As will happen once or twice a year, we have a new social site that many are prematurely calling the death of Facebook. And as happens even more rarely, it appears to be getting traction towards overcoming the network effect. For those unaware, the "network effect," simply put, states that nobody will use a thing until enough people are using a thing. To overcome this seemingly catch-22 circumstance, you need a degree of interest and virality in a short period of time. It doesn't matter how good something is, if it relies on a critical mass of users, you'll have most people standing around waiting to see if anyone else jumps first, and nobody jumps.
In the case of a very few sites, if you get enough people to jump at the same time, you overcome the initial barrier. Chemistry geeks can consider this the activation energy threshold. Physics geeks can consider this the coefficient of static friction.
LiveJournal did it. Heck, Facebook did it to MySpace.
And yes, there are "tricks" to help. Artificial scarcity, for example - you need an invite to join, and you can ask for one, but you'll have to wait. Never mind that once you're in, you get 10 invites. The laws of simple math will make it clear that getting an invite from a friend should be no problem at all if you're even remotely connected. And this makes total sense to the site's owners, as it biases new signups to people who are connected. Using an invite code also gives you an initial social graph connection (to the person who invited you), thus bootstrapping the graph of the site.
In short, Ello is doing everything right.
And it may or may not matter, because once you overcome the network effect barrier, you still need to keep the users. Just ask Google+. That said, Wil Wheaton is already there. Consider that the low-threshold gating function: his presence doesn't make the site, but his absence would be a statement.
So, for right now, Ello is clean, crisp, simple, and pretty-much no better than a somewhat expanded Twitter feed. Friends/Noise has an appeal, but it's pretty basic. Many people want basic, but many more have come to rely on features that Facebook provides. Ello needs to find a way to provide these features, but in a non-cluttering way.
And, of course, the policy - transparency. You own your content. There's no curation and filtering happening. And, in an interesting (and dare I say refreshing) twist, everything is public. Anyone can follow anyone else, and all of your posts are public. It's wide open, and intended to be so from the start.
Some people have a problem with that. This morning, a friend of mine had a post on Ello, "Dear @person, please unfollow me, I only want friends here." Now perhaps @person will comply, but @person is under no mandate to do so. There's nothing my friend can do. Again, there are no private posts on your feed.
The open question now is what Ello does with the current rush of early adopters. Will they roll out features that everyone wants and loves and maintain the elegant simplicity? Will they stick to their philosophical guns and will the fickle crowd agree? Will there be an initial rush, only to have the novelty wear off like Google+? Only time will tell. I'm keen to wait, watch, and see.
So I'm @dogberry over on Ello. Feel free to follow me.
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