Ello Just Had a Refresh, But Can It Be Saved?
Remember Ello? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. Few do.
Cast your mind back eight months. Ello – an ad-free social network aimed at creatives – had gained an incredible amount of traction, largely as a backlash to Facebook’s controversial real-name policy. For a brief moment, Ello was the hot new digital property everybody wanted to be on. It got so insane, invites for the service were being sold on E-bay for hundreds of dollars, and the site was processing up to 30,000 sign-ups per hour.
And then it all fizzled out. Now, if people mention Ello at all, it’s to make the same tired joke.
Hahahaha anybody remember Ello
— Ray (@dragnut) November 7, 2014
Remember when we were all super excited about Ello? Man, that was a weird week.
— Jon Martin ? (@songsthatsaved) April 13, 2015
lol me neither
— Stephen Murray (@dirtytigerx) April 9, 2015
So, I'm writing about Ello.
So, who remembers Ello?
— Matthew Hughes (@matthewhughes) April 13, 2015
Despite all this Ello is still around and by all accounts is doing quite well. They recently secured $5M in Series B funding, which is enough to buy a family home for each of their active users, and they’ve just released a refreshed version of the service, dubbed Ello V2. But will this be enough save them from the same fate of Plurk, Myspace, and the myriad of Jonny-come-lately social networks that ultimately failed?
Ello V2 seemingly intends to atone for the mistakes of its severely bungled launch, where it shipped with a number of crucial features missing. These included things like the ability to block abusive users, which has now finally been added. Private messaging is due to arrive in the next few months, and is being trialled internally.
This refresh also introduces a significant number of cosmetic upgrades. The flat, white aesthetic is still there, but is complemented with improved navigation, and a handful of other major changes that improve usability.
For instance, you can now perform basic navigation through hotkeys rather than using the mouse. You can also view content in full-screen, as the Omnibar (the place where you post new content and messages in Ello parlance) defaults to being hidden.
Ello isn’t a social network with a mass-market appeal, but rather one that caters to a niche, and is driven by a handful of power-users. With that in mind, they’ve now made it easier to stumble upon interesting content through with Recommended Posts, though it’s not immediately obvious whether these are algorithmically chosen, or picked by a human.
Other minor changes include an improved mobile experience, better notifications, and a revamped way of posting content. So, is this a great leap forwards? Absolutely.
What This Means For Ello
One person who knows Ello better than anyone else is Jack Smith IV, who covers technology for the New York Observer. Smith has been devotedly covering Ello since it first launched, and his prolificacy in this area has even lead to him been dubbed “The Ello Reporter” by NPR. At least, according to his Ello Page.
I asked him what the latest refresh means for Ello, and how it’ll help their chances compete with their bigger, much better established rivals. The first thing he did was tell me to forget about that. Ello has absolutely no desire to be mainstream.
Ello’s growing super rapidly — just because they haven’t made as many headlines lately doesn’t mean they’re not still taking on hundreds of thousands of users. But the detractors are right about one thing: freemium hasn’t yet carried an entire social network before. Ello was built for a certain class of boutique artists and creators — Ello’s going to have to either grow its user base significantly out from its elite audience, or create a truly worthwhile paid product to be viable.
Budnitz, Berger and those guys don’t want to replace Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter. Ello’s highest aspiration is join the pantheon of social networks as the sort of anachronist’s alt-network. In that vein, they’re already successful, and that community is strong. But what they need for the sake of their business is their own vision of critical mass.
Despite that, Ello has a major achilles heel. Namely, they’ve wasted their one and only opportunity to make a good impression. Their launch was perhaps the most badly executed of any technology product I’ve ever witnessed, and it remains to be seen whether a modest refresh can re-excite a public that remains incredibly jaded towards Ello. This is something Smith concurs with.
Ello’s biggest problem is that they made their world debut before they were ready. The timing was terrible: essential features hadn’t been built, invites we still so few in number for anyone who wanted to get in, and nobody knew anything about the company. Those features—and soon, the mobile app—are on their way, yes. But it’s hard to have a second world debut, so to speak.
Plus Ça Change, Plus La Meme Chose
This update is significant in many ways. It shows the service maturing past its difficult early months. V2 also suggests Ello knows they can’t possibly hope to beat Facebook at their own game, and are therefore targeting the woefully underserved ‘creative’ niche. They’re hoping to be the Facebook for artists, photographers, and writers.
Although in many respects, it feels a bit like they’ve taken the Tumblr paradigm and made it accessible for grownups. The same emphasis on community and sharing content is there, but it’s of a more (for a lack of a better phrase) serious nature.
Ello also show no sign of reneging on the Ello Manifesto, which laid bare their advert-free and pro-privacy ethos. Despite their troubled launch, the (controversial) influx of venture capital, and the lack of a monetization strategy, they are sticking to their guns.
It seems like Ello is here to stay.
Time To Revisit Ello?
Will Ello V2 make you want to re-activate your account, or have you given up on it entirely? Let me know. Drop a comment below, and we’ll chat.