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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why Ello.co Won't Work

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 Posted by Chris Tung No comments

After hearing about Ello, a new startup that plans to revolutionize the social networking space by removing the ads and clutter that crowd Facebook and Twitter, my coworkers and I grabbed a few invites and gave it a try. After finishing the sign up process, adding each other, and interacting with the network, we quickly came to one unanimous conclusion: Ello won't work.

Usability

Although Jeffry van der Groot does a much better job explaining why Ello is a complete design disaster in a detailed post on Medium, I want to highlight the most essential part of his argument:

"This entire site feels like it was designed in a bubble by graphic designers with no feeling for interaction design or what people want out of a social network. The fact that it originates from a private project is apparent in its incomprehensible interface that it assumes you understand."

It seems the Ello team, a group of graphic designers and product guys, intended to create a social network for the young, modern twenty-somethings that want a streamlined version of the social networks we are all slaves to but can't seem to escape because there isn't a good alternative. The problem is that Ello isn't this beautiful, ad-free network that will make you want to abandon your Facebook account; instead, it's so incredibly minimalistic that it doesn't work.

A few things that my coworkers and I encountered that were particularly troublesome:
  • Search didn't work, and although it's currently in Beta, my friend pointed out that this really seems like a bug that they should have fixed in the Alpha stage considering invites were easy to come by, and you probably have a functioning search engine once you're ready to start inviting the masses
  • Since we are all coworkers, we wanted to make a group just for us. Unfortunately, on Ello, they don't seem to believe in groups, and the only segments you can create are Friends and Noise.
  • On the topic of categorizing a segment of people as "Noise", the site seems to be built on a binary system: you're a friend and I like you or you're awful and I hate you. The former is fine but the problem with the latter is that Ello seems to be leaning a bit too much into the I-hate-you-I'm-now-going-to-be-rude mindset. For example, there password reset email says "Shit happens" and their About section is called WTF. Maybe it's kind of funny, but if they're attempting to build a large social media network, the tone they've chosen makes you wonder how many people will really get on board with the platform, which leads into the next problem...

Scale

According to an article posted on Business Insider, Ello is seeing about 38,000 sign ups in per hour, which is definitely a great sign that the company is scaling...and fast. The problem is that they are launching with a broken product that is plagued with usability bugs when their hype is the highest.

This is same thing that happened with Google Plus, and we all know how that went.

Ello is generating a significant amount of hype because their branding is strong and their using invites to create exclusivity, and everyone wants to be a part of something when only certain people are allowed to join. However, like Google Plus, their biggest spike in traffic is going to happen right now, and if people's first reactions are that the product is broken and that it's impossible to find and follow friends, people will ditch the platform and stay with Facebook.

You only ever get one chance to make a first impression, and when the business is scaling as fast as Ello is reporting combined with an inferior product, they're going to lose their new users as fast as they acquired them.

Monetization

However, assuming that Ello is able to retain these sign ups and improve on their platform, the biggest problem in their future is how are they going to generate a profit from their audience. As Marc Andreessen pointed out in his epic Twitter rant, startups are getting insane valuations with VCs hoping to find the next Facebook. Because of these valuations, they're forced to post insanely high metrics and earnings every month in fear of plateauing and losing all of their funding. In order to stay afloat, generate value for the VCs, and generate enough revenue to pay for the overhead, startups need to make money off of their users.

Here's how Ello plans to address is this problem:

"We occasionally offer special features to our community of users. You can choose to support Ello by paying a very small amount of money to add that feature to your Ello account.You're never obligated to pay anything, but by choosing to buy a feature for a very small amount of money now and then you support our work, and help us make Ello better and better."

Unlike Assassins Creed, Sims, Call of Duty, and pretty much every other modern video game, Ello won't work if they ask users to pay for new features because it causes two problems for two types of users:
  • For the diehard users who signed up for Ello early, you're asking them to give you money to make their experience with your product better. This doesn't reward loyalty and will likely increase churn rate.
  • For users that want to give Ello a try, you're asking them to sign up and use an inferior product to test out the site in the hope that they'll like it so much that they'll start giving you money to make their experience better. But, if someone doesn't immediately see the benefit of your platform, why would someone want to give you money to make it better for them when they could just go back to Facebook?
Unless the free version of Ello is already a superior product compared to Facebook and Twitter, Ello won't be able to acquire and retain enough high quality users to start asking them to buy new features, and given the existing product we're trying out in Beta is less than stellar, Ello is starting to look more like the next Google Plus, Myspace, and Path than the next Facebook or Twitter.

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