Ello made the rounds through my Facebook feed yesterday. I had the privilege of receiving an invite from a friend a few weeks ago, so I was in the lovely position to hand out invitations and watch my friends populate the left-hand grid of circles, arriving one-by-one like citizens new to a town.
The earliest adopters among my friends are those I think of as social media old skoolers—in other words, LiveJournalers. That was the comparison they frequently made--that they felt like they were back on LiveJournal. I had a LiveJournal, like everyone did in those brutal early aughts, but was never a dedicated community member.
I described my ello experience as like a community garden. Another word that felt apt: it is humane.
I’m not speaking of the user interface, which is still a bit fraught and jerky, a little too minute (and I’ve already endured far too much complaint about the body font). I’m speaking of ello’s speed and mood. The sparse typeface, ample leading between returns, considerate white space, simple shapes—it feels manageable and pleasant. My friends write longer, and more meaningfully, than on Facebook, and it lacks the bratty 4chan-ism of Tumblr. Even that trouble UI slows you down, makes rapid posting tiresome. Cumulatively, ello creates a much needed sensibility of repose in an otherwise frenetic social media environment. Come here, tend your garden, look at my garden, let’s chat, and then let me leave.
All of this, of course, could just be a by-product of scale. Right now I only have 16 people as Friends and 6 people as Noise. What happens when that number becomes 50, 100, 200? What happens when too much is happening on my feed? What happens when they inevitably need to monetize the space? Will ello prioritize maintaining that sense of poise which I think is its greatest asset?
We often treat our media as all good or all bad—either its running us, or it’s the next step on the path to our transhumanist destiny. I prefer Marshall McLuhan’s formulation of media effects (and affects!), which is that for every sense a media extends, it also amputates something else. What we’ve struggle with since the emergence of digitized social media networks is quickly they consume our lives and reshape everything in their image. When I think of this in McLuhan-esque terms, this is a problem of extension and amputation. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr—they extend us far and often amputate too much.
What we’ve need for a long time isn’t an etiquette for social media, but practice, as Western networked humans, at dilating between the plunge and the withdrawal. As a species, we are simply untrained at this, and our technology designers are often drunk on technology’s own mysticism—giving us more integration, content and volume when we really just need is something more moderate, better designed.
And many of us have been unhappy with these forms of social media, especially Facebook, for a long time. Ello is a social network informed by many things we’ve wearied of in social networks—endless feeds, constant communication, the politics (and often clunky methods) for following but not following people you have to follow but may not like. Ello feels like a space not built for over-extension.
Social networks like Facebook never had the chance to get these things right because they, in some sense, invented the problem. It’s not their’s to solve. This, I think, is what gives the space for ello to plot out its own parcel of land. Where this is going is hard to predict, but suffice to say: I like the gesture.