Ello: Is There Anybody Out There?

Unless you live under a rock (or at least somewhere far from Silicon Valley or social media), you’ve probably been unlikely to escape all the coverage recently devoted to the launch of the new social platform and crusading startup, Ello, a new site that’s positioning itself as a simple, ad-free alternative to Facebook – the “anti-Facebook,” as it were.

Ello is heavily geared towards creative professionals (and maybe programmers); their founding members, in fact, are all artists, adding to the site’s Bohemian branding and Ello’s ethos.

And as for the name? Probably, when you’re not making money off of advertising, you need to make some sacrifices.  Like skimping on the ‘H,” for instance.  Keep those donations flowing in, people, the English language is counting on you.

Ello, to their credit, doesn’t seem to be embracing the absolutely opaque “transparency” and back-stabbing, data-robbing “authenticity” that form the business model of most social platforms, evidenced by a recent update to their aptly named ‘wtf’ section:

“Ello’s major impetus for coming into being was that social media users (read: Facebook) are tired of being bombarded by advertisers and having their data sold to 3rd parties with reckless abandon. Now you could argue that enough people don’t take advantage of their security settings on Facebook, but that’s for another day, and frankly, that’s not likely going to stop the train that is Facebook. They are so far imbedded in our data already that to reverse that would be as likely as stopping fighting in hockey. Said a different way, it probably not going to happen.”

Currently still in Beta, Ello remains an invite only platform – a common practice among most new social sites before they move to the mainstream market, which makes sense, when you think about it – restricting access helps create a false aura of exclusivity while building buzz, fostering that same, “what is this new toy everyone’s talking about and how can I get in?” mentality that’s apparently the reason people still buy Google Glass. This approach also gives the development and leadership teams at Ello a little breathing room, ensuring their data center doesn’t melt down like a Domino’s Chocolate Lava Cake or the New York Jets in a playoff game.

In fact, they actually are transparent talking about their business model in their onsite FAQ, a refreshing change from the PR doublespeak that normally populates this section of websites. But you have to wonder if it’s a viable long-term platform that is going to compete with Facebook, or if it’s going to go the way of Friendster, MySpace, MySpace-Timberlake.0, and the other bodies buried in the backyard of 1 Hacker Way.

Facebook hauled in almost 8 Billion dollars last year, anchored heavily by the sale of advertisements. They can do a lot with $8 Billion, including squash most competitors within a few weeks.

The Business of Ello: Making It Rain or Drowning In The Noise?

say-elloThat doesn’t even mention Facebook’s most lethal weapon in their already formidable arsenal: a completely captive audience. In fact, Facebook users spend, on average, a half hour a day on the site, which accounts for about 6% of all time spent online, a pretty whopping statistic, considering over 800 million users log onto Facebook worldwide each and every day. Take into account how many users leverage its features for groups and events, and you’ve got a value prop that should give smaller tech players like Evite or Ning nightmares.

The question also needs to be asked: is Ello just a hobby? Is this some kind of performance art piece for the internet age?  Or is it the start of something bigger in social?  And what does it mean for the future of social media as we know it?

Ello is free(ish), relying partially on voluntary user donations (similar to Wikipedia) to fund its growth. In the future, however, the site has been clear that it’s going to switch to the familiar “freemium” model by incorporating some paid features (purportedly only costing “just a few extra collars each”) with each new release.

But if the founders are really building a sustainable, scalable social business, there’s only one thing they neglected to calculate in their monetization model: how to pay themselves.  Because diving into this headfirst and surfing on the tsunami of press they’ve generated means that not only are they going to have to have the funds to get from closed beta to paid platform, but are going to have to figure out how to pay the salaries of the talent they’re going to eventually have to hire to grow and evolve their business.

That’s not tilting at windmills – that’s Business 101.  Of course, this is a moot point if the end game is go just get eaten up by Facebook or another existing platform and retire to a private island somewhere. Which, given their confrontational positioning with the industry’s biggest player, might be a distinct possibility – getting noticed and getting bought out are the end-game at many startups, after all.  And it’s a legitimate question Ello will need to address sooner rather than later – even just in passing.

Ello for Sourcing and Recruiting: Cool Tool or Exotic Sourcing Syndrome?

if i had a dollarOf course, for us recruiters and sourcers, whenever a new network launches, we take notice and try to figure out how to apply it to talent acquisition before anyone else, as a hedge for our social recruiting strategies in the off chance that it’s actually a hit.  Of course, it’s just as likely to fall flat on its face as it is to make it in this market – just more “noise,” as Ello’s copywriters seem wont to call it.  So what does the future of Ello look like?

Depending on what kind of user base Ello can ultimately build, and how robust the features and functionalities are that Ello develops and offers, it could eventually emerge as a useful platform for sourcing – particularly given the increasing aversion of many recruiting professionals to sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, where you’ve got to shell out beaucoup bucks to make (literally) an impression.

Of course (and a helpful hint to Ello), that’s going to require they actually develop some sort of search capability.  Seriously, Ello – you all need to give search a little love, because done right, it will love you back.

But, as always, you have to balance the possibilities of Ello with the wisdom of Glen Cathey and remember that it’s just another tool that’s unproven and still in its infancy – and it’s wise for all of us in recruiting and sourcing to avoid coming down with a case of exotic sourcing syndrome, which is a professional epidemic for those of us in this industry (sorry, not sorry, Ebola).

So whether you love Ello, hate it, don’t know what the hell to do on it or don’t even know what the hell it is, stay tuned. While there are as many people writing its obituary as are singing its praises at the moment, the buzz is still strong enough where they should have the necessary momentum to implement some new features and add value to end users beyond their business model.

While it’s probably a safe bet to say that no one over at Facebook is ready to dial up a Defcon 1 watch for Palo Alto, you can bet that the social media Death Star is at least watching with a little interest.  Of course, that’s not what Ello is about – it’s about the user, as evidenced by their founding credo and most salient selling point – advertisers and low-hanging revenue streams be damned.

Which leaves us with a final question: is anyone actually using Ello in the first place?  Is it worth believing the hype or is the buzz BS? Let us know by leaving a comment below – or by sharing your @Ello username so the rest of us Quixotian early adopters finally have someone there to follow.

This post originally appeared on Recruiting Daily on October 29, 2014

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