Ello's Halo: Why New Social Networks Get So Much Attention

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2014-09-30 Print this article Print
Ello social networking

The problem is that success and opportunism breed problems that users don't like. Each social network starts out feeling like a tight-knit community of like-minded peers. By definition, the social networking early adopters tend to be far more active and enthusiastic about the technology and the features than the rest of the population.

If a social network takes off, the noobs, trolls and spammers pour in, overwhelming what used to feel like great conversations. The great unwashed masses come pouring in with obsessions and agendas that change the whole tone of the site.

And the companies invariably go public, or for other reasons decide to more aggressively monetize. So they increasingly harvest user data, filter feeds, show increasingly intrusive advertising and push to get even more people on the network.

In other words, amateurish social networks "go pro." Or they grow up. Or they become lucrative businesses. All that ruins everything.

That's why, I think, despite current appearances to the contrary, Ello might be the one social network to buck this trend.

Its "art project" design, slow-moving feature development and quirky interface might keep the masses at bay.

If they keep it simple, never go public, don't grow Facebook envy and stick to their model of charging only small amounts for trivial extra features, they might retain that first-three-years feel that other social networks abandon.

Ello might feel like a new social network forever. But there's one other problem: fragmentation.

Although it seems like people move from one social network to another as new ones come out and old ones fail to die, the truth is that everyone has a saturation point where the number of social networks is too high—many have already reached that point, making it increasingly unlikely that any new social network will get big—or people find one they like and stick to it forever, leading to racial fragmentation among social networks.

In short, besides all the problems inherent in Ello, a new social network is a tough sell, an unwelcome proposition.

And as each new social network fails to gain huge numbers of users, the lack of users itself becomes a reason for people not to try it.

This reinforces the primacy of Facebook. The reason? Despite near-universal dissatisfaction with Facebook, at least it has a huge number of users (and, therefore, is more likely to offer access to the people we know and care about).

So while social networks really are only good while new, their newness also makes them bad.

What we really need is something nobody talks about: interoperability between social networks. If a post on Ello could appear in the News Feed of someone else on Facebook—and if their comments on Facebook appeared also on the post at Ello, then we could simply choose the social network of our choice and still have access to our family and friends. But I don't think that's ever going to happen, really.


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