No song lyric introduction to this week’s Tech Tuesday thoughts if for no other reason then that there’s entirely too many to chose from.
Recently a new social network popped up on the scene called Ello. Their mission manifesto looks pretty amazing on the surface as the promise of an ad-free, privacy respecting service sporting a beautiful, user friendly interface really flies in the face of what’s available right now. The hype caught ablaze fast. Faster than fall clothes come back off at the first sign of Indian Summer around here.
My initial invite came from a coworker before the media hype began. Upon receiving his invite on a very warm autumn afternoon, which he sent as a test to see if the private beta even worked as it seemed, our initial conversation as I we set up our accounts revolved around the rise to critical mass and early adopter engagement. Social hinges on both of these aspects heavily and it was unclear if or how the fledgling experiment would achieve either since so much of what made Ello tick was still a mystery. I set up my initial account and began the process of inviting my little circle of beta-test friendly compatriots as well as making sure I cyber squatted a few additional properties I figured I might personally need, such as for my writing and radio endeavors.
The first thing I noticed as the account creation on my phone was not all that smooth. I tapped the custom URL but when I completed the initial fields I received an error rather than an account creation confirmation. Undaunted, I tapped the log in button and input the creds I was just trying to create and bam! Successful login. Probably just a bug. However, it happened when I signed up a second penname email on another device I frequently use as well, so not an isolated one.
Once inside it is a very minimalist user interface and zero onboarding at all. Elegant it is but not completely intuitive for me as what seemed like some of the most basic tasks like searching for existing users to connect to and posting new content didn’t come across as clear or easy to execute. Chalk this up to highlighting the difference between clean UI and a well designed UX, this is definitely the former and not so much the latter. Semi-frustrated as much as somewhat curious, I opened a desktop session of Ello and it’s painfully clear from that the only real intended use is on a touch device and not with a pointer/mouse of any kind. Not necessarily a bad thing as mobile is almost exclusively touch and social is certainly dominated by mobile.
What is curious to me in this though is it’s an HTML5 webapp that isn’t optimized cross platform so users are definitely not going to exclusively use it in touch-mobile settings. Being browser based as opposed to native means users are inherently going to view it different and I can’t help but think the desktop web version should function too since many still log into Facebook on their desktop browser despite having a fully native app at their disposal as well. Considering the browser only interface I was a little disappointed it was built for both when seeing how minimal the UI was in the first place.
Once I got over these (little) hangups and set up my profile it was a whole lot of hurry up and wait. Wait for anyone to follow me and begin posting stuff I could interact with. Wait for my posts to generate some kind of response. So far, it hasn’t happened.
I polled among my friends who’d created accounts and their initial experiences weren’t any better than mine. Many were left wondering what exactly they were supposed to do, where to share, who they were sharing with, what kinds of things they should share. I can’t remember having those same uncertainties when I joined MySpace back in the day or migrated to Facebook with my big, bulky ‘this is life’ profile. I don’t remember having that question when I joined LinkedIn to network, nor Twitter when I just wanted to spew randomness in bytesized 140 char diatribes. I went into AOL Hometown and Geocities and later WordPress when I put my first blog up in that community with a sense of what I was doing and why.
As more and more people began posting their @handles on Facebook and Twitter for Ello I expected things would get better. The past week was like a blitz of new people exclaiming they’d joined in the hype and had new accounts. Trying to find them even typing into search their exact names proves exacerbating and when I do find them many of the profiles are a barren wasteland. Maybe it’s too soon and they’re still trying to figure things out as I was when I first joined.
So far though Ello left me feeling like the giant echo chamber of the internet was just funneled into a new corner of cyberspace. I was left shouting to nobody a whole bunch of nothing after I initially logged in and now a week later I still doing have any greater a notion as to who’s listening to what I’ve tried to say. And Anecdotally I get the impression I’m not the only one. I’ll keep trying but at some point the hype of it will pass and I’ll be left with more unread posts than even this blog produces.
Furthermore, I’ve already come across alarmist headlines regarding the use of private equity funds to front the operation and how it will lead to more sinister things for the little start up down the road. If not for the paranoia tone there are some already saying it’s a big NSA sting or a social experiment to dupe early adopters or a big brand misrepresenting itself. I’ve caught people saying it’s going to be the next big thing, or fail before it has a chance to succeed, or regardless of what happens to it it’s already put all the other SocNets on notice to shape up their policy and platform.
What I know so far is that it’s a nice idea. But not one I feel at all obligated to indulge in beyond by idle curiosity because it still feels like an incomplete idea as well. Although I doubt it’s the next Facebook, I also don’t think it’ll be the next Google Wave either, but we’ll see in the coming days, and weeks, what happens as it approaches something of critical mass of both users and content what it becomes. Till then, I’m reserving full judgement and will stick to complaining about performance issues, unmet expectations and how it’s been unseasonably warm since I signed up. Maybe that’s been the best part of having joined Ello thus far… the weather has been awesome.