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.