Peak Ello… already?
Disclaimer: I was an early Tumblr employee.
The Internet class lost its collective minds over the weekend when Ello - through its beta invite ‘forced scarcity’ system - went viral. Shades of Pinterest, Fab and Mailbox.
Ello offers not new functionality or innovation, but a new manifesto: “vote for us because we’re not Facebook.” Unfortunately, as products go, few have successes campaigning in the negative.
Let’s look at what Ello actually is. It’s a gorgeous canvas for photos and text that is friendly to hybrid forms of GIFs and emojis. A place for self-expression. A watering hole for early adopters, especially designers and other creatives. A place for status updates. A place for portfolios.
Does this sound familiar? Oh yeah, it’s Tumblr, circa 2007.
The main issue here? Ello doesn’t offer anything new. It’s a redesigned Tumblr, with less features. Tumblr’s early thrust was both the dashboard and external blogs.
Everyone focuses on how easy it was to post things, but the early community was drawn to the creative themes, the bookmarklet and the dashboard. The dashboard was for community and the external blogs, with its attendant themes, were honeypots for designers, fashionistas, photographers and anyone who can work their way around Photoshop’s lighting effects. At the time, those were supernova innovations (cribbed from other places, but gelled together so well).
Now, in addition to all that, Tumblr has kick ass search courtesy of Yahoo, great ops engineering, crazy good mobile apps, photosets, GIF support, music integration, a great Theme Garden, Blog Spotlight, and so on. Alas, messaging remain rudimentary.
Looking at Ello’s proposed features roadmap, it’s a rehash of early Tumblr and in some ways, Twitter. There’s your friends/contacts. And there’s noise, which is a precursor to Tumblr Tags and Twitter Discover.
So can Ello be the next big social network? Right now? No. A redesigned social network without any major innovation (i.e. explicit product features) cannot sustain enough momentum from viral marketing and philosophical announcements to get users to switch. “No ads” is product development by omission.. which is weird.
Many will be curious and try out the product. But Tumblr hasn’t stumbled - it’s product is as strong as ever for self-expression (despite increasing advertisements encroaching on the user experience) and Twitter owns the noise. But if Ello can come up with a killer feature or a set of features — be it focused on privacy, communication, distribution, or content creation - its design and marketing can spawn a formidable challenger for the incumbents.
As it is, my Ello feed is silent this Monday, after a frenzied 4-5 hours of activity over the last week. Let’s see how this plays out.