So there’s been a fair amount of hype about the new social networking service called Ello. I got an invite recently (which is not that hard to come by) and just spent some time using it.

So what’s it like? I’m struggling to describe it because it just seems so… sparse.

Visually it’s quite simple and clean. There’s too much white space, to the point where it seems barren and almost cold. The busy-ness of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, all of which cram way too much noise and activity into their layouts, is the norm now. And that’s probably why Ello seems oddly silent. You can practically hear the tumbling tumbleweeds. Ello’s icy silence might be less noticeable on a native mobile app, which is supposed to launch later this year for both iOS and Android.

Aside from the visual aspect, here are some quick observations:

  • There’s no helpful way to find people who you might know. Since it’s still a relatively small site, I guess they don’t have enough people to run recommendation engines that will help you find the people you might know. Instead, you have to search for them by real name or their Ello user name.
  • It’s easy to invite friends to the beta. Just click the “+” button.
  • The “friends” vs. “noise” filters are clever ways to switch between people whose updates you really want to see, vs. those you’d rather not. It’s also really easy to switch someone from friend to noise, or vice versa.

In a nutshell, it’s a simple and minimalist site in its desktop version and is refreshingly free of the “sponsored” messages that are everywhere now on social networking sites. That was a big motivator of the Ello philosophy, and it will appeal to anyone who doesn’t want to be a product to be targeted by advertisers.