Hello Ello.

Depending on how much time you spend on Media & Technology news pages, you may or may not have heard about Ello.co the new kid on the block looking to take on Facebook. Ello is still in Beta and you can’t set up your account until you’ve received an invite; either from a friend who’s already a user or direct from the site a long while after you’ve joined the waiting list. This creates a sense of exclusivity and hype. The first problem of exclusivity and hype is that you’ve really got to live up to it.

Ello home

Ello.co home page.

I got my invite from another user and then went on to offer an invite code to any of my Facebook contacts who were interested, a small handful jumped at the chance to get on board. 2 weeks on, we’re all sat around with pretty empty, inactive accounts.

A couple of the reasons for this are apparent the moment you sign in:

  1. The last time Courier New was cool was when I was writing my geography homework when I was 13 and I wanted to make it look like an official scientific report. Like in the movies.
  2. Black & White. Seriously, the colour scheme is black and white. It’s not even like there are any interesting graphics, just black text and a few rectangles; the whole thing looks like it was designed and made on Microsoft Word (or Pages; I’m sure the creators are Mac users). I have a similar problem with Reddit, but at least they have some colour.
It all gets a bit boring looking once you sign up and log in.

It all gets a bit boring looking once you sign up and log in.

These are just aesthetic issues, which I decided to look past in order to see what the site was like. But we’ll call them strike one all the same.

First thing I did once I was signed up was read the About section (trendily headlined ‘WTF’). It’s all a bit high and mighty. The main selling point of Ello is that there’s no advertising. Their Manifesto argues that other social networks (read: ‘Facebook’) regard users as ‘the product that’s bought and sold’, (I’m not going going to dwell on it, but this phrase reminds me of Stop the Traffik‘s tagline ‘People shouldn’t be bought and sold’ and I’m not sure I’m okay with that). Ello, on the other hand plans to make money by having certain features that users have to pay for. Now this is fine on a MMORPG, but I don’t know how well it will work for a social network. Examples of what kinds of features users will have to pay for haven’t been given, but I can’t help but feel they’ll either be so irrelevant to what people want from social networking that users won’t bother paying for them, or people will be so put out by having to pay for something that is free elsewhere that we’ll all decided we don’t mind being advertised at all that much. Granted this is speculation on my part, so I won’t give them a strike for this, instead I’ll wait and see if Ello’s business model has any success IRL.

So then it was time for me to leave the pages of FAQs and become a ‘user’ proper. Problem is, I still don’t really know what Ello is supposed to be for. It seems to be facing itself against Facebook, but really I think that the newbie is trying to be a bit of everything. Users are able to split people into Friends and Noise; Friends are people you really care about who you want to see detailed updates from (this is how I use Facebook), while Noise is where you put people who you just want brief updates from that you can browse through quickly (this is how I use Twitter and previously Tumblr). This in itself isn’t a bad idea, I can do all of my following on one website (if you know, anyone used it). The problem is, however, in the posting. If I choose to upload an album of photos of holiday hijinks there’s no way for me to have only people I consider Friends see this. So, every post has to be Noise-audience appropriate. Sure there’s privacy from advertisers, but there’s no privacy from every other Ello user, whether I have chosen to link with them or not. No matter the rhetoric of their Manifesto, this is not a Facebook alternative; strike two, Ello.

So, then, in my books Ello’s not out, but they’ve only got one strike left.

I accept that Ello is in Beta and it was not their intention, originally, for the site to go public at all, but they have now. I interned with a start-up social network type platform, so I appreciate that developing the look of a  new site, adding features and developing usability is a slow process, especially for a small team, but I had expected more progress to have been made since April.

Phew, this was a long one!

If you want to share your opinions on Ello.co, comment below or tweet @ElisabethShuker. If you want to check the network out for yourself, get in touch and I’ll happily send you an invite.

Look Wherever You Want

Because I can guarantee there will be something worth seeing.

Let me begin by saying that I own a smart phone. I own a tablet and a laptop. I am in possession of a Nintendo Wii and a PlayStation 3. My hair dryer is digital. In short, I like technology.

So you can imagine my interest in a YouTube-hosted, spoken word piece about the pitfalls of social media. Look Up by Gary Turk was posted on April 25th but seems to have gone viral in the last few days, or at least that’s when it’s been hitting my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed on a daily basis. In case you haven’t seen it, check it out here.

The overwhelming response to this video has been support for it’s message; I’ve seen it shared with captions like ‘This is the wake up call we all need’ or ‘This is such a challenging message’. In no way do I want this post to be an aggressive response to these people, I can see where they, and Gary Turk, are coming from, but I want to take a little time to explain why this video bugs me so much.

The assertion that social media is ‘anything but’ really isn’t a new idea; digital-skeptics have been trying to tell me so for years. Look Up tells us that we’re ‘slaves’ to technology because we’re pretending that sitting and looking at a screen means we’re connecting with each other. I think what this video assumes is that there is a lack of balance, that using social media is all we’re doing. I know very few people for whom social media isn’t, for the most part, a means to and end. I use group messages to organise going to play laser tag, or I send a Snapchat of a funny experience, which I can then share in more detail when I see you in person.

Okay, so what about when it’s not a means to an end, but instead our exclusive mode of talking to someone. Should we really be demonising the technology that allows a confused teenager to talk to other people who’ve experienced an eating disorder, because their social network is just too small to know someone ‘in real life’ that they can connect with?

I don’t want to fall into the trap of idealising technology in the same way Gary Turk seems to have demonised it. The way I see it, technology is a blank canvas, which can be used well or badly, depending on the user. Just like any other inanimate object.

A lonely person may well use social media in an obsessive way, but let’s not assume that the girl sat next to me at the bus stop is lonely or anti-social  just because she’s pressing a few keys on an electronic device. Social media might well be a symptom of loneliness, but naming it at the root problem seems short-sighted to me. Someone’s lonely, let’s not jump straight to blaming their online presence and actually get to know them.

The other issue this video raises is the on-going, shameless, widening of the divide between digital-natives and non-natives. The way I live my life is not inherently different just because some of my communication is transmitted through a series of Os and 1s. You think self-editing and self-promotion is a troubling new result of social media? I will refer to to the entire Victorian period of British history and, frankly, Cicero too. I love people, all people; lovers and haters of the internet alike, so please stop suggesting that I live in a markedly different, closed off, self-absorbed way, because I really don’t.

Look up, look down, look sideways; whichever way you look you’ll probably glance someone new, and hey, you might even have a montage marriage with them.

Do you agree with me or Gary? Comment below or tweet @ElisabethShuker.

First Season Review: The Bar

Season one of the Bar is an 8 episode long webseries released on YouTube, from October to November 2012. Creator, writer and producer Olivia Bosek plays our protagonist, Jenny Scarsdale; an aspiring documentary film maker undercover in an apparently mafia-owned bar in Queens, New York City. On Twitter the Bar describes itself as ‘a ridiculous black comedy webseries’ and ridiculous it certainly is.

From ‘White Hendrix’ to dead bodies in sports bags to gourmet hot dogs the writers of the Bar are certainly not shooting from realism and, at times, the ridiculous is awkward rather than amusing. Jenny is joined on the bar by Sky, played by Nick Lawson and his absurdities feel more naturally funny Bosek’s, whose acting is occasionally stiff.

Similarly, the success of the ‘mafia scenes’ is fairly hit and miss; the antics of JB and Iggy are at times amusing, but hardly induce laughter. Interactions with two rivals and two FBI agents are probably their best moments.

The editing of each episode is potentially the strongest link in the series. The narrative transitions in and out of vlog-style, allowing Jenny to offer her gloss of the events. In the main scenes, annotations scrawl across the screen, once again presenting Jenny’s thoughts to us. Two ‘missing annotations’ in Episode 7 allowed the Bar to reach for the interactivity that is becoming typical of YouTube webseries. Unfortunately, a fairly low viewership limited the success of the idea.

Whilst it’s not always successful, the Bar presents us with another take on story-telling in 5-minute episodes and it certainly has enough originality and potential to shoot for a season two.

But don’t take my word for it, have a watch for yourself. Comment below or tweet @ElisabethShuker to let me know what you think!

Top Tweeter: Miranda Hart

Miranda Hart, or @mermhart as you might know her, fashions herself on Twitter as a ‘Comedy actress and writer, dog owner and wannabee pop star.’ But what is it that makes her Twitter presence so successful?

During her appearance on Frank Skinner’s Room 101, Miranda shared that her biggest concern with technology is its potential to stifle imagination and creativity in young people – “why?” I hear you ask, well of course it’s because we never look out of train windows anymore because we’re too busy checking our emails on our smart phones.

She might claim this cynicism, but it doesn’t seem to hinder her all out embrace of the Twittersphere. A month before the release of her Christmas best-seller, Is It Just Me?, Hart released a free e-book made up of the general public’s anecdotes of embarrassment. These snippets of stories were tweeted to @NoItsUsToo and the best and brightest were compiled into the promotional e-book. Someone, somewhere is sitting pretty comfortably in their publicist job.

So Hart used Twitter to make the build up to her debut book interactive, but in reality a large part of her Twitter charm, lies in the everyday. It seems that 140 characters is enough for the natural hilarity of Miranda Hart to shine through. She might, for example, muse that ‘crocs are now an embarrassing middle-aged shoe’, whilst packing for her ‘holibobs’ and I can really hear her saying it.

Following a wildly-blown-out-of-proportion comment made by Tom Ellis in a Digital Spy interview, Hart rebuked her co-start in 140 characters or less; ‘Mr Ellis is not necessarily right that there will be no more show. @tomellis17are you trying to put me out of work?!’ Much more interesting than ‘I would like to officially state that the reports in…blah blah blah’ stock tweet I’ve often seen. You see, life is never boring if you head over to twitter.com/mermhart and if you it the follow button now you’ll enjoy a commentary from Miranda Hart as she takes on her Comic Relief challenges!

Who do you enjoy following on Twitter? Comment below, or tweet @ElisabethShuker.