Ello: some thoughts on why there isn’t much political discussion on our controversial new social network
In the last week or so I have seen an amazing amount of energy devoted to burying Ello. Mind you, it hasn’t launched yet. Still in beta. These folks are trying to kill it before the doors officially open. What’s weird is the range of attacks I’m seeing. Business insiders patting it on the head and ‘splaining why, noble as it is, it just won’t work. (I can’t prove that these folks are pimping for Facebook, but their efforts have to be making Zuck happy.) Pro-privacy types saying it’s sold out before it gets started because the developers take venture capital money. Design junkies telling us how it’s the worse design experience since, well like ever. On and on and on and on.
I’m not here to tell you that it’s going to put Facebook out of business. I’m not here to tell you that owners won’t sell it to the highest bidder. I don’t know them, and while I don’t think that’s the plan, hey, most people have a price. Who knows for sure. I’m not here to tell you that it doesn’t have bugs. As I commented on one of these self-important blogs a few days ago, you do know what the term “beta” means, right?
Not gonna tell you any of that. But I do like Ello so far, and I do have a relatively informed opinion on the subject. I was one of the first people in. I have well over 4000 followers. I have let interacting on the site consume way too many hours over the past couple of weeks. And I have been thinking deeply about the network the whole time, in the way us critical thinkers are prone to doing.
That said, I have a few more thoughts, following on to the post from last week.
I noted before that I haven’t seen much in the way of political discussion, and I have been thinking more about why that might be. First off, I am not saying there is no discussion of politics. But in the circle I have seen, it’s very minimal. I have been stunned at how little I have seen, and on a couple occasions when I have upped something political myself I have been met by crickets chirping. Which is odd, since the crowd strikes me as being pretty progressive, in all likelihood.
Are there corners of Ello where a lot of political chatter is happening? Maybe. I haven’t seen it and can’t comment on what I haven’t seen.
Perhaps the critical element to consider here is that the design favors visual over textual at this point. If you scroll down the feed you might see photos, graphic art, snips of poetry, political comments, pictures of pets (although mercifully, it hasn’t turned into cat pics central yet), fiction, or A saying hi to B. It’s all mashed together and the eye is naturally going to be drawn toward the images. My big hits so far are my photos, and it isn’t close.
I also get some hits on my poetry, but only when I post screen shots of it. Ello’s text posting functionality is hinky still, so you can’t include the kinds of line breaks and indentations that my work freuqently employs. This fucks with my writing badly, so I started doing screen grabs of the poem in Word and posting the image – voila! So when people scroll their feeds, my poems stand out more than regular text, leading to more people investigating it.
This alone would make for an interesting paper in several academic fields, from design to lit to cognitive science.
The design and functionality may explain why there is less political discussion than we might expect. These posts and conversations are basic text, and in the current design text simply doesn’t grab the eye of a passerby, especially one grazing casually. Which means less interest, less response, and hence less incentive for those wanting to discuss these issues to keep trying.
Remember, Ello is a social net designed by designers. It has a visual cognitive bias built in. This is wonderful for some users, and maybe frustrating for others.
So there you go – a theory. Stay tuned.