If you haven't heard of Ello, it's time to wise up. Although the latest social network has actually been around for several months, it began to pick up steam during the past couple of weeks, and at the time of this writing is receiving as many as 38,000 signups per hour. It's obvious that Ello is a big deal, but should you be excited?
Clean, Beautiful, Confusing
One of the first things you'll notice about Ello is its appearance. Rather than the kind of sleek, elegant designs we're used to, Ello opts for a more minimal approach. The site uses monospaced fonts, and resembles a prototype site hacked together by coders, rather than a full-featured social network. In many ways, this is exactly what Ello is.
Essentially, Ello is like the illegitimate love child of Twitter and Pinterest after a drunken one-night stand. Users' handles make use of the "@" symbol, just like Twitter, and images are a big part of many users' feeds. However, unlike Twitter, Ello does not force images to conform to specific sizing standards, meaning the average feed could be liberally interspersed with huge images alongside smaller ones.
Functionally, it's very similar to Twitter, but Ello's interface might take a bit of getting used to for some users.
Signal vs. Noise
Ello categorizes users into two distinct camps: Friends and Noise.
This feature works by allowing you to tailor and refine everyone that appears in your feed. Initially, every account you follow defaults to a Friend, meaning their updates will appear in the timeline to the right of your Friends list. However, over time, you can choose whether to leave particular users in the Friends category, or move them to Noise. Friends' updates will always show up in your timeline, whereas Noise collects all the other updates into a Pinterest-style wall:
Users in your Noise tab can be moved back to Friends, and vice versa. This allows a great deal of control over what type of content shows up in your feed - a feature that would be immensely helpful in Twitter.
Discovering New Trends and Users in Ello
So, you want to start following the cool kids in Ello - how do you do it?
Well, you can either follow specific users you're already aware of, or use the Discover tab to find new virtual friends. You can do this by accessing the Discover function above your Friends/Noise tabs:
Next, enter your search terms and browse the results. You can then choose to add accounts to either your list of Friends or your Noise feed simply by clicking on the relevant button to the right of each user profile.
However, you may quickly discover something very wrong when searching for new users and topics in Ello. In the example above, I searched for "Google." You'll notice that none of the three major handles are official, and have instead been camped by enterprising users who, in all likelihood, have no affiliation with Google. This is one of Ello's major drawbacks at present - there is no verification system for users, meaning that it's still pretty lawless out there in terms of handle-grabbing. This may make it more difficult to discover new users.
Ello is still very much in beta. As such, many features you'd expect are either lacking at the time of writing, or are still in development. Right now, Ello has enough features to qualify it as a "real" social network, but the laundry list of things to come is still pretty substantial, including inappropriate content flagging, user blocking, and private accounts:
Given how quickly Ello is gaining popularity, it seems likely that we'll see these features roll out in the coming weeks and months, but for early adopters hoping for a fully featured product right out of the gate, this could prove frustrating.
The Ad-Free Social Network - For Now
Aside from its strikingly minimal interface, one thing that sets Ello apart from Facebook, Twitter and the rest is its "manifesto."
As you can see, Ello is keen to differentiate itself from the mainstream social media platforms by stating its opposition to traditional advertiser-led sites and corporate presences. However, as my colleague Dan was quick to point out at the WordStream blog, if you take a look at Ello's full privacy policies, you'll notice that Ello doesn't rule out the possibility of accepting advertisers in the future:
Although it's still in its infancy, Ello is likely to become the next frontier to be conquered for ambitious brands hoping to expand their presence. As such, I can't help but wonder how long Ello will remain true to its idealistic manifesto.
David and Goliath(s)
Overall, Ello is fun, hip, and effortlessly stylish. If nothing else, the "cool" factor will keep Ello on a lot of people's social radar for some time to come, especially if it can maintain the air of exclusivity established by its invite-only status (something that Google+ tried, back in the day). Ello's simplistic aesthetic style will also be popular among the mustachioed Williamsburg set, as will its lack of garish, gratuitous corporate sponsorship.
However, it's really too soon to tell whether Ello stands a chance of going head-to-head with the big guys. For a scrappy site that hardly anybody had heard of until a couple of weeks ago, Ello is making leaps and bounds. Can it topple Facebook or Twitter? The jury's still out on that one, I'm afraid. In the meantime - hit me up on Ello!