U2’s song Vertigo was written to describe the challenges of a capitalist life, but the chorus could also describe how many feel about social media today.
I’m at a place called Vertigo
It’s everything I wish I didn’t know
The new social media site Ello is supposed to rid us of many of the unnecessary elements of Facebook and Twitter, instead presenting a clean and well-designed platform for sharing photos, thoughts, and ideas. Over the next few months, technical experts will debate the merits of each feature, each design choice and the finer elements of the new network. The bigger question is whether the new network will succeed.
For those who haven’t explored the site yet – it is only available via invitation, and is still in a glitchy beta state – Ello is a cross between Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Google+. The site uses “friends” in a similar context as Facebook, and has another feed for “noise” which is presumably all of the stuff produced by people you want to follow who aren’t your friends. In a similar move to Google+ and Twitter, friends can follow you without needing your permission. Privacy, it is assumed, is a concept long passed its useful relevance to today’s modern society. The display itself is reminiscent of a simpler version of Tumblr, without a fancy skin.
The styling on Ello is modern, and similar to an Ace Hotel where you are charged extra to stay in a room with a communal bathroom and soap on a rope. The display is black and white, with occasional gray for variety, supplemented with user photos. The site doesn’t have a calendar, plugin apps, games, or company pages. It would fit comfortably on a smartphone at a Steam Punk convention.
The Ello credo is simple: “You are not a product”. This is a slap to Facebook, which makes money by selling highly targeted advertising. Ello is attempting to be the anti-Facebook. It is for people who view Starbucks as too bourgie, who prefer to drink milk from mason jars, and who are comfortable with beards. According to the founders, it will remain “Ad-free and Porn Friendly”.
It is the social network for hipsters.
But a social network needs a revenue model to survive, and so far it isn’t clear that Ello has one. The early 2000’s saw the crash of good-idea-first-revenue-stream-later startups when the .com bubble burst. In addition, Ello needs to offer something not available on another social network. So far that appears to be porn, an ability to remain anonymous, and a lack of advertising. People may pay more for simplicity, but when it comes to a social network, it still isn’t clear whether such a network can sustain a healthy user base.
In my own use, I’ve found the site to be fun like a new computer. It is nice and fast, with little clutter. As I use the site more and follow more friends and others, I expect I will see more stories and updates I could care less about.
Ello may be a good alternative for those facing social media overload, to use the U2 line, for those “at a place called vertigo”. But it also adds another social media network to the mix. As Facebook has become increasingly integrated in our lives, it is difficult for the “anti-Facebook” to untangle the mix and become a functional replacement. And with fewer users than Facebook (a safe assumption- they haven’t released user data), it may be more difficult to find friends and family members.
Whether Ello can succeed will be based on how many users it can assemble and whether it can ever find a revenue model that will allow the service to keep pace with demand. This is a tall order for a site based on clean design and a focus on not being something else. U2 would be proud.
– Trevor Steele, Communications Strategist