Last week, you’d never heard of Ello — but suddenly there are thinkpieces about it everywhere, and someone sent you an invitation just before the invite program got frozen yesterday, and now you’re trying to make sense of the “minimalist” UI and wondering what exactly the fuss is all about. Or maybe you didn’t get an invite, and you’re also, yes, wondering what all the fuss is about. The site seemed to come out of nowhere, and the reason is twofold: first, while Ello’s been taking requests for invitations to its beta program since March, it was only this week that they started issuing those invitations in earnest. And second, it’s pitching itself as an ad-free alternative to the Zuckerbergian business model (its manifesto concludes with the declaration, “You are not a product”).
If you have tried Ello, you’ll know that in and of itself it’s nothing to write home about. There’s certainly potential here, but the product at the moment isn’t anywhere near ready for primetime — in fairness to Ello, they’re calling this a public beta, but really, it’s closer to alpha quality. Basic functions don’t work, the list of features to be implemented is about a gazillion times the size of the list of features that have been implemented, etc. If anything, the appeal at the moment can be summarized as: “It isn’t Facebook.”
Which, really, is the point. All the kerfuffle around Ello really shows is that, at this point, people are desperate to give Facebook the flick. Even two years ago, I suspect that most people you’d have asked would have said that the benefits of being on Facebook (or, perhaps more accurately, the detriments of not being on Facebook) outweighed the site’s ever more insidious disregard for privacy. Now, though? For years, Facebook has been pushing the invasion-of-privacy boundaries as far as it can get away with, as well as implementing changes that just annoy people (the insistence of News Feed on defaulting to the Top Stories algorithm, and most recently, the forced migration of mobile messaging services to the Messenger app).
Facebook’s been able to do all this stuff because there are essentially no alternatives — you’re either on Facebook or you’re not, but there’s no equivalent service to choose if you want something that’s like Facebook but doesn’t require surrendering your firstborn child to the House of Zuckerberg. Sure, you can just exclusively be on Twitter, or Tumblr, or Instagram, or any of the other bazillion social networks out there, but none of them replicate Facebook’s functionality. There have been attempts in the past to build an alternative, but they’ve all stiffed for various reasons: the much-heralded Diaspora arrived too late to challenge Facebook’s hierarchy, Orkut only really caught on in Brazil (and India, curiously), and Bebo is, well, Bebo. The only serious contender over the last couple of years has been Google Plus, which, y’know, hey, instead of surrendering your information to Facebook, you can surrender it to a different gigantic faceless corporation! read more..
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