Up Close: Ello, The New Social Network That Is So Hot Right Now
Ello is having its moment this week.
Sparked by a influx of people in the LGBTQ community protesting Facebook’s real name policy and blown into a conflagration by the tech blogging and tweeting digerati, the three-month-old social network is being swamped with so many requests, it’s had difficulty processing them all.
Thursday Ello said it was getting 4,000 signup requests on hour; Friday it was more than 40,000. The demand forced the site to cap user invitations several times to prevent crashing the system and now there’s waiting list of more than 1 million people. That, of course, dwarfs the size of the actual Ello community.
I was able to snag an account (thanks @dannysullivan), and like the rest of the tech universe with similar access started kicking the tires to see what the network is all about. One thing, it’s not about is advertising, something made perfectly clear in its manifesto, which we covered in a post yesterday.
However, founder Paul Budnitz has made it clear that anyone is welcome to create an account — even brands and businesses. In fact, his bicycle company has a page. “It’s totally okay for companies to join Ello, and they can put anything they want up on their pages,” Budnitz told the New York Times. “If they want to, they can fill them with ads.” But Ello won’t charge for such ads, he said, or sell user data or let brands pay to target users or otherwise increase the reach of their posts.
But that discussion is premature. Ello has a long way to go before it’s seen as a serious marketing tool, or even anything more than a geeky niche network.
So what’s it like? Does it offer enough to keep people interested? Too early to tell? Yes. Of course.
However, I do have a few first impressions and screen grabs to share.
First, Ello is obviously a work in progress. There’s a long “coming soon” list of features, including a “Love” button similar to Twitter’s favorite button, the ability to repost with attribution, add photos and other multimedia to comments, create private accounts, block abusive people and flag abusive posts.
Those are significant missing features, and in some ways testing Ello feels like eating at a restaurant on opening night. There are some tasty items but the seasoning is a little off here and there. It will likely be a more refined place in two months.
As Keith Barrett wrote in an Ello post: “So far I like @ello except I keep reaching for a +1/Like button on some posts. I think that’s a must have today. In some ways I’m reliving the early days of Google+ :-)”
An even more glaring omission, in my opinion, is the inability to search for your friends, a crucial feature for a young social network. If you can’t easily find your friends there, you are probably not going to come back often. Clicking on the discovery icon takes to this “Search” page:
All you can do on that page is scroll down the never-ending list of users, a list with no clear indication of how it’s sorted. For now, the best way to discover friends or contacts on Ello is to browse other users’ friend lists; you might want to start with Robert Scoble. Or as Josh Constine of Tech Crunch noted, you can search Twitter and see which of your contacts or other interesting people have tweeted about joining Ello.
Go far enough down the list and you might run into old friends (another thing lacking: verified users):
A Clean Design
Ello does look great. It’s home feed is uncluttered, with huge expanses of white space on that showcase photos beautifully on my wide-screen desktop monitor, and even on my Chrome browser on my medium-sized Android phone. (Android and iOS apps are also on the coming soon list.).
And using Ello is intuitive. Anyone who has used a social network will feel at home. The basics are all there. You can post text updates (with no maximum character limit). You can post images (including animated GIFs). You can @mention people in your posts. You can reply to other users’ posts.
Unique, and quite cool, is the Omnibar, which is what Ello calls the dialog box for posting.
The Omnibar is sort of a social media content management system, allowing you to intersperse text with images in “containers.” Here’s how a very simple finished example looks:
And here’s how the Omnibar looks during the post-creation process:
Eventually you’ll be able to include video and audio embeds in your posts. You can already format text with bold and italics and hyperlinks, something not possible in Facebook, Twitter or in the case of hyperlinks Google+.
I did find the container feature to be a clunky in my Chrome browser. You are supposed to be able to rearrange the modules by dragging and dropping, but I found myself adding containers accidentally, and being unable to add text to them or delete them to start from scratch.
Friends Vs. Noise
Another promising feature is Ello’s Friends and Noise streams, intended to keep the clutter out of your main feed. To do that Ello recommends classifying the “people you care about most” as Friends and others as Noise. The Friends feed view is a single column list, while the Noise view is three or four columns depending on whether the left rail is expanded. It’s similar to the look on a Google+ page, allowing for quicker scanning of more posts.
Want to try Ello? As said, the waiting list is huge. But one method that may work is to ask publicly on Twitter for an invite code or searching Twitter for “Ello invite code” like this.
Many people are sharing Ello codes or responding to requests. Ello codes also sometimes work for more than one person. They are a series of three or four words connected by dashes, and you enter them into the sign-up page here.