If you’re at all interested in social networking and you were online last week, you probably witnessed the arrival of a brand new phenomenon, ELLO. I personally jumped on the occasion and created a personal account as well as one for BEING Worldwide, who can now claim its status as pioneer agency on the network, whatever ELLO’s fate may be!
ELLO presents itself as an alternative social network, with no advertising (“Your social network is owned by advertisers”) and allowing anonymity. ELLO promises to not commercialize your data, and if you deactivate the analytics function, ELLO won’t know any of your information. ELLO also distinguishes itself by its design (“We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency”), and its easy-to-use format – a sort of cross between Tumblr for its stream of publications, and Twitter in terms of following (you follow your friends without a pre-requisite “friend request”). Created by Paul Budnitz with the help of the design agency Berger & Föhr and a collective of “creative technologists” (Mode Set), ELLO is not like Wikipedia (a non-profit initiative), and its source code is not open, but it is a privately held company that raised 435 thousand dollars through a VCF (FreshTracks Capital). ELLO is currently in beta, and accessible only by invitation: every new member can send a limited number of invitations to friends. The functionalities are still limited (no ‘likes’, no ‘shares’, and a limited search engine…) but a list of future functionalities has already been made public (a ‘love’ button, direct integration of videos, etc.). As far as one can see, ELLO has the keys to success in hand, except for, in my opinion, one (pretty major) thing.
ELLO is a disruptive brand by definition. It is a “category killer’ that follows rather well the 10 commandments of a “Killer Idea”:
1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CONTEXT: ELLO takes full advantage of the criticism of Facebook and its advertising monetization, its management of personal data and its refusal of anonymity.
2. SUBVERT & DESTROY: ELLO gives back to social networking its subversiveness, both by opposing itself to the existing leader on its fundamentals, but also by offering an alternative that is more free (protection of anonymity), in line with the roots of the internet.
3. SPOKESPERSON: ELLO disposes not only of its founders to feed the buzz, but also of each of its new members, in particular the most influential on social networks, who will spread the word.
4. SUCCESSFUL INTRODUCTION: The ‘elitist’ system of invites and beta users (which also worked for Facebook when it was reserved to elite American universities) creates buzz and anticipation.
5. CHOICE OF WORDS: ‘ELLO’ is a great name. It’s one of those that you remember easily after having heard it or seen it just once. The only thing the brand is missing is a Tagline, which if called upon, I would be happy to come up with, with the help of BEING!
6. STRONG SYMBOLS: The interpretation of the good ol’ smiley face is very well received. The logo immediately gives the brand an iconic status, and endows it ad vitam eternam with an easily recognizable and declinable symbol.
7. TELL A STORY/WRITE A MANIFESTO: Literally ELLO’s recruitment procedure of choice: “Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you male and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.”
8. PROVE WHAT YOU PREACH: In terms of content and visual identity, including the easy-to-use and purposefully amateur format, ELLO is completely in line with its promise, apart from the minor detail that it was funded by a Venture Capital Firm (read Aral Balkan’s story here.)
9. LOOK FOR FREE MEDIA: The entire world will have heard of ELLO by the end of this week, without the brand having invested a cent in media buying. And they didn’t pay me to write this post either ;).
10. SHAREABLE CONTENT: This is probably the weakest point of ELLO to date: the content is not easily sharable on the inside of the ecosystem, and even less on the outside.
But while ELLO has almost all the cards in hand to succeed in terms of branding and communication, it is nonetheless missing a major element in order to do better than Diaspora, Path or even Google+: a sustainable business model. ELLO declares having the intention to charge for a certain number of options in the future. This is an extremely high-risk bet on a large public. This could drive ELLO to either search for profit within a niche group (which would limit its growth and power), or to sell its platform to a competitor of Facebook who could attempt to utilize the brand to accelerate its own growth on social networks. Otherwise, ELLO may very well just be a flash in the pan whose usefulness will have at most been to show that there are still high expectations on the social networking market that the existing leader has not met. And therefore, he should take into account in his future evolutions. (Hint, hint.) So what if ELLO was actually the best way to incite Facebook to progress in the direction of its users’ demands?
While I await your reactions and comments, I invite you to follow BEING’s ELLO account (below), which will give you each week the must-sees in the world of design, because BEING and ELLO have a fundamental passion in common in their philosophies: IN DESIGN WE TRUST!