The weather in San Francisco for the last several weeks has been oppressively chipper, like the meteorological equivalent of the Gibson Singapore Smiley. A constant tease of light rain that seems to make everyone else happy and just reminds me that we’re in a drought. I am a pleasant man to be around, please buy my cookies.
The Twin Peaks Soundtrack, because time is not linear, and despite the content of this newsletter, everything else I’ve been thinking about of late has been deep and moving laterally along the edges between the rational and irrational, just like this show, at its best moments.
Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, as done by The Bad Plus, because sometimes you need a Jazz four-piece cover of a Flaming Lips tune. It speaks for itself.
Trista says to me: “the ello ship, might not be perfect, but it sails.” And that’s about what that is. Facebook did another turn of the screw recently against pseudonymity and privacy, as they do periodically while they raise the temperature of the water that the social frogs are being boiled in, but this one happened to come at a time when ello was just starting to make themselves known. So the timing worked out well that a bunch of people are looking for something new. (Also, word on the street is that they spent a lot of time walking around Burning Man telling people about their thing, which is an interesting data point about how that particular Nudge Wink Moneyless Economy becomes integral to SF Capitalism, but that’s for later.)
The folks at ello are clearly struggling a bit to keep up with this. They are adamant that their site is in beta, and things may shift underfoot at any moment, and anyway they don’t really know how they’re going to make a profit on this and make it self-sustaining. I’ve seen some bugs. I managed to crash my browser multiple times by attempting to upload a profile picture somehow, which would be kind of a terrifying thing for a non-developer user to experience, and a few people have reported user searching either not working at all or hanging for so long it might as well not. These are reasonable issues for a site in beta to have, especially one whose user base is expanding way more rapidly than they planned, and I’m not upset at them for it. But I think a lot of people who are used to the “1996 with so many coats of paint that it looks newish” polish of Facebook will be upset at them, and furthermore what are we all doing on yet anther social network again?
I judge the growth of networks by the various circles that I have that overlap on them. When I encountered Ello it was via the “international hacker/thinker/journo” part of my social graph, but today’s mail is full of signup notices from “goth club attendees and coworkers,” which says to me a facebook exodus, or at least duplication, is well underway. I’m not seeing much from the “speculative fiction” people, but they are all weirdos and the search function is broken again anyway.
Quinn, as usual, nails it, this time on the subject of what ello needs to do just on the economic front (and then there’s a followup by waxpancake where he does some actual digging and following of the money). And that’s not even touching the issues that will come up once the Eternal September crew starts saying anything more difficult than “ello world.” I suspect the ello offices are redolent of fear sweat and red bull right now.
(Edit: in the 12 hours since I wrote that, I’m already seeing people have their accounts suspended for content.)
(also, is fix-width font nerd chic enough that it’s hipster now? Do people who are not tech world born and raised think it looks legit somehow, in some weird typewriter as instagram filter way? Image posts look really nice and clean, though. I can see this turning into a semi-tumblr thing easily. Especially since one of my VJ friends has been posting nothing all day but stupid animated gifs without content. Yes Gabe, I am judging you in public.)
After I wrote all that, Trista and I had a conversation wherein we talked about Likes or lack thereof, and filtering, and blocking, and and and… And I realized (and by “realized” I mean “got yelly about”, sorry hon) that there’s a perception that because someone created a new social network, that they should have done it with all the features that the other ones lack that are (depending on who you are) desperately needed. I’ve seen a conflation between “Ello has stated that they won’t sell your data” and “Ello cares about your privacy.” Not selling your data is only one small part of the privacy equation, and I’ve not seen anything from Ello that claims to try to fix the larger problem.
Ello is not Social Networking Jesus. They are not trying to, as far as I can tell, build Facebook Without The Suck. They’re not even trying to address many issues that people are laying on them. They built a thing that they wanted, and that they think enough other people wanted that it could be successful. They did not try to solve everything. So, if it’s not good enough for you, don’t use it (I doubt it will be good enough for me, but I’m not making that call yet). But don’t get mad at them because they’re not solving problems that, while desperately need to be solved, they’re not claiming to address.
However, the fact that I’m seeing this come up with a lot of people says to me that there is a desperation for a social network that actually addresses problems of privacy and managing large streams of emotionally complex information. And if such a thing comes to exist, I can only hope that it comes to fruition at around the right time that facebook pisses off enough people that another giant wave of people go there and give it the momentum it needs to be successful.
Ok I’ve just burned 800 words on something that was meant to be dismissive and wait-and-see. I’ll just leave off on the note that this is not the first time this has happened. And in other Bullshit Technology News I have nothing to say about the incredible bendable pocket iBillboard other than Schadenfreude. So I’m going back to trying to wrangle these characters in this novel and figure out why as I’m approaching the Boss Fight sequence most of my party is literally halfway across Europe. Tension, right? Right.
(Late Edit, just before push: Quinn also wrote about this on medium which I also recommend if you’re not done hearing about it by now. I’m mailing this out before I read it so I don’t have to see how much better she did on this than I have.)
I kind of hate myself for writing this much about something that I am now bored thinking about. But, thanks for reading, and, as always, feedback is appreciated.
You just read issue #10 of Fractal Interpolation. You can also browse the full archives of this newsletter.