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.

An almost-a-fan’s guide to the NFL International Series.

My fiancé is into a lot of sports – football, cricket, golf, DARTS – including a lot of American sports, including the NFL. A lot of these bore me, in the way that I imagine the Ballet Russes would bore him. But American Football (hereafter simply ‘football’, get over it) I can get on board with. I watched my first bona fide beginning-to-end football game when I was dragged to see the New England Patriots dominate St. Louis Rams at Wembley in 2012. Being a Pats fan, because the fiancé is and because my parents used to live in Boston, that was a fun one.

Since then I’ve watched a couple of Super Bowls a handful of Pats games and a fair few hours of the Red Zone. I own a New Era cap, New Era beanie and a souvenir sweatshirt from Super Bowl XX (thank you, eBay!) but I don’t quite follow the season as much as a real life fan might.

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Miami Dolphins 3rd & 1, way up in the third quarter.

On Sunday I went to my second live game, where I watched the Miami Dolphins smash the Oakland Raiders. Here’s short guide to other casual supporters who my happen upon a pretty decently-priced ticket to watch an NFL game at Wembley.

1. You will be surrounded by super-fans, just play along
The three games that are played in Wembley each year are the only ones in Europe, people come from far and wide for these games, regardless of whether or not their team is playing – if their team is playing this is a big day for them. You will see people wearing 30 year old jerseys of teams that don’t exist anymore; Houston Oilers, anyone? They’re all super nice and very happy to be there. If you’re wearing a hat/scarf of ‘your team’ (because you like the colours, or because of some vague connection – see above) at least find out who they played last week and who’s in their division, so that you can keep up with the friendly banter.

2. When it comes to tailgating, less is more
Despite what you’re hoping, the Wembley tailgate is not quite like the parking lot parties you see in films, or even on CNN. Sure, there’s some live music, plenty of food and truckloads of Budweiser, but if you arrive when gates open you’re going to have a numb-tarmac-bum by the time the pre-game show starts three hours later. A fun activity while tailgating is Jersey Bingo – can you spot the colours of all 32 teams?!

3. Wembley Stadium car park is not a shopping mall
If you’re looking for merch, don’t plan to buy it at the tailgate. I know we’re British, but if it’s not a rollercoaster or an amazing brunch location; an hour+ queue is just too long. Head to Niketown on Regent Street (also the location of the huge street party the day before the game) and New Era in Soho before the game and all of your NFL merchandise dreams will be realised. Online shopping after the event is possible, but your choice in the UK is limited if you’re looking for an obscure team.

4. The tailgate nachos are really good
I promise. They don’t look it, but they are, they really are.

5. The cheerleaders are so incredibly underwhelming
We’ve all seen Bring it On, so frankly I blame Kirsten Dunst for not preparing me for this. The cheerleaders are attractive, hair whipping dancers. Yes, they are good dancers and they don’t stop moving for 3+ hours; I can appreciate the athleticism that requires. But if you’re hoping for flyers or tumblers, think again. The York University Hornets were more exciting than the Raiderettes.

6. You’re on your own with the stand up/sit down ettiquette
I’m sorry, I just don’t know. If you’re up in the rafters it’s simple, you’ll just get swept up onto your feet in the event of a touchdown, but if you’re down in field-side seats it’s a bit more complicated. A couple of times a quarter, marshals will come by telling the stander-uppers that they’re spoiling the fun for the sitter-downers. I was torn, I didn’t wanna be a tool to the sitter-downer behind me, but if the person in front of you stands up for the whole drive, you have to as well, if you want to watch the game at all. Also, I didn’t want to disappoint the extremely passionate Raiders fan who seemed to really care about getting people standing up. Good Luck.

7. Leave your hooligan hat at home
The single Dolphins fan who sat a couple of rows behind hundreds of Raiders fans in our block did a good job bellowing ‘DOLPHINS’ during the ‘DE-FENSE’ chants and all it earned him in response was a few chuckles and rolling of the eyes. Everyone’s nice.

8. The tube trip back to central London isn’t that bad
I know, I know you don’t believe me, but honestly you’ll survive it. It’s kind of cool that London is full of NFL fans; enjoy the solidarity.

There are two games left in the NFL International Series 2014, stay up-to-date here: http://www.nfl.com/international
Keep an eye out for 2015 dates, which will be released in a couple of months time, there might just be four games!

As ever, comment below, or tweet @ElisabethShuker

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!