Why Ello.co is a bad idea

5 years is a long time in terms of the internet.
Let’s assume that you have been on the it during this period. Chances are quite high that you are on Facebook together with the other 1.32 Billion monthly users. Chances are also that you have followed the issues of online privacy related to the NSA spying scandal.

Ello Noise view -- is mostly noise...
Ello Noise view — is really just mostly noise with few working functions…

For more than a year it is therefore understandable that a growing part of the wider public has begun to think about alternatives to publishing all their personal details on Facebook.

However, it is rather surprising that suddenly Ello.co is celebrated as the great alternative to Facebook. So far what is known about Ello is that:

You may wonder why the last point should be important to anyone but eccentric computer nerds. I can see three main reasons why it is important that the next social network is open source:

  • The selection of what goes into the news stream is made by the software that runs the social network. With millions or Billions of users, adjusting the algorithm for what goes into every users stream is the ultimate thought control. Facebook has admitted to using this for minor experiments, but potentially it can also be used for political purposes (not spreading certain news, spreading some news more than others, etc.). If the source code is open, everyone can check what exactly determines why one story is being shown to you rather than another.
  • Because the people running a specific site can make strange, dictatorial decisions that the majority of users might not agree with. It can seem at times that Facebook users confuse Facebook with a democratic state when they create campaigns for the closing of a certain site or against the expulsion of user X. Facebook is not that. it is a commercial company with its own interests. There is no problem with sites running social networks being that, as long as the users have the freedom to take all their data and move to another server with another philosophy and continue from there, with all their old friends as if nothing had happened. If the source code is open users who disagree with a change or with a administrative decision can just create their own server.
  • An open source social network can be programmed to work decentralized/federated so that users who are connected to one server can connect to users on another server. The servers can be run by different economic entities, so that the end user only connects to a server that he/she trusts and no direct connection from her/his personal computer to any server will be detectable.

Ello the only alternative?

Diaspora - one of the alternatives to Facebook with several years of development and an open code base
Diaspora – one of the alternatives to Facebook with several years of development and an open code base

One good explanation for why Ello.co suddenly is so popular could have been that it is the only alternative to Facebook — except it is not.

While the general public has only been aware of the issues of Facebook possibly spying on its users for a little over a year, developers have suspected this for much longer. I myself was talking about the need to prepare for this possibility at conference about social networking in Managua, Nicaragua (spring 2012) and about the possibilities that lie in controlling the news stream on Facebook (spring 2014).

Other developers have gone much further than me and have actually programmed social networks from the ground up. Developers have been building them for years, and several of them are built to talk to work in a decentralized/federated way with different instances of one-another with an open source code model behind them. Take for example Friendica or Diaspora or the the upcoming Pump.io. They are ready to be used once users get fed up with Facebook.

Why then Ello?

One can come up with many conspiracy theories on why the media suddenly reports on Ell being the Facebook killer. Chances are the main reason is that journalists haven’t really done their research and a snowball effect is make the “news” of Ello’s arrival spread far and fast.

Unfortunately the consequences of yet another closed site, such as Ello, taking over after Facebook could mean a set back the development of democratic forms of communication for another decade.

6 thoughts on “Why Ello.co is a bad idea”

  1. I think it’s a shame that you chose this title, and I think there are major parts missing in your article.
    The title in my opinian should be:

    Why Ello is probably the best idea for the moment.

    What I think is missing in your article:

    * It’s not true that Ello has no business model. They have a freemium model. No ads, free basic functions for everyone, but you pay for extras. This is the same model as for example Mailchimp has.

    *The big pro Ello has over Facebook, is that it doesn’t use advertisers. This has a major impact. Facebook needs to sell information to advertisers. Facebook wants to know who might be pergnant, so advertisers can send targeted ads about babyfood to those people. The major feature of Facebook is not a social network, it’s profiling. Profiling / datamining for advertisers leads to information that is very useful to secret services as well. If you can see who might be pregnant or who has hameroids or who likes coca cola, you can also see who is muslim and who criticises their governments.
    Facebook uses everything you enter for this goal, and much more. The like button that you see on many avaerage websites, has some code in it with which Facebook can even follow your behaviour on the internet if you’re not even a Facebook member.

    Ello doesn’t need advertisers, doesn’t need profiling and doesn’t need datamining. They just need to know what services in their website are much used and which are not.

    This is such a basic function of Ello that it really makes me wonder why you omitted it. The article almost reads like it was written by FB itself to prevent Ello from growing bigger than they are.

    Of course I do get that you are no facebook fan either. But the main point of your article is that there is no real difference between Fb and Ello, and this simply is not true.

    Now I do agree with you that Ello is not heaven. I agree that it would be even greater if Ello was open source. I even want to add a point: Ello would be better if they wouldn’t use a central server, but use peer to peer technology like Diaspora does.

    But: the problem with Diaspora and the many other alternatives for Facebook, is that nobody uses them.
    Many of the alternatives are not userfriendly enough, look like *hit, are nerdy technical solutions to social needs, or are simply so incapable with marketing that nobody knows about them.
    You kind of blame Ello and the media for that. I think that’s childish. Those alternatives should learn from Ello. I my bread is so distasteful that nobody wants it, I should improve my bread in stead of blaming better bakeries for spoiling my public’s taste.

    So, my end conclusion is that although there are surely improvements possible, for this moment Ello is a fantastic alternative for Facebook.
    It doesn’t sell any information to advertisers!
    It doesn’t profile!
    It doesn’t even gather information the way Facebook does, nor does it need to.

    I hope everyone will move from Fb to Ello.
    And I hope that in a few years time, an even better alternative comes along.

    1. Johannes

      I agree with your overall article. It is disheartening to see a closed source / for profit social network with modest privacy improvements over facebook gain so much media attention while others which are truly created around the principles of user privacy, decentralization, open source, etc remain on the sidelines. I do partially agree with Bas’s point though. That Ello is still a step in the right direction and much better than Facebook. It is better to have Ello than to have nothing and a social network with no users is basically nothing.

    2. * Having users pay for extra services for a social network they can get for free everywhere else is not a real “business model” for which you get USD435k handed over just like that.

      * You claim Diaspora, etc. look nerdy? Have you tried to connect to any of them recently?

  2. I disagree, mainly because because changing people from one network to another is not easy and will only happen every few years. I am not convinced that Ello doesn’t share data either. Why would I trust some random new company to be different? additionally it’s just not very developed at all in comparison with the open alternatives that already exist.I rally hope Ello fails, but I can see they may succeed given the massive media campaign that is behind Ello right now. What a shame!

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