‘Ello ‘Ello ‘Ello – Is Facebook finally on the slide?
Schadenfreude among tech-watchers has gone into hyperdrive this week at news of what some are calling a ‘mass exodus’ from Facebook to the newer, hipper, ad-free social networking site Ello. Researchers have been sounding the behemoth’s death knell since the beginning of the year, when a Princeton University study comparing its spread and eventual demise to that of bubonic plague predicted that 80% of its users would quit over the next three years, and that it will be a complete goner by 2017.
Requests to join San Francisco-based Ello, created by the man behind Kidrobot, Paul Budnitz, have apparently snowballed in the last week to up to 35000 an hour, meaning they’ve had to temporarily slow the rate at which they accept new users, and invites are selling on US Ebay for up to $100.
So far, so seemingly exponential. But apart from its achingly arty, lo-fi aesthetic and no-big-data promise so emphasised in its manifesto, what’s the appeal of the newest little kid to try to gatecrash Twitter and Facebook’s big party?
Sian-Estelle Petty, social media commentator and head of digital at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, thinks its success so far – which has been particularly pronounced in the LGBTQ community – has a lot to do with timing: “[Ello’s] release has pretty much coincided with Facebook’s ban on using fake names, which Ello is very much still open to,” she tells me. “For people who want to play with their gender, or who want a different identity online for whatever reason, it’s allowing those people to be more themselves, to feel more in control of how they’re presented on the internet.”
The new platform’s ban on advertising of any kind is also particularly appealing to those who conduct certain aspects of their more colourful private lives online, and aren’t so keen on, say, Tony from HR leaning over their shoulder in the office and seeing a delightful ‘targeted ad’ for the local sex shop.
She’s also convinced that their surge in popularity is just symptomatic of a wider backlash against the social media status quo. 71% of adults in the UK now have Facebook, according to another recent Pew study, and for some of the more design-savvy among them, it seems to have lost its way: “The more they [Facebook] adds, the messier it gets to use, the less people want it. I know so many people now who don’t use Facebook because they just find it too ‘tacky’ – they really like the idea of a social networking site that gets back to basics.”
Petty’s doubtful whether Ello’s niche appeal is likely to completely take over Facebook’s crown any time soon, though: “So much of the internet is just about chasing the new,” she says, “I don’t know if it will ever be as big as Facebook, or even whether it wants to be – I think it’s so targeted at arty types who’d run a mile if they thought it had lost its cred by becoming too ‘mainstream’ and popular.”
It remains to be seen whether the newer site’s features-based business model will last the distance, too. What is certain is that there are plenty of eager young upstarts snapping at Mark Zuckerberg’s cyber-heels, and sooner or later one of them will bring him crashing to the kerb.