Don’t get me wrong – I would love to see an actual “Facebook killer”. Even Ello‘s founder (Paul Budnitz) says it isn’t meant to necessarily compete with Facebook because it is a completely different product (“a social network as opposed to an advertising platform”). Shots fired! Fitting – Budnitz kind of looks like a hipster Bond villain. We’ve seen challengers in the social realm before, though.
- Google+ and Google Buzz
I actually got this list from this article. There’s some interesting “Where are they now” tidbits (as of 2012). These social networks gain a TON of steam in the beginning. Some of them even had millions of users integrated into the platform upon launch (Google+). Some of them are actually pretty neat platforms (Diaspora). Why did they fail? Facebook is too big to beat. It’s as simple as that – it’s too damn large. What constitutes “large”? Facebook has your history, it has your images, it has your friends’ images, it has everything – and it can leverage that information to keep you on Facebook.
Mark my words: no standalone social networking platform will topple Facebook. Despite Ello’s 50,000 sign-ups per hour it will not topple Facebook. While it’s a different platform – and, for all intents and purposes, probably a better platform – you’re still trading your time between Ello and Facebook. After a few days or weeks it creates social network fatigue. Let’s not forget that Ello is opening its doors seemingly-arbitrarily to folks who sign up. This means your friends, family, and colleagues may not even get access until you’re bored of the platform.
Facebook began by opening its doors exclusively to college students. This means you are communicating specifically between people who are already within your network. This paired relevance with exclusivity. It also solved a specific, meaningful problem by standardizing and maturing the physical appearance of a social network. Ello has exclusivity; and some may say it even matures the appearance of a social network. It is missing relevance and it isn’t solving any universally-accepted problem with social networks.
“Privacy, though! That’s a universal problem!” – you say as you comment on this article while logged into Google on Chrome after searching for an article to confirm your bias for/against Ello. Maybe you’re on your phone and you were referred to this page from a tagged link you clicked on in the Twitter app you downloaded from the App Store. Well, maybe Ello isn’t for those people. Perhaps you’re the type who doesn’t have a Google login – you use AdBlock and have your cookies disabled. I also don’t think you’re the type to sign up for a social network – even if it’s Ello.
Maybe you are the type to sign up, though. Hell, I’m trying to sign up. We’ll all have fun for a week, and then go back to Facebook. Why? Because that’s where everything is.
Ultimately, the problem these social networks face is retention (duh). So how do you build a Facebook-killer? Subversion. You can’t rip people away from Facebook because everything is there so you integrate with Facebook. Give people the option to tie their account to Facebook so they can still follow their network while falling in love with your platform. Allow people to find and connect with each other on your platform (which should be easy since you’ll have that data) and let them message to each other outside of the Facebook universe. Anyways, you kind of see where I am going with this. Easier said than done, right?
At the end of the day, Ello will keep their promise of not selling your data and instead do a bang-up job measuring you and marketing new features that you’ll have to pay for… which is okay! That’s how they will make money and making money keeps the lights on. It’s also somewhat of a retention strategy. You will pay for features so you’ll also want to stay on board to use them! You spent the money, right? However, if the App Store has taught me anything it’s that a dollar spent is easily forgotten.
Now is about when you would expect me to say – “We’ll see where Ello goes from here – I can’t predict the future, but blah blah blah…”
I give Ello 8 months before they pivot or fold.