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Sorry Ello, the World Does Not Need Another Social Network

Scott Lucas | September 25, 2014 | Story Tech World

Stop us if you've heard this one before. A social network spread rapidly across early adopters, despite a barebones interface and a lack of functionality. Oh wait, you've already that one? Of course you have. It was called Google Plus. And it failed—hard. So why are we all pretending like Ello is the next Facebook?

Maybe you haven't heard about Ello yet. That's understandable, as the social network only started blowing up this morning, with write ups everywhere. TechCrunch said that for the site to have "this much traction in such a short time means it’s about to get somewhere." How much traction? Betabeat reports that over the last 24 hours, "requests to join went from 4,000 to 27,000+ per hour." Much of that growth is thanks to prominent members of the LGBT community like RuPaul, who have been criticizing Facebook over its policy that requires drag queens to register under the give names.

And that's probably the big clue as to why Ello is more of a passing protest than a long-term threat to Facebook or Twitter. Were Facebook to reverse its names policy the reason for the exodus would evaporate. (and remember, Facebook isn't dumb—the site now has multiple dozens of gender options—it's just slow and opaque). And remember, even under the best of circumstances—say like Google throwing its weight behind you—it's stupid hard to get a new social network off the ground.

It's simple game theory, really: You only want to join if everyone else is on, so why jump from Facebook to a new network? It's not impossible, but it's not easy, even with today's big bump. Sure RuPaul is on there, but—proverbially speaking—your brother's pictures of your nephew's first birthday party aren't. Facebook's immense trove of data is a big disincentive to switch. Remember Diaspora? Of course you don't. Ello is almost exactly like Facebook, except it has very few functions and a much smaller userbase. That doesn't sound promising.

There's little evidence that Ello is going to be able to scale up to meet the increased traffic. The site's founder has promised to keep it ad-free, which is cool in a theoretical sense, but isn't going to help it rent more server space or hire a few extra software engineers. It sound similar to all those dot com 1.0 companies that figured as long they could generate a user base, that revenue would follow. In that sense, Ello is the pets.com of Facebook alternatives.

We're not saying it won't get off the ground. It might! For one thing, Ello is porn-friendly. Which is smart, because the internet is for porn. Maybe it will pivot into a red-light district. Maybe it will spur Zuckerberg to get more sensitive on the pseudonym issue. But we're not exactly deleting our Facebook accounts yet.

Anyway, we're mostly just pissed off that we couldn't score an invitation to join before the site closed to new users.

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