Social Media

Ello Just Had a Refresh, But Can It Be Saved?

Matthew Hughes 16-04-2015

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 Meet Ello: The Hip New Social Network You Need To Know About It has been said that when a social network makes a small change, it cause a schism, sending users fleeing elsewhere. They're heading to Read More – 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.


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 4 Social Networks That Can't Compete With Facebook, And Why [Weekly Facebook Tips] There are a bunch of newish social networks out that just can't compete with Facebook. Here's why. Read More that ultimately failed?

Exploring Ello

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.



Speaking of content, postings are no longer confined to just photos and video. It’s now possible to embed animations from CodePen, which are made with the HTML5 trifecta What Is HTML5, And How Does It Change The Way I Browse? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few years, you may have heard the term HTML5 every once in a while. Whether you know anything about web development or not, the concept can be somewhat nebulous and confusing. Obviously,... Read More – HTML, CSS and JavaScript What is JavaScript, And Can the Internet Exist Without It? JavaScript is one of those things many take for granted. Everybody uses it. Read More . Given Ello explicitly wants to be the social network for creatives, this feels like a no-brainer.


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.

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  1. Anonymous
    November 8, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    If you judge things by how trendy they are, please do NOT join Ello, stay on Facebook with the Kardashians. If you appreciate innovative creative people, and a clean user-content-comes-first philosophy, join Ello.

  2. Jfinighan
    May 4, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Loving Ello! Haven't noticed the dead bit yet - glad you're not my doctor.

  3. Soldier Williams
    April 19, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    I believe Ello is already dead! It's lost its mojo since its debut last year and investors aren't smart enough to realize it yet. I'm looking for something fresh and exciting. I can't wait to see what's beyond the horizon this year!

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 30, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      Ello is definitely dead.

      I don't really think anything new is coming. Rather, existing players are going to get more, and more deeply entrenched. Facebook and Twitter are here to stay.

  4. Silence89
    April 18, 2015 at 7:03 am

    I believe Ello made it clear that even their worldwide launch was "BETA". What better way to make a social network "liked" than sharing the development process with the people and their feedback?

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 30, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      Well, it would have been useful if people could have actually used the site, rather than have to wait for an invite! Like I said to the previous commenter, they should have swallowed the inevitable outages, and scaled up as soon as they could.

    • Silence89
      April 30, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      that would have been better, yes. though they said that the servers were not ready for a worldwide support. Hence, BETA.

  5. Michael Alperstein
    April 18, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Your points are well articulated. Ello may or may not succeed. But what I find missing in your discussion is that Ello is still in Beta. You made it sound like they purposely launched in a horrible way.

    That is not the case at all. They "launched" in a public beta mode and they very unintentionally got a lot of press. As I type this (Spring of 2015) they are still in Beta. Last I heard it will be at least summer of 2015 before they come out of Beta. In a very real way, that time will be their launch. I think it is only fair to give them at least a year after that to see how they are doing.

    Late summer 2016, see how they are doing. Judging them at this stage makes you sound narrow-minded. It also makes you sound as if you think Facebook is "unsinkable." Can you really know that Facebook will be around forever?

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 30, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      They had a soft-launch, and got lucky. Very lucky. The problem is, they wasted their one shot by having the ridiculous invite system. They should have just swallowed the outages, and tried to scale up their infrastructure as soon as possible.

      > Can you really know that Facebook will be around forever?

      I think they'll be around for a long, long time.

  6. Jean-Jacques
    April 17, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Ello is simple. The design is meant to be non-distracting, like the lack of advertisements. Facebook is in a perverted form of the original idea that was stolen by a German, not from 2 other Germans, but from someone not mentioned in the movie "The Social Network". Ello is ideal for connecting with friends-so long as you know their username. Twitter is best for news. Picture sharing is best done on Pinterest. Vine is a fine little toy, but nothing more than a distraction.

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 30, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Is it? I'm not sure about that.

      I think it's a perfectly adequate social network for creatives. But for interactions and actual social networking? Nah.

  7. Violeta Nedkova
    April 17, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Hmm, okay... to be completely honest, I didn't "get" it the first time around. I don't think any re-design or additional features or whatever could change the fact it was trying to be the next twitter or something. We like twitter.

    Great read. It's nice to talk about Ello above a joke. :)

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 17, 2015 at 9:44 am

      Twitter is good, because it serves a clearly defined purpose. I never *really* got that with Ello. It just felt too... "Me too! "

      And thanks so much!

  8. Rob
    April 17, 2015 at 5:23 am

    In a word, no. The site looks like some rudimentary thing I'd put together when I was 14 years old. That typeface. Please change that typeface. In all honesty, I wouldn't even consider using Ello unless they hired a much better designer so the user experience was actually something akin to enjoyable.

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 17, 2015 at 9:43 am

      I think you're being a bit harsh there. It's not ugly, by any stretch of the imagination. It's just not that feature complete, and feels more like someone's pet project rather than a serious tech product.

    • Rob
      April 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      "It’s not ugly, by any stretch of the imagination". I think you meant to type "It’s not pretty, by any stretch of the imagination". As far a 21st century professional websites go, it is very, very ugly. UX is so, so important these days and it looks as though they have no interest in that aspect at all.

      In their manifesto, they say "We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency. "

      It's not audacious to step away from design principles that work, it's foolish. I think they're trying way too hard to go against the grain here.

      I am interested to see how they intend to turn a profit for their investors without resorting to hypocrisy though. I doubt subscription fees or donations will cut it....

    • Xoes
      April 18, 2015 at 8:11 am

      "Ugly" is pretty subjective is it not? Facebook is pretty ugly too... Usability is a thing though. I would rather use an uglu website that works than a pretty one that doesn't... They need to work on that.

  9. Taylor
    April 17, 2015 at 5:00 am

    This was a really good read, Matt! I wanted to like Ello but with it not being completely mobile friendly, and my laptop screen making whites appear pretty ghastly, I probably won't be back for a while.

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 17, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Thanks Taylor! Yeah, that's something I pick up on a lot. They simply launched too early, when they weren't ready.