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

NEWS ANALYSIS: There's a pattern to how we feel about social networks. We seem to love the new ones and hate the old ones.

Ello social networking

Everybody's talking about the new social network in town. It's called Ello. And it's billed as the anti-Facebook.

Ello promises to never show ads, never collect personal data and never require your "real name." Some fear they'll never make money, either, and wonder if it's worthwhile to invest time cultivating a community in a doomed social network.

Gigaom founder Om Malik tweeted: "The obsessive coverage of Ello is less about Ello. Instead, it really is about our growing dissatisfaction with the state of social networks."

I think he's almost correct. He implies that over time we've been growing unhappy with all social networks. It seems to me that we grow unhappy with each of them on its own cycle—we love the new ones and hate the old ones.

Of course, he's completely right about Ello, which offers very little to get excited about. Ello has an odd potential that I'll tell you about below. But for now, it's not a serious, functional or entirely usable social network yet. Search doesn't work, so you can't find people. You also can't block people, so it's a troll's paradise. It doesn't have mobile apps. You can't "Like" or "favorite" anything. It's clunky and awkward to use. Hardly anyone is on it.

So the fact that it's being widely discussed and broadly adopted—that high-profile social media users are trying it out—means that there's some other reason besides quality that people are talking about. And that reason is that it's not only an alternative to Facebook, Twitter and Google+, but that it's an alternative to their business models (if, that is, the lack of a business model can be considered an alternative business model).

So why have people grown tired of existing social networks?

People used to love Facebook, but have been grumbling about its privacy policy, algorithmic noise filtering of the News Feeds, and confusing options and settings for years.

Twitter also won the affections of users in the first few years. But recently, the termination of third-party clients, Facebook-like features, and runaway trolling and hate speech has caused many to sour on the service.

From Google+ to Pinterest to Foursquare, the pattern is repeated for each of the major social networks:

1. What is it?

2. Oooh! Shiny!

3. Hey, this is great!

4. Look what I can do!

5. I hope everybody gets on this social network!

6. OK, why did they change that? It was better before!

7. Ugh! Where did all these spammers, trolls and haters come from?

8. Oh, come on! Fix these glaring problems already!

9. Hey everybody, I just joined this new social network. Follow me there!

10. Repeat.

The sweet spot appears to be the first three years. But why?