Unless you’ve been living under a tech media rock this week, you couldn’t have missed the discussion surrounding the launch of Ello, whose big pitch is that they are an ad-free social network that places user privacy above everything else.
I signed up for the beta what feels like an eternity ago, and finally got a chance to spend some time with it this week.
To be honest, the first impression is underwhelming. Aside from being a design exercise in minimalism and white space, there’s not much to write home about.
The format feels like little bits of the existing networks – the feed of Facebook meets the user behaviour and interaction style of Twitter, with the design aesthetic of some minimalistic Tumblr theme. There are too many unclear functions to navigate. A lot of what I found was through just clicking and hoping.
Finding people you know, or even people you might want to follow, is hard. The search function (when you eventually find it, and when it works) only appears to work in finding usernames, which on a platform that doesn’t enforce any real name usage makes no sense. If you can’t make it easy for me to connect with people, then there’s a fundamental flaw in the concept of a network.
I don’t want to spend too long on features, as there is a long list that they have outlined as being in development, many of which we take for granted in already established networks. But currently, there doesn’t feel there is enough, even for a beta.
So what is it?
Overall though, Ello’s biggest challenge is its proposition. I haven’t shared or posted yet, because I’m not sure what it is I am supposed to share on the platform. There’s no clear idea as to what it is meant to be to users aside from “not Facebook”.
I suppose Facebook itself started in a similar way, but by and large the world got it pretty quickly. To me, Twitter’s proposition is reasonably clear as well, and we can find the people we want to connect with easily, which creates an ease and comfort around sharing.
Ello breaks connections into two groups – “friends” and “noise”, which if I have to draw a comparison is similar to the friend and follow differentiation of Facebook. Each are displayed differently, friends with a more expanded feed, and noise in a compressed snapshot view.
But there is no ability to choose what level I connect on, which feels like it’s at odds with the privacy stance they take on user data as it relates to third parties. Any connections I build may not necessarily be friends, so I am not going to share anything terribly personal. Similarly, if I am having trouble finding and connecting with people of common interest, who is to say that anything I share is worthwhile to anyone, or if I am going to find any useful content in return?
Maybe it’s unfair to judge a platform in its first couple of weeks of beta, but the lack of function and unclear proposition makes it difficult for me to see why I would come back anytime soon. It needs to be more than the anti-Facebook in order to succeed.
The risk it runs at the moment is suffering the same “invite beta syndrome” that G+ saw when it kicked off, collecting a bunch of tech savvy users and creating an environment that general, everyday users can’t find their place in or understand.
PHOTO – thomas hawk via Flickr