Social Media Sunday: ‘Ello, ‘Ello

I’m trying out a new social media network called Ello. I’ve only been there a couple of days, so I’m not going to give you an ebullient review and tell you to rush right out and join. I’ve not done a lot of research, so these are my first impressions. If you’re also experimenting with Ello, you can find me at If you friend me there, I’ll certainly friend you back.

Ello has a lot of potential, but it’s too early to say whether it’s going to survive or not. It’s still in beta, so it doesn’t have a lot of features yet and it has a few bugs. The upside is that it doesn’t have a massive user base yet, so it presents an opportunity to get into a network at the very beginning and watch it grow from the inside.

If you want to give Ello a try, drop me a comment. I have a few invitations to give away, and I’d just as soon give them to WordPress bloggers as to anyone else. But do read the next four paragraphs before you make the decision. Edit: Looks like I only get 5 invites. I’ve given two of them to the first two bloggers who asked; I need to hang on to the last three until I touch base with my various blogging buddies and strategic wordpress allies. I’ll post an update if I decide to give any more away for the asking 🙂

It’s my impression that Ello’s developers are positioning it as a sort of “anti-Facebook” network. You need an invitation to join, although there’s a button on the Ello homepage that says “get invitation,” so I’m not sure you actually have to be invited by another user (Diana invited me, so I have no idea what the button on their homepage does). Ello has no ads and claims not to share user information with third parties. In fact, they have a manifesto:

Your social network is owned by advertisers. Ello

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product

All this makes Ello pretty intriguing. It’s also easy to use. It features a clean, minimalist interface and it only took me a few minutes to set up my profile. The only thing I had the least bit of trouble with was getting my cover image to display the way I wanted it to. Since I’m using one of my own photos for a cover, I had to take the original and size it exactly to keep it from being blurry, but that’s a minor thing. The main two things that I wish Ello had are notifications in the user interface (at the moment, it seems like email notifications are all they have), and a way to acknowledge a post without actually commenting — like an Ello version of Facebook or WordPress likes.

Of course, I’m not naive enough to believe policies can’t change. It’s easy to turn down ad revenue and keep user information anonymous when you’re trying to get a network off the ground and you’re only fighting for a tiny sliver of a huge market. Once you’ve got a user base of millions, the pressure to monetize the data and the webspace begins to mount, especially if your startup is funded private investors who don’t have a stake in anything but profits. And I want to be clear here — I have no idea how this network is funded, or by whom — I’m just sayin’. In the meantime, I’m willing to have a little trust because I want to see where Ello goes, I see its potential, and I’m on the lookout for the next big social media network. If it does grow and the developers deliver on their manifesto, my trust will turn into loyalty.

Honestly, I’m looking for an exit from Facebook. The more I use FB, the less I like it, but I feel as though I have to maintain at least a minimal presence there for now because it gives me a few things I find useful. This is not to say I’m looking down on other people who use and enjoy Facebook. I’m happy for everyone else to stay there and have their fun, but I use the social media a little differently than most people I know. More often than not, goofing around on the public side of Facebook is a poor use of my time. Here’s a list of things I actually find Facebook useful for.

  • Talking to people in groups. Hidden groups are especially useful.
  • Private chat. It’s just so simple and easy to get multiple people into a chat. It’s the best collaboration and coordination tool I’ve found so far.
  • Interest lists. They’re a great way to aggregate themed content. Diana and I have an interest list for blogs with fanpages that was very useful to us at one point, but we’ve not updated it for awhile and I’m not reading it as much as I was six months ago because I’m mostly spending my time elsewhere.

Now here’s a list of problems I have with Facebook.

  • FBlikeSharing on Facebook isn’t worth the 60 seconds it takes to click the “share” button and write one sentence. Well, it might be worth it if you have tens of thousands of friends, but how many people are comfortable allowing that number of people into their FB networks?
  • The algorithm that determines what appears in news feeds is punishing. To my way of thinking, there are only two ways to get a big audience for a Facebook post at this point: 1. Pay Facebook for promotion; or 2. Get about 20 people together, target a specific post, build the comment thread into the hundreds, have everyone like every comment on that thread, and then have them all share it. Facebook wasn’t always this way, but it is now.
  • The problem with the feed algorithm cuts both ways. On the one hand, almost no one sees anything I post there. On the other, unless I’m continually on Facebook liking things, I miss most of what my friends post, unless I flag nearly everyone “Close Friends,” in which case I have 100+ notifications every time I sign in, and that’s so overwhelming I might as well not be getting notifications at all.
  • It’s nice to have fan pages for my blogs, but the fan pages have done so little good for the blogs in the last nine months, we haven’t even recovered the investment of the hour it took to set them up. On the rare occasion we’ve gotten good traffic from Facebook, it’s come from our personal timelines, and it’s come at the cost of tagging massive numbers of friends, which people really don’t like.
  • Facebook prefers images, big media articles, and fluff. Every time I’ve posted original text that was the least bit serious there in the last six months, I’ve regretted it almost immediately. I’m not just talking about controversial sociopolitical chatter, either. I’m talking about just asking an honest question about this or that.

The one thing the public side of Facebook is good for at this point is keeping up with distant family and friends. I don’t need Facebook for that. I have a telephone. I’ll keep the blogs connected to the fan pages for the long term, because the setup is a sunk cost. But most weeks, I post one personal status update to let people know I’m alive. As soon as I find a suitable alternative to the groups and the chat, I’m pretty much done with Facebook.

When I started all this in November, my plan was to eventually repackage our best content and use it to post to one of the fan pages on a schedule and build a big Facebook following. I’m re-thinking that now because my experience on FB over the past six months has convinced me that I’m better off spending that time and energy elsewhere.

So, Ello. Will it provide a viable alternative? Too early to say. And just looking at my “related content” in Zemanta, it seems as though tons of “experts” are saying it’s just a flash-in-the-pan Internet fad. Maybe it is, but people always say that about new networks. Facebook certainly has nothing to worry about just yet. But I’m willing to cross my fingers, roll the dice, and see where Ello goes. I’m on board for now, and I’m glad I joined when I did.

It’s good to have a social media post on Sunday again. I’ll have a Blog Traffic and Engagement post next week or the week after and share my stats from July though September.  They ain’t pretty, and that’s not surprising, but they’re worth discussing. The last couple of months has exposed weaknesses in my long-term strategy that I’m going to have to find a way to compensate for.

Featured image courtesy of MKH Marketing.