I’ve been off Facebook a while now. So when I got my Ello invite, I thought, “All right, let’s do it right this time.” I’m not going to add everyone I’ve ever met. My friends list will be limited to actual friends and family. My hope is this will limit my exposure to tumult, squabble and interference. My brain generates plenty of its own interference. I don’t need outside help. I just want to see what my nephews look like.
First, Ello seems like a useful platform for creative people who want to share their work. The website's minimalist design allows the images and words that people post to stand out. The neutral black-and-white design allows user content to be the focus and it doesn’t clash with whatever people choose to share. The blue color scheme of Facebook and overall layout had always bugged me. The use of a monospace font on Ello for some reason makes me feel more inclined to share things I’ve written. Maybe it’s because monospace fonts have a kind of classical, typewritten look to them. I never posted personal writings on Facebook because I always thought the cheap feel of the platform would somehow devalue my art.
Another thing I noticed is that browsing Ello for new stuff is easy and fun. I don’t feel like I’m creeping on people because most Ello users look like they post things specifically so other people will look at them. In fact, Ello seems to take into account that today’s culture is increasingly online-focused. A lot of people have social circles maintained exclusively online, and Ello feels aligned with that.
Fundamentally though, it is like Facebook – people post videos and images and things they like or made themselves, there are family photos and animated images taken from films, but the main difference is that, at least so far, browsing Ello doesn’t make me want to throw my computer monitor out the window. In fact, looking at the stuff other people posted made me want to post something of my own, so I grabbed my camera and took a photo of my dog sleeping in the corner. It was easy and fast to post, the image shows up big in the feed, and I think my wife will like seeing it when she checks Ello later.
My overall reaction after one day of using Ello is that I like it. It doesn’t force anything on you, and it lets you make the platform what you want it to be. It's a place for connecting and self-expression, which I think is something I've always wanted, even though I'd never considered it before now. It’s simple and fast, and every piece of the interface is intuitive. Even reading through Ello’s rules and terms of service feels accessible and interesting. The bottom left corner of the screen has a WTF (What The Heck) button that expands out to reveal Help, About and Policies buttons for people who want to learn more about Ello, and many will want to.
I skimmed down and found what I wanted. “We don’t claim ownership over any content that you post on the Ello Services,” the terms read. However, it goes on to say that by posting an image, I give Ello a “non-exclusive, royalty-free, world-wide, perpetual, transferable license to use, store, reproduce, adapt, … distribute and publicly display your Content in order to provide the Ello Services.” In other words, I can’t post an image to the website and then sue Ello for hosting the image. Seems reasonable. I’m not too concerned with the details. The fact that the founders are thinking carefully about privacy and data ownership from the start and asking their users to keep them honest is good enough for me.
In a Huffington Post interview, our friend Todd explained that Ello will earn money by charging for additional services. “We're going to sell features and experiences that enable people to customize Ello to keep making Ello better and better,” he said. “We have some other revenue streams planned as well,” he continued mysteriously. Good on you, Todd. I don’t mind buying things that I want if the people selling it are up front about the exchange, even if that person's attempts at blithe irreverance make my stomach hurt.
I’m excited about Ello. I like sharing photos and seeing what other people are up to. And I think some part of me also sees the website as an opportunity to reshape my approach to relationships: a warmer, fuzzier Colin, perhaps. Someone who tells good-natured jokes, whose wife doesn’t ask why he’s so mean, who overlooks the damaging hypocrisy and narcissism of society, a caring soul who embraces the lazy, the weak, the tired and hungry – like an affable, fleshy version of the Statue of Liberty. It seems unlikely, but I haven’t given up on myself yet.
Since the bulk of this review has been something of a self-indulgent treatise and not the government-oriented review I think my editor expected, I should at least make a nominal attempt at examining how government might be affected by Ello. I predict government will be affected by Ello in the same way it’s affected by all new technologies, which is that a given municipality’s success, or lack thereof, will be directly correlated with the foresight and creativity of its IT leaders. If Ello becomes a popular platform among the makers and artists of the world, I think it would behoove government IT to make the most of it. The public sector is constantly expelling a torrent of rhetoric about the importance of engaging creative young citizens on their terms rather than standing on a failed tradition that new generations reject. A pragmatist will see Ello as an opportunity, as I did, to mend the threadbare remnants of past relationships, and do things differently this time.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.