In March, 2014, the world was gripped by a new, invite-only social networking site called Ello. Ello was markedly different to the competition, as the site emphasized the need for user privacy, and said it would thrive without using the tried-and-tested advertising-supported revenue model. At its peak, it saw between 31,000 to 45,000 sign-ups each hour, and often experienced periods of downtime as its servers struggled to cope.
And then the spotlight shifted. Ello ended up on the scrapheap of failed social networks, amid the likes Diaspora, Bebo, and Pownce.
Or did it? Ello never really went away. After its launch hype bubble, interest in the site died down. Being creatives themselves, the makers decided to pivot towards building a community for artists and visual creatives. According to TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr, Ello strives to serve as a place where people can exhibit their oeuvres to ad agencies, while connecting with other like-minded artists.
Ello looks radically different too. It has abandoned the “Facebook killer” schtick (this was doomed anyway), and has instead focused on building a content-heavy space that strongly resembles a digital magazine. Imagine the mutant offspring of a tryst between Pinterest and Flipboard, and you’re halfway there.
Oh, and it now dubs itself “The Creators Network.”
When Ello first came out, I remember I was bullish about the service’s chances. 2014 was an interesting time, and Facebook was neck-deep in trouble. The previous year, we learned from Edward Snowden about how the US Government used social networking sites like Facebook as a tool for warrantless mass-surveillance. Facebook was also embroiled in a nasty spat over the right to use a pseudonym on the service.
Ello capitalized on this wave of discontent expertly, resulting in its stratospheric rise. Unfortunately, the limits of the service’s functionality and the network effect meant that it was pretty much DOA. It didn’t realize its goal of being a bonafide Facebook rival.
This time around, I’m again confident about Ello’s prospects as it targets the digital creative niche. For starters, it looks and feels amazing. Earlier incarnations of the site were clunky and confusing, but the nouveau pared-down Ello experience is intuitive and puts the user-created visual content front-and-center.
Other, more well-established sites pander to the creative community: think Pinterest, Tumblr, and Deviant Art. Ello is in the same boat, but it feels vastly more grown-up — almost like a LinkedIn for visual artists.
Ello is undeniably niche. According to the aforementioned TechCrunch article, the site ekes a mere 400,000 monthly active users, and has a community of just 625,000 artists. That’s a far cry from its halcyon days, where it could scarcely keep up with demand. But where Ello succeeds is in having a well-defined vision, and an execution that’s intriguing and gorgeous.
And that’s why, in 2017, Ello is still worth checking out.
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