Well, it seems I was out of step with many when it came to this, and my Twitter timeline was full of people politely (mostly) disagreeing with the stance. I was being "too harsh on a product in beta," I "didn’t get the design," and my personal favourite -- I was being "paid by Facebook and Twitter." Let’s take these in turn.
If you launch in beta, you need feedback to refine the product. I make no apologies for being harsh. On the design, I’m sorry, I just don’t like it. It’s just too sparse. It’s also confusing. Controls for posting an update, editing a post, or uploading a photo are shown in a light grey type that can be hard to pick up. Comments on posts are shown from newest to oldest, which is the opposite of how it’s done on Facebook or Twitter. Who incidentally, sadly, do not pay me a penny!
The thing I do like is the lack of ads and the promise not to use a user’s data. Let me be clear -- the Web idealist in me thinks that’s a great idea -- but if that is the case, does the rest of the plan stack up?
Paul Budnitz, the creator of Ello, says, "When a network is very simple, people want specific features, and they’re willing to pay for those features."
I like what I read about Budnitz. He builds and sells bikes, doesn’t want to move to LA and is passionate about creating jobs and prosperity in his local Vermont.
He says that users will be able to spend a dollar here and there for a great feature -- for example, if you’re a musician "and you want to control multiple accounts from a single login -- we can charge $2 for that. It’s not for everyone."
"Let’s say that for a few bucks, you can buy an emoji pack designed by a popular street artist," Budnitz says. "Because of how we've built Ello, it naturally lends itself perfectly to that," he says, adding that he has received thousands of suggestions from his users on features that they would be willing to pay for.
Maybe he is right. Maybe we are all so caught up in latest trends and basing our views on what the last big thing did that we may miss the point. So yes -- Instagram, Pinterest and Whatsapp are all free at the moment -- but does that matter? It all depends on what you see the end product being. Let’s be honest, Facebook isn’t really a social network anymore -- it’s an ad platform. Budnitz has been very up front in saying that he only wants to run a social network that has its users at its core.
So maybe I was wrong last week. Maybe we should look at Ello being the first Ello and not the next Facebook. Maybe in a VC funded me-too tech culture we are overly questioning of true innovation because it doesn’t fit our pre-conceived ideas of what a project should look like.