The importance of being socially cool11/19/2014
There are two things that launch upstart social networks from nothing to necessities: a feature that isn’t offered anywhere else, and being cool. While coming up with an original social network feature seems nearly impossible, being cool and maintaining can be much harder. Friendster, MySpace, and even America Online — the original social network — all brought something to the table the Web hadn’t seen before only to eventually lose their user appeal.
For Friendster it was the lack of interaction, for Myspace it was an ugly interface and oversaturation of ads, and for America Online it was the ’90s software mentality that never translated to the browser-based Internet that took over around the turn of the century. Are Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, Quora, LinkedIn, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat all cool? Yes; some definitely more than others. But each has its fervent audience. It seems that, with regard to the Internet of today, it has been proven that as long as you stay true to your audience’s expectations and reserve a modicum of cool, they’ll stay with you.
Still, some business practices that start as little annoyances for social network users can eventually fester into serious problems that might one day lead to user abandonment. Currently the most troublesome social networking practices include advertisement inundation and user data hoarding and selling — i.e., how virtually every site sustains itself. Front and center in this discussion is Facebook, the site with the most populated user base, delivers the most ads and has the largest cache of user data to exploit.
With Facebook’s crimes against cool so glaring, a new network has made its mission to be the anti-Facebook. Ello, the newest social network to grab headlines, has vowed to cast off the Facebook model of advertising and user data mining in order to rake in profits. In fact, after filing as a “public-benefit corporation,” or PBC, Ello legally can’t show ads or sell data. PBCs are a special type of business incorporation that provide a public service and leverage a revenue model with the least amount of conflicts of interest for its clientele. The largest PBC examples include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The United States Postal Service, both of which do not allow traditional advertising. For Ello, its legal filing stated it would never allow advertising or the use of user data for revenue generation.
So without the cash firehouse that advertising supplies, how will Ello keep the lights on? With something potentially even less cool — selling user features one by one. That’s right, a new Ello user can set up a profile and provide other users insight into his or her personality for free. That’s pretty much it. Besides being so new that many features don’t exist yet, once features such as photo sharing and video uploading are available, users will need to pay to use them. Considering social networks pop up and disappear faster than major network sitcoms, charging neophyte users to test your product seems like a fast track to failure.
While it is decidedly uncool to demand users plug in their credit card after logging in, Ello does have a couple features that give it a chance of gaining some street cred. Ello users can set up accounts under any name or pseudonym, and the network is heavily moderated to police hate speech, trolling and illicit behavior.
In the end, I personally don’t feel users will be able to foot all of Ello’s bills. Sure, ads are annoying, but they’re everywhere, and truthfully, easy to ignore. Besides, Ello isn’t the only option. Google Plus is ad-free, has more features than Facebook, and none of them require you to open your wallet. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.