Say Ello To the Latest David to Facebook’s Goliath

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Before we go any further, I’d like to say that this isn’t–likely–Ello‘s fault.

People have been hungry for a Facebook-killer for a long while now. There was a momentary flash where it looked like Google+ might be it. The whole “circles” idea was different enough to pique interest, and FB had been around just long enough to be boring.

Google blew it, however, by insisting that everyone use their real name. They had forgotten that this is The Internet, and real names are for boring people.

So Google+ was DOA. Oh, sure. There are still people over there, but you will find those same folks on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. There’s no reason to engage with anyone on Google+ aside from initiating a Google Hangout.

A couple of years have passed, and so have other hopes for a Facebook-killer. Diaspora, which was one of the first great Kickstarter success stories, never made it out of beta before being handed over to its community and breaking up into a infinite multiverse of meh.

But Facebook has been making some new mistakes of late, forcing drag queens off the service for having false identities. That’s the same kind of normcore swag that ran Google+’s Vic Gundotra out of town. (Not before he killed off Google Reader and gutted RSS, jerk.) So maybe, just maybe, there’s room for a new player.

Which leads us to Ello. Ello is in that private, invite-only beta stage that we Internet Citizens just love. The call and response game of invites is afoot, and Maker knows that we pretty much live for that conversation. I got mine yesterday thanks to longtime friend Ultraculture editor and Boing Boing contributor @jasonlouv. Why, yes, that is the Twitter syntax for a name. Good eye, you.

Last night I signed up. I was sort of hoping to get @noah, but that was naturally already taken. By someone squatting the name. Typical. Instead I’m @noahjnelson, just like I am everywhere else. *sigh*

They have a manifesto as opposed to a business plan. That was pretty much it at first. A wave of early criticism took them to task for not having an articulated privacy policy. That was kind of amusing to see happen, people slam them about the potential for harassment before the community has grown large enough–there’s a couple of hundred thousand there now, if view counts can be relied on–to attract trolls.

Only kind-of amusing. This is what the criteria for a good social network platform is in 2014: will the service have policies in place that deal harshly with those who make rape and death threats? If a platform can do that, they have a shot at making Twitter irrelevant.

There’s no way to render a verdict on Ello after six hours, but I’m paid to do exactly that sooooo…

It’s Tumblr with a minimalist aesthetic and a dodgy search function. It will get better over time, but face the uphill slog of not being different enough to bring enough users over that people can really abandon Facebook. That’s what killed MySpace, which devoured Friendster: each successor offered something different. At this stage of the game Ello is offering one bit of difference: you can follow someone and mark them “Friend” or mark them “Noise.” There are two different views of the stream based on that.

Is that simple idea enough to make all the difference in the world? I doubt it.

Is it enough to make the current social networks sit up, take notice, and steal it?

I hope so.

Ello will face a battle they can’t win–if they are actually trying to be a Facebook killer. They’re likely sane enough to know not to pick that fight. Unfortunately they are the new kid on the playground, and everyone wants to see if they can bloody the bully’s nose.

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