Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Serious #FOMO, among other things.
It was Wednesday, September 24, and I hadn't yet got an Ello invite. I was aware of the buzz it was generating (mostly by gloating people who had gotten invites), but this newest social network was on the periphery of my world—both real and virtual. Whatever, another Facebook-Instagram thing. I don't need another Google+ in my life.
But still came the creeping #FOMO. Why didn't I get an invite? The Ello conversation continued to blow up that week—for me, mostly over other social networks with others who also weren't cool enough to have gotten an invite. I decided to glumly check it out, like driving by a party I wasn't on the list for.
The parts of the site I could access looked clean and trendy, like the Apple product of social networks. On the front page, the "favorite" user profiles were packed like cupcakes in the center. I could access (and was encouraged to share) the Ello manifesto, in which the creators promised the site would be ad-free, anti-big data, and anti-ugliness. It said that Ello users were not products.
That's one reason people are clamoring for invites—to check out what the "anti-Facebook" has to offer. Or not offer, over and over.
The other reason is exclusivity.
Friends who were internetty already enough to be on it already could invite you, or you could request an invitation. At one point last week, the site buckled under the weight of invitation applications (ranging between 20,000 and 35,000 an hour). If you were really desperate for cache, you could also buy an invite on Ebay for up to $100. (Even the good people at Ello felt this was a bit bizarre).
Steve Jones, who teaches communications and electronic media at University of Illinois in Chicago, got an invite from an artist friend soon after the site launched. He told me that he was castigated yesterday for having grabbed up the @SteveJones handle by another person with the same name. That's another reason there was such a rush to get the invites: a chance to start over with a better username.
"A big part of what was driving the interest in Ello was not so much what it had to offer as a the fear of missing out on it," he says. "[People] potentially want to lock in a handle and kind of plant their flag.”
It's also a great marketing move. If Ello had removed the velvet rope at the very beginning, the explosion of interest in such a fledgling social network may not have happened, says Jones. He guesses that some of the buyers might include PR companies securing a spot in what could be the next big viral opportunity for their clients. (Ello may trumpet that it's ad-free, but nothing is stopping brands—including Ello creator Paul Budnitz's bike company—from securing a handle.)
— Hanne Storm Ofteland (@cosmicsurgery) September 30, 2014
So if you still haven't gotten an invite, what does it mean? Probably that you just don't run in the same circles as the creators.
Social networks online are reflect our social networks offline to a large degree (depending on who you are and what network you're on). The Ello inner core was probably created by the creators' offline social groups because that's who they sent the invites to.
As for me, I have finally been invited to the party. Steve Jones was nice enough to send me one. I haven't really checked it out yet, though. I have all these LinkedIn emails I need to delete first.