I've been hearing a lot of talk about Ello over the past few days so I thought I should write about it. I expect that if I look back at this post in 12 months, most of what I write here is going to be wrong but that's what you get when looking into the future.
At the moment, the internet trend-setters are going crazy about Ello as a sort of anti-Facebook with a monospaced font. The company has got a manifesto as if that'll prevent the from doing anything bad in the future.
It's a little unclear to me what Ello actually is or what it will turn into but I've requested an invitation and we'll see what happens.
There seem to be two major problems with Ello as I see it.
Firstly, they don't really have a business model. Ello has specifically ruled out advertising and user data which is noble but won't pay the bills. The plan for keeping the company afloat is to sell "special features" to users but I've got no idea what the special features are going to be.
Having special features for sale reminds me of Kevin Kelly's 1000 True Fans but on a much larger scale. It is going to cost a lot to keep a social network afloat, and people aren't going to be willing to spend the $100 that Kelly's "true fans" would spend. I expect that the minimum the company will need is a million fans each paying $10 a year. It might work.
There are some people who are pretty crazy about Tumblr and Wordpress. Some were crazy about LiveJournal and MySpace and other camelCase products. Maybe Ello would find enough income to survive.
On the other hand, by setting themselves up as the anti-Facebook and the anti-Twitter, they are also cutting themselves off from the other dot-com business model that was followed by Tumblr and Instagram: get bought by a big internet company. If Ello were to be bought by Facebook or even Google at some point in the future, then the users would be justifiably let-down.
Secondly, as with any social network, it relies on the network effect. My friends or other people I care about need to be there. Among other things, that is what killed off App.net. It's a good reason why no one uses Google Plus and Diaspora. Have you even heard of Diaspora?
If they can attract sufficient sufficient users, they might have a chance. Apparently they were getting 40,000 signup requests an hour on Friday last week so that's promising.
After having a quick look around the site, I think that it looks more like Twitter crossed with Tumblr rather than Facebook. But maybe that is partly because Facebook has move so far from what it was to now just be a home for click bait articles.
If they are pitching themselves as an alternative to Facebook, they really need to be significantly better than Facebook to really make a difference. Google Plus was arguably better than Facebook, but only a little better.
Any new service needs to be better by a significant margin to warrant the switch.
For watching movies at home, DVD was about a hundred times better than VHS. Consumers switched to it very quickly as the price of players dropped. But Blu-ray was only a marginal upgrade on DVD (unless picture quality was very important to you) so it has had a much slower adoption curve. It is the same with social networks. Google Plus and Diaspora are Blu-ray to Facebook and Twitter's DVD.
There is certainly room for more than one social network, as the existence of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and others can attest. All the successful social networks are distinct in what they offer. Can Ello be different enough by just being a better anti-Facebook? I'm doubtful.