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Ello May Survive, But Can it Thrive?

In my last post I covered what brand-new social network Ello is. Now, I’ll review how to use it.

Currently, Ello is invitation-only. Requests to join that are made through the Ello home page can reportedly take several weeks to be fulfilled, but users who are already “in” are given a limited number of invitations to send to their friends — and I was lucky enough to have a pal send me one of hers! I spent a few days poking around and here’s what I found.

By invitation only
Ello home screen: by invitation only

Nuts and bolts: a quick Ello primer

  • The development team is working on building native Ello apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile, but until then the social network is only accessible through your web browser.
  • It’s a simple, clean interface — almost austere. Text styles are basic and the layout features lots of white space and a minimal black and gray design scheme. In fact, the only color on the pages comes from photos users have uploaded in their profiles or posts — a subtle reminder that the content is the focus, not the design.
  • There are no like, heart, or fav buttons — for now. I’ve heard rumors that a “love” button is in the works for a future release, as is direct messaging, but for now you’ll have to interact with others only via comments.
  • You can keep track of which features have been built and which are “coming soon” on the Features page.
  • Underneath each post, next to a tiny eye icon, is a view count number. It’s difficult to tell how accurate the view count is yet — whether it’s total views or unique views — but I’m hoping it proves a useful tool for quickly gauging the “reach” of each your posts.

Customizing your account

It’s easy to get yourself set up on Ello — in fact the hardest part might be choosing which pictures to use.

Your account avatar should be 340×340 pixels, and will be shown in a circle format not unlike Google+ or Instagram. You can also upload a header image at 1800 x 1013 pixels, which will only be shown in its entirety when users bother to scroll to the top of your profile page. You can fill in a bio with a 192-character limit, and add multiple links to blogs, websites, or other online projects with which you’re involved.

After you’ve filled in your details and uploaded your photos, you can scroll down the Settings page and find a list of options for your account, such as making your profile public or private, allowing comments on your posts, and notifications. Anyone who’s ever had to navigate the frustratingly labyrinthian-esque privacy and account settings on Facebook will appreciate the simplicity!

Adding people to your stream: friends or noise?

“Friends” on Ello are similar to “followers” on Twitter. The difference lies in the two “containers” you can sort people into: Friends and Noise. Ello explains:

Follow the people you care about most in FRIENDS, which displays each post in an expanded, list format. It’s a great way to look at full-sized content by people you are really interested in following.

Put everyone else in NOISE, which offers a compressed, fluid-grid based layout that makes it easy for browsing lots of posts quickly.

I like this feature a lot because it allows me to easily toggle my feed between all content and only content I care about. Plus, the “fluid-grid based layout” they’re talking about for Noise reminds me a lot of Pinterest, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s beautiful and easy to browse:

The Pinterest-like layout of the Noise feed

Omnibar is where it’s at

Omnibar is a black bar shown next to your avatar where you can create posts to share on your page. When creating a comment on another user’s post or page, the Omnibar appears with the user’s @name already filled in.

In the Omnibar you can type text and highlight it to create links, you can drag-and-drop images, you can mention other users. Soon, you’ll be able to add links to video and audio files and use emoji.

One of the most compelling things about the Omnibar is how each post is made up of content containers that you can reorder by clicking and dragging the icon next to the container. Add to that the fact that there is no character limit for posts, and Ello becomes a sort of unique hybrid microblogging platform and social network!

A few qualms

Not everything on Ello is perfect, at least not yet — hey, that’s what Beta is for, right? Here are a few things that stood out to me during my exploration:

Ello says they wanted to build a “beautiful” place to share their artwork and connect with friends. Personally, though, I don’t find the typewriter-like font to be that compelling. It looks unfinished or like a forced callback to the early days of internet, when the online world felt smaller and more private. On the other hand, this is probably exactly the kind of “feel” they’re trying to achieve, so I’ll grudgingly tip my hat to the designers for that.

When you “discover” users you see only their profile summaries, not their content, which puts added, unnecessary emphasis on making your summary as compelling as possible so that other users want to click into your content.

A typical profile summary on Ello.

The search function is weak. I searched for “art” and I got a static list of profiles with “art” somewhere in the username. It would be nice to be able to search posts or search nearby to discover local users — again, though, this functionality will likely be added as time goes on.

Sorry, but this isn’t really the kind of “art” I was looking for?

Ello straight talk

Is Ello going to “kill” Facebook? Uh, no, not exactly. But Ello isn’t dead in the water, either. Memberships continue to grow and there’s a rapidly establishing community of active users with thousands of followers. The vibe is still very much “alternative” and one gets a sense that they are pioneers in a new frontier of content. The bottom line: if you’re a individual or a company with a background in art or tech, Ello could be a good place for you.

Oh, and one last thing. If you’re still worried that Ello could backtrack on its privacy stance, take heed: recently Ello became a USA Public Benefit Corporation, which means it will be virtually impossible for them to ever sell ads or user data. I think it’s safe to say that your information is safe.

Have you signed up for Ello yet? What did you think?

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