Can Ello challenge Facebook?

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ElloElloFor any new social media network to unseat Facebook as the king of social media, it would have to do almost everything better, not just in one or two areas.

It is said that, in the world of tech, a nimble, new start up could eat an established giant’s lunch as it can do something far better than the incumbent.

That certainly was the case with Google when it came late into the “search” scene and blew away all the competition. Its search engine was just that much better than anything out there at the time.

The reason it is still the king of search is that its competitors have only managed to catch up and match the quality of its offerings. Some might argue its rivals might do a thing or two better. But that’s never enough to unseat an incumbent. You need to be way better.

So, for any new social media network to unseat Facebook as the king of social media, it would have to do almost everything better, not just in one or two areas. Is Ello (ello.co) able to do that? It’s still early days but it won’t be easy going for this new upstart in the social media world.

Ello was quietly launched a few months ago but its tipping point happened recently when people and the media got really excited about it and both word-of-mouth and media coverage gave it a huge boost in terms of free publicity and branding. It’s been reported that at one point, between 36,000 to 38,000 people were signing up each hour.

Ello

Ello

It is being branded as the “anti-Facebook”. Unlike Facebook, the site is not jam-packed with content or advertising. Rather, it has a minimalist, black and white look. And, more significantly, it promises to not to sell ads or user data to advertisers, something that bothers a lot of people about Facebook.

“Collecting and selling your personal information, reading your posts and mapping your social connections for profit is unethical,” the company says. “Ello does not sell data about you to third parties, including advertisers and data brokers.”

There are other differences. Though hardly earth-shattering, they do offer users a different experience from Facebook. One of the ways Facebook encourages interaction is to make it easy for users to “Like” or “Share” a posting. That doesn’t seem to exist on Ello. The only way to interact is to leave a comment, which theoretically would encourage more meaningful exchanges.

Connections are categorized into “Friends” and “Noise”. You will get full updates from the former in your newsfeed and compressed, easy-to-skim through version from the latter. You can re-categorize someone very easily just by dragging their icons into either the Friends or Noise circle (don’t worry people won’t know which circle they have been categorized into).

It’s interesting to note that comments that people make for your posting appears with newest comments on top, which is the opposite of how Facebook does it. I’m not sure that makes the most sense. But perhaps I’m just used to the Facebook way of latest comments on the bottom.

With no advertising revenue, how will Ello make money? Early indications are that it will adopt the so-called freemium model where some basic services are free but advanced options will have to be paid for.

Says Paul Budnitz, one of its founders: “In its most basic form, Ello will be fun and free to use. But after that there are features that some groups want really badly — for example one of the most requested features is the ability to control multiple accounts from a single log in. We might charge a dollar for that. It would be like the App store.”

The freemium model has worked for online games but whether it would work for social media has yet to be seen. Most social media networks do not charge for their services.

I think people will check out Ello just because it’s gotten so much buzz. But no one is going to abandon Facebook unless the bulk of that person’s social network actually moves en masse to Ello, which is unlikely to happen. The network effect will be a barrier to mass adoption. So many people are on Facebook already. It’s hard to leave it for something new.

And people won’t do so unless that something new is significantly better in so many ways. I just don’t see that as being the case with Ello. It’s never easy unseating an incumbent.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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