We rarely think of the next big “____” as a tool to solve a problem. But it always is. New iPhone, new app, new desk, new calculator. Tools, tools, tools. Right now, Ello—the new invite-only social-media network that has a minimalist interface, no advertising and probably not your mother as a member—is a tool to solve the problem that Facebook sucks.
Once upon a time, Facebook solved the problem of, “I wish everyone from my high school knew how fucking cool I look in this picture (and also my life achievements).” Twitter solved two problems at the same time: 1) This bathroom line is really long; and 2) Secretly, I’d be great at stand-up comedy if I had an audience and weren’t concerned with timing. Within the first day that I joined Ello, I discovered two more things which I consider social-network pandemics:
1) Somebody with my name had already signed up. That stole the usernames “Brendan,” “Sullivan” and “BrendanSullivan.” (Feel free to follow me on the made-up name I have for all networks: “MrBrendanJay.”)
2) It’s full of attractive people I haven’t yet met.
But after using the site for a bit, I found that it has cured a host of problems that Facebook and Twitter have created, chief among them:
1. “Friends” are a bad influence. Oprah says that you are the sum of your five closest acquaintances. When I log on to Facebook or Twitter, I feel the need to measure up. On Facebook, that means being from Connecticut and making a large amount of money so I can move back to Connecticut and procreate with someone else born in the ’80s. On Twitter, I am implored to be sharp, funny and in-demand enough to have opinions about airports in Dallas. On Ello, I follow people who are design-minded. They like schmancy cocktails and careful thought. They say things that are not for the benefit of every single person they ever sat next to in a classroom.
Ello didn’t scan my contacts for “People You Might Know.” I already know the people I know. Look where that’s gotten me.
2. Privacy settings. There are none. If you don’t want to share something, don’t put it on Ello. I don’t understand why we have to explain that. This is the 2014 version of being hackproof.
3. The ability to be serious or not. Why is it so hard to express yourself on Facebook and Twitter? 140 characters or that strange limit that comes up when you express yourself in complete sentences and … [see more]? And for what? Is it because you can’t be facetious in regular fonts? Could it be any harder to share this blog post and know that I’m serious and kidding at the same time? Solution: Ello lets you post in italics and bold.
4. Pornability. I know it’s just me and Mitt Romney, but I don’t watch porn. Yes. I’m upright. I feel bad enough that my phone is made in a plant where people commit suicide. (At least none of them got chlamydia in the line of duty.) Ello is like Twitpic if it were Instagram but butts-agnostic. I’m into this. Please fill my personal feed with girls who have nice butts and pretty underpants. Fuck it! Throw in a nipple. Nay, two of them! (If there were a social network devoted entirely to tasteful nudes, I would be on it like ConEd.)
My Ello friends are like the people you hang out with freshman year. They are the friends you actually choose.
5. You don’t actually want to know the people you know. As soon as I signed up for Ello, I discovered that it didn’t want to scan my contacts or FB friends for “People You Might Know.” I already know the people I know. Look where that’s gotten me. I came here to meet new people. If networks are like moving to another city, then I will enjoy being new in town. Thusofar, my Ello friends are like the people you hang out with freshman year. They are the friends you actually choose.
6. Separating the signal from the noise. Tina Fey once said that if she could have any job, it would be the arbiter of Twitter: Deciding who could say what and why. No fucking wonder Phil Hartman called her “Herman the German.” My problem with Facebook is that I want to share things without actually telling anyone I know. Periodically, I put things on Twitter that I wouldn’t even say out loud. I post disgusting shit on Secret. Because I’m a human being, and I’m okay with that. I just don’t always want to tell my now-retired college professors. My ideal social network would be a group of attractive young people who could tell me about cool shit. On that note:
7. On Ello, it’s okay to scheme on good-looking people. “Hey, what’s up? It’s Mr. Regular Guy Who Always Writes the Cover Story for Esquire here.” Ello is like getting invited to the party where everyone is cool, so we can drop the act and just hang. The failing of Myspace/Minitel/Prodigy were that they leaned on their shovels as far as the “network effect” was concerned. Why work when you already have users? According to Metcalfe’s Law, the value of a network is equal to the square of its number of users. For now, this makes Ello great. Ello’s value is in how many people aren’t on it. Squared.
Social media is all about taking back the time you’ve lost. It is stolen time. So act like a thief.
8. You don’t have to use your real name. That’s great. For you people. I have to actively use a fake name in order to be Googleable. I have the same fucking name as Oliver North’s criminal attorney and probably 11 pubs that have 25-cent wing nights on Mondays. Ello is good news for my friends who are famous actors and go by a Nickname Middlenamey on Facebook. (But seriously, fuck those people.)
9. You can label people as a friend or noise. Oh, God. If your parents join, you know they’ll never find out you think of them as noise. Also, this feature itself is labeled “Noise.”
10. You’re in-‘n’-out in 90 seconds. Social media is all about taking back the time you’ve lost. It is stolen time. So act like a thief. You don’t want to go into the vault. You never go into the vault. Go in, refresh, pretend you connect, go back to your life. It’s your turn in the bathroom line. The endless scroll of FB is like all things: less exciting than you think. Don’t make other people wait in line longer because you are on the toilet being encyclopedic about other people’s kids’ first day of school. Get in, do your business, and get out.
At best, the Facebook/Ello scenario will play out like the Samsung Galaxy/iPhone 6 +/-. Honestly, I don’t give a fuck which one you use, as long as you text me back and don’t need directions. One of them might have better fonts and the other might be more droppable. But realistically, the existence of one will make another better, and that’s the point of social networks: Trying to prove, in really dumb ways, that you’re better than the others you started out with.