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What we can learn from the rise and fall of Ello

by Gregory Gillette on 09 October 2014

Hey look! Someone who works in social media with an opinion on Ello!

That’s right, and in the next few paragraphs I’m going to very subjectively go over why the internet got really excited about Ello, why it turned out to be but a summer tryst, and what brands can learn from it in the future.

 

 

Why did people like Ello?

We liked Ello because we don’t like Facebook. Everyone doesn’t like Facebook. Brands don’t like Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is probably even tired of Facebook.  We rely on Facebook to store pictures and messages we haven’t backed up, to help us form opinions on individuals we barely know, and to create a narrative that makes our messy lives seem both manageable and meaningful.

What went wrong?

Ello promised to be something else. They even wrote it in a manifesto, which implied some sort of revolution was nigh. Unfortunately very few manifestos are implemented, and even fewer are implemented well.

The scrappy new network purported to be able to sustain itself indefinitely on a freemium model – where a few needy users pay for perks and special treatment while the majority get general access for free. This model is not unlike how most democracies function and Ello claimed, as democratic governments do, that it would bow to the will of its people, not offering advertising or flogging personal data to companies.

Yet we already seem to be  as disengaged from Ello as we are from democracy. After it emerged that Ello had been less-than-forthcoming about its venture capital funding, it lost a lot of the anti-corporate artistic-type core audience that was at the centre of the unlikely Facebook exodus.Its cultural relevance on Twitter burned brightly but briefly, as the graph shows.

 

 

Add to this the fact that from day one Ello set out to be on the side of companies and trademarks over individuals, and its moment as the internet`s darling was finished completely. People were even sick of the design.

What will happen to Ello?

Like many social networks, Ello will probably have a long route to death with a hyper-niche audience. But who?

Ello tried to go after artists, but any self-respecting artist online is on DeviantArt. Anti-traditional network types? They’re on Reddit. People who like everything about Facebook except the fact that it’s Facebook? Those people work for Google and are on Google+.

The way it’s built, there isn’t much room for Ello – there’s no market to share. In the end there might be a few Silicon Valley types talking about their Wednesday night pottery class, but even they will eventually get over themselves and form a meetup.com group.

 What next for networking?

What there is a market for however, is what people thought Ello might be.

People on the internet love Tor, creative commons and open source. They also love anonymity, freedom, piracy, innovative governance models, egalitarianism, and all sorts of contradictory ideals. For an internet second, Ello allowed people to believe that regular networks, like those of Facebook and LinkedIn, might be able to merge with the beloved social and political harmony of the deeper internet, in an environment that let people decide how much their personal data was worth.

Ello was the wrong place to look for a Facebook killer, but its failure helps show where there may be one in the future. It reminds us that people-first democratic ideology runs deep online – but also that it will take serious commitment for a brand to convince us that it might become a reality.

Then? Oh, watch us run.

 

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