So, last night my Facebook feed became crowded with notices from my "friends" that they were all moving to Ello. In actuality, I probably don't have that many real-world friends, but I suppose I have a decent number of virtual ones -- at least according to my Facebook profile. The ones that are migrating offered to invite me to the currently invite-only site, so I figured "what the hey, why not?" And I went ahead and joined the crowd barreling off the FB cliff.
According to its own "WTF" page, Ello is a "simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers." Originally developed as a private space, Ello apparently got so many requests to join that its creators decided to take the network public. The main hook is that Ello promises to be ad-free and not to mine personal data for profit. They hope to make money by creating a great space with cool features that people enjoy using so much they will donate money to support the effort. Sound familiar? Didn't our last radio pledge drive end just a couple weeks ago? KQED provides a service that people like so much, they just GIVE us money so that we will keep doing it! Imagine...
So, I followed my impulse to join partially because I liked the language, knowing full well the Trojan Horse nature of the rhetoric surrounding most social media. The "sharing" economy is a really nice phrase, for example. And "social network" sounded really positive until David Fincher used it as the title for his creepy portrait of a twee young megalomaniacal zillionaire.
And also, frankly, Facebook has begun to piss me off. First, I spend the little extra time I have checking up on what people are doing and -- though I never tire of seeing cats do crazy things (really, who does?) -- I have gotten kinda sick of seeing other people's dinner while eating my bowl of white rice with cold broccoli, listening to humble brags and basically comparing my sorry life to the apparently fab ones others are living.
Second, my feed is getting clogged with ads for things I would never even think of liking -- a sign that the algorithm doesn't work so well for cranky contrarians like yours truly.
Third, I have always hated the "like" button. It's just plain bad taste when someone announces on Facebook that something horrible happened in his or her life and ends up with a whole mess of likes in response. I mean, come on, as a member of Gen X, I have always sneered at popularity contests. Now getting "liked" is in my job description. Where's the damn dis-like button already? Now, that's a tool I can use!
Fourth, what's with the sort mechanism that keeps switching my feed from "most recent" to "top stories"? When I choose a setting, leave it alone! (I know, I have some serious first-world problems.)
Finally, the whole thing about Facebook deciding to remove drag queen profiles because their idea of identity doesn't conform to Facebook's definition (outlined in the terms of service) strikes me as overly limiting and not a little authoritarian. I mean, are we really going to let a website, no matter how popular, narrowly define what "identity" means for the rest of us? I know. I know. Facebook is a BUSINESS based on delivering eyeballs to hungry marketers in search of easier access to our wallets -- oh, and it's also an open forum for free expression. (And Facebook should be smart enough to know that you NEVER mess with drag queens unless you want to get seriously f-ed up! I mean, sheesh!)
Some of my FB pals pointed out that we've been down this road before. Ello needs to gain a critical mass of the same eyeballs before they create a similar business model and make some quick cash. This is late capitalism after all and our time spent looking is worth something. Those with the biggest servers who can convince large numbers of us regular folks to devote our labor to filling up seemingly endless digital space with our images, thoughts and creativity stand to profit most.
Those same virtual friends warning others about the migration away from Facebook are right. But ultimately, I thought, "big whoop" there are no stakes here (and no steaks either). It's just social media. It's not about addressing child poverty, human trafficking or even global warming. What would really happen if Facebook went the way of Friendster? A few Internet billionaires would have a little less cash, but they would take that cash and invest it in Ello and make even more millions. "Them that's got shall get. Them that don't shall lose. So the Bible says…"
I will probably share this article on Facebook...