Hello, Ello

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.

You are not a ninja (or a maven)

I’ve noticed people around the web calling themselves a “product ninja” or a “networking maven” or even a “social media titan.”  Sorry to burst your bubbles, but something must be said about this trend.

A ninja in feudal Japan was a pretty scary person. He or she had deadly skills. Using stealth tactics and disguises a ninja could destroy their targets and disappear without a trace. They were also trained in espionage, arson, assassinations, and other nefarious arts. In short, you did not mess with a ninja.

Ninjas were skilled in uzura-gakure — a disappearing technique where the ninja curls into a motionless ball to look like a rock or stone. Is that something that you, self-proclaimed ninja, do regularly in the workplace? No? OK then.

So unless you were trained in traditional ninja skills, some 800 years ago in Japan, you are not a ninja.

I have data to back this up. There are more than 20,000 people on LinkedIn with the word “ninja” in their job titles, in either their current or previous positions. That constitutes a global ninja army. Yet none of them are truly ninja certified according to the ancient ninjutsu ways.

In my mind, there are only two acceptable reasons for you to call yourself a ninja.

1. You are a musician associated with the Ninjatune record label in the UK.

2. You were granted the title of “ninja” by your employer or colleagues, AND (this part is critical) you show up to work every day dressed in traditional ninja attire. This consists of, at a minimum, a black robe, lightweight armor, and lots of ninja tools like ropes, hooks, spikes, and wooden shoes (needed to walk on water when the situation demands). If you do not meet either of these criteria, you cannot call yourself a ninja.

By the way, you are also not a “maven.” More than 1,000 people on LinkedIn have that word in their job title. You are only a maven if Malcolm Gladwell himself has specially anointed you as one. If he hasn’t, and as far as I know it’s not a blessing he has bestowed on anyone, then you should not call yourself a maven.