today. To call it a ‘growth spurt’ would be something of an understatement.
But just like a boxer who runs his mouth at the weigh-in before getting planted on his ass in the first round, Ello’s distinct lack of preparation, customer care and clarity means it looks as if it’s out for the count before the first bell has even stopped ringing
Are there genuine causes for complaint or is this just an earlier-than-usual backlash starting up?
— spacefem (@spacefem) November 3, 2014
Complaints against Ello range from a complete lack of activity, excitement, aesthetic qualities and engaging themes and users. Or, as one disaffected user of the site told us: “It’s contrarian hipster guff.”
Other problems included a search function that didn’t work at all, and a confusing lack of instruction or help when needed, as evidenced by my own attempts to reset my password to log back in. How can I “review” any “errors” when there is nothing there to tell me?
Many Internet watchers saw Ello as a new frontier. They became the LGBT community’s social media network of choice when Facebook’s draconian naming policy affected drag queens who operated under an alias, and perhaps wanted to keep their identities secret for other sensitive reasons.
Their manifesto was a combustible and combative piece of literature. Its decisive and divisive “no advertising or data mining” pledge was a key part in getting them noticed. People were signing up in their droves while invites turned into Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.
In reality though, the writing was always on the wall. For all their faults, Facebook still rules the roost. A re-launched MySpace couldn’t topple them; sites like LinkedIn have tried to play the game too. Hell, if Google of all companies can’t build a viable alternative to Facebook, then what hope for anybody else?
Despite the odds facing them, Ello recently declared that it had raised a whopping $5.5 million in financing from a range of backers. A consequence of this was that under a new charter drawn up for and by Ello, they have forbade themselves from ever hosting ads or selling users’ info. It’s all very utopian, but naturally it raised a few suspicions:
Ello raised 5.5m from investors who in no way want a return. No sir. No return or liquidation event at all. Nope. 5.5 m charity dollars
— Ethan Kaplan (@ethank) October 23, 2014
You may remember similar hubbub surrounding Diaspora, another such site that promised much but delivered almost nothing. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself a number of times, so just how and why has Ello fallen into the exact same traps as their would-be predecessors?
Users of Google+ and Diaspora (yes, they do exist!) have always complained that when compared to the mighty Facebook, the other networks seem empty, inactive and not fun.
Ello’s first move was to allow invite-only users, plonk them on a black and white homepage with no direction, a search function that didn’t work and a confusing and poor interface. It’s almost as if no lessons have been learned at all.
One user, Adam, from the USA, believes that Ello’s goals, both long and short term, are unclear and as a result, fail to inspire confidence in both users and potential future investors:
“It feels more like some half-finished mash up of Tumblr and Twitter” he said. “It’s a decent idea but clumsy. I’m more concerned with their business model. No one starts that kind of a website for nothing to gain and that stuff takes huge amounts of cash to run. How are they making ends meet? How are they going to profit for their investors? Facebook already has enough shit advertisements all over it that push people away from it. They apparently aren’t selling info, but will they eventually? Are they going to section it off and have a paid tier of service? I don’t trust them.”
“Trust” is a word that has quickly become intrinsically linked with Ello, and its recent solution to the problem of NSFW content requires a lot of trust and self-governance from users and the site itself. Users will have the option to toggle whether they receive NSFW content or not. This is, of course, in complete contrast to their first policy point on the issue, which asked people to NOT post explicit content on their site. In the battle for the middle ground between freedom, common sense and censorship, Ello are already struggling to find the balance.
History is weighted against Ello and their ilk. Given the head start Ello appeared to have given itself, the fact it has stalled to the point of inertia is even more astounding. There’s still plenty of time to turn the ship around, but on this evidence it looks like it might simply sink instead.
…but hey, it’s not all bad. At least Ello is creating some rather on-point comedy!
— Link Humans (@LinkHumans) October 30, 2014