Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, September 26, 2014

hello Ello

Like everyone else I know, it seems, I’m fooling around with Ello. My first comment there was: “So if I understand this correctly, we're all going to follow the same people here that we follow on Twitter, and then we're done, yes?” My next comments were about the peculiarities of the timeline, or more specifically conversation threads, which are not in chronological order. I could try to explain, but it makes me tired. Maybe I’m just old — which leads me to Dan Hon’s really interesting reflections:

It's really hard to use, and apparently I'm not the only one who finds it that way. It's opaque and cool and I'm not entirely sure that this is a conscious design choice: in that I'm not convinced that it's been intentionally designed this way to keep the olds out.

There's a lot to be skeptical about with ello. After having spent three years in manifesto-land, ello's manifesto sets off alarm bells for me because there are a bunch of things that they're saying that either aren't true, or feel like overreaching. Certainly there are things in there that resonate with people ("You are not a product"), but the way that they're acting in communications ("In the meantime, please help us spread the word") doesn't address the fact that there's labour to be profited from. And again, the ... pattern of not including content in notification emails to increase click-through for site retention means that those emails saying someone has replied to your post don't actually include the reply to your post: requiring you to go back to the site.

Completely separate to whether ello is going to work or not is the idea above that it's intentionally designed in a difficult to use way purely to define it as a separate space, much like the way that teens like to invent new language so that they can erect some sort of language boundary. The idea that there's an evolution from language to products/services with which to create safer/more private spaces is super interesting and feels like something that we're potentially seeing more of....

A great deal to think about here! Some initial responses:

  • Will hard-to-use keep the olds (ahem) out? Possibly. Will hard-to-use keep the trolls out? Definitely not.
  • If, as Ello’s creators tell me, I am not the product, what is the product? Ello’s creators place a lot of emphasis on its being advertising-free, which surely means that at some point they’re going to have to charge for the service — which is fine by me, as a dues-paying member of the anti-free-software club — but that will run against the grain of how people are used to thinking of social networks. That will limit the size of the community, which also would be fine by me, and maybe fine by Ello’s creators as well.
  • I definitely agree that there’s a strong movement towards “products/services with which to create safer/more private spaces,” but I have serious doubts about whether creating new proprietary social platforms is the way to do that. It seems to me, as I have already suggested, that we might do better to think about how to leverage the powers of the open web and its existing and very powerful technologies. (Presumably Ello itself, like Twitter, is built on RSS.)
  • In light of all this, I continue to think the smart move will be to own your turf, keep your ideas and pictures and videos there, and use whatever social networks are currently regnant to announce its presence.

And some further non-Dan-Hon-based thoughts:

  • Ello has clearly gotten more immediate traction than App.net did, which got more immediate traction than Diaspora did. This suggests increasing levels of dissatisfaction with existing social networks.
  • Just browsing around on Ello, I see more people describing it as a Facebook replacement than a Twitter replacement. For what that’s worth.
  • Adam Rothstein says, “Ello will one day suck.” Quinn Norton endorses this view and adds, “I hope Ello can be cool, at least for a while. And when Ello fails, I will look for the next thing.” Thoughtful people, then, are going into this expecting it to be a temporary phenomenon. So in such a situation, what to you do? Do you (following the own-your-turf model) make a point of saving to your own computers everything you do on Ello — and Twitter, and Facebook, and Tumblr? Or do you learn to accept that the conversations we have, and the things we make, on modern social media are just as ephemeral as front-porch conversations and castles in the sand?

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