It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. And it has been said that when a social network makes a small change, it can cause a schism, sending users fleeing elsewhere.
Take, for example, when Twitter lowered its API limits for third-party apps, effectively killing the market for unofficial Twitter clients overnight. That (and the outrage it caused) lead to Dalton Caldwell running a successful crowd funding campaign to build app.net – an API driven alternative to Twitter.
More recently, Facebook decided to require all users to provide (and display) their real name on their profile. The uproar that ensued was phenomenal. Nowhere else was this more true than in the LGBTQ community, where many choose – often for very valid, very serious reasons – to obfuscate their real identity.
And now, thousands are looking for somewhere else to post their selfies and meal photos, whilst simultaneously being able to operate under an assumed name. In this case, to ello.co. This relatively new social network is cooler than Siberia and more exclusive than a Soho cocktail bar. But why should you care? Read on to find out what it is, why it’s important, and how you can get on it.
What Is ello.co?
Their raison d’être is succinctly explained in their manifesto with just one paragraph:
Ello is a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers.
That’s it. You won’t find any Facebook games here. Likewise, there’s no way to send your aunt a gift card or basket of cookies on her birthday with ello.co. Rather, activities are limited to one of two options: You can post content, and you can view content. That’s it. And somehow, that’s enough.
It’s social networking, distilled to its purest essence. It’s what Facebook used to be, back when you had to have a .edu address to sign up, and it’s what Twitter used to be before they diluted it with timeline curation and noxious five-second looped videos.
Who Uses ello.co?
Social networking sites live (and die – just ask Friendster) on something called the Network Effect. This states that when people use social networking sites, they add value to the site for other users. The more users of the site, the more valuable it is for its users. The less activity, the weaker that site’s value proposition is.
It is for this reason why social networking sites with hundreds of millions of users (think Twitter and Facebook) are flourishing, whilst the likes of of Plurk, Identica and app.net sail under the radar in relative obscurity. App dot what?
It’s undeniable that ello.co is a site still in its very tentative, very formative stages. It’s not even a year old, and it’s only within recent days has it seen a surge in attention, with massive amounts of favorable coverage in notable, widely read publications like Gigaom and Business Insider.
Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence in the site comes in the form of liberal British broadsheet The Independent, which is the first old-media publication to sign up to the site. Something that never really happened with app.net.
Besides old-media stalwarts desperately trying to be hip, there’s no shortage of cool young things using the site. It’s a testament to the overwhelming hipness of this site that most of the users seem to have somehow wandered in from the pages of Vice magazine. People so hip, even their oh-so-ironic facial hair have accounts.
What Can You Do On ello.co?
ello.co is a curious experiment in minimalism. Everything from the aesthetic, which is a simple contrast of black and white, to the intentionally limited functionality of the site: to post and view content. In short, ello.co does one thing, and it does it exceptionally well.
There’s no timeline curation and ‘suggested posts’, as in Facebook . What you see is what your friends share. You can divide this further into two channels; friends and noise. Friends is for posts you definitely don’t want to miss. Noise is for everything else.
Posts are restricted to images, text and links. There are no scrolling, auto-playing videos here, and nor should there be. Furthermore, ello.co also manages to avoid the repost-heavy content of Tumblr by eschewing reposts entirely. This site is exclusively for high-quality, original content.
Profiles are typically minimalistic, too. You won’t be asked where you went to school, or what your favorite soccer team is. Rather, you get to write a short paragraph about yourself, along with links to your other online properties. This is then decorated with a profile photo, and a large header image, much like the featured image at the top of a MakeUseOf article.
Why Should You Join ello.co
A few days ago, an invite for ello.co sold for $550.00.
At the time of writing, people are selling invites with a ‘buy it now’ price of $100.
ello.co is the hottest property on the Internet right now, and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve redefined the relationship between users and operators of social media sites. They’re espousing a message of trust and cooperation, and the cornerstone of that is their insistence on not running adverts and not selling their user’s data to third parties.
They’re not the first site to completely renounce advertising as a revenue model, but how they’ll earn money to cover their operating costs (and eventually make a profit) remains to be seen. Details are spotty, but they’ve made overtures about having a freemium model, with some features exclusively available to paying customers.
I’ve alluded to Ello being excruciatingly hip. That doesn’t quite do it justice. Everything about the site oozes sophistication and charm, with both the desktop and mobile experience being beautifully polished. Prettiness hasn’t came with any usability tradeoffs either, with navigation and interaction being beautifully uncomplicated.
Ello is also a bit more relaxed with what can be published. Whilst Facebook has a strict (and strictly enforced) no-nudity-even-if-its-artistic policy, this site is a bit more laissez-faire, much like Tumblr.
We do not control what people post on Ello. We just don’t make money on advertising ourselves. If you don’t like what someone is posting, the good news is you don’t have to follow them.
Although pornography is still very much forbidden:
Ello has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of hate, trolling, stalking, spamming, flaming, impersonating others, harming children, pornography, or any other behavior designed to hurt another person physically or emotionally.
There are some drawbacks though. There’s no dedicated Android or iOS app – at least not until the end of the year – and there’s no API, meaning developers can’t use the Ello to build their own product, as is the case with app.net.
When Can You Join ello.co?
ello.co is officially in a closed, private beta right now. But the reality is that it’s immensely easy to get an invite. Either ask someone you know who is a member, or ask nicely on Twitter and wait for someone to shout you an invite code. We will happily generate codes for interested people who comment on this article asking for a code.
And if all that doesn’t work (if people get to your code before you do), leave a comment below with your email, and I’ll do my best to send you one myself.
When you do sign up, make sure you add me: @matthewhughes.
I’m curious to see what you think, though. Is this a look at the future of social networking, or a flash-in-the-pan that will fizzle out when the buzz dies down? Let me know. Put down your copy of Vice Magazine, get off your Fixie and leave me a comment in the box below. Let’s chat.