Author: Adam Moore (LÆMEUR) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: December 16, 2014
A very kind soul sent me a flattering invite to join Ello, the good-looking, ad-free social networking site that has recently become hip with a certain type of internet user. I wanted to respond by saying thanks, but no, and why don't you come join us on GNU social instead? Of course, I can't write anything that simply, so it turned into a whole thing:
Dear [name redacted],
Thanks for the kind words about my art, and thank you very much for sending me an invite to Ello. I'm afraid I'll have to decline the invitation, though.
The rampant commercialism of the internet is a wearying thing, I understand that. It's hard to want to continue using services like Facebook and Google when all of your social interaction is made to take place between advertisements, and it's extra hard to want to continue to use these services when you really have no idea what they're doing with your personal information, whether they're selling it to the highest bidder, or dumping it wholesale into the deep servers of the NSA or god-knows who else.
I appreciate Ello's manifesto, and I believe the site's founders really do want to provide a different kind of experience, one that's not as crassly commercial as the sites they hope to obviate — but Ello isn't a pro bono undertaking. It's a for-profit company, funded by the same kind of venture capitalists who facilitated the growth of Facebook from an ad-free inter-campus social information system to the billion-user corporate juggernaut it is today. Maybe Ello will stay small and ad-free and nice to use in spite of the increasing pressures to become profitable that its investors are going to apply in due course of time. But maybe not. What assurances do you have, aside from a manifesto? Isn't Google's corporate motto "don't be evil"?
Furthermore, Ello is a closed ecosystem, just like Facebook, just like Google+, just like old MySpace. It's a service where all of your information is stored and transmitted through a central, commercial system, available to other users of that service, but not to anyone else. Can you imagine if the web was like that? If every web site was hosted on one corporation's servers, and was subject to that corporation's Terms of Service? And in order for you to view or publish items on the web, you had to have a customer account with that corporation? Can you imagine if email was like that? Imagine if you could only email people who used the same email provider as you. Imagine if you used, for example, Gmail, and your family used Outlook, and in order for you to send and receive messages from them, you had to register an Outlook account. A different account for every email provider used by the people you want to keep in touch with. It would be madness. Of course, the Facebook/Google/Twitter/Ello gamble is to say, ah, yes, but if we grow large enough, *everyone* will be using our service!
It's just a terrible way of doing things. For the consumer, it's a terrible way of doing things, to use that kind of "you're either in or you're out!" exclusivity.
On the other hand, I'd love it if we could get some more artists like yourself onto the GNU social network. GNU social isn't a centralized service like Facebook or Ello, it's a federation of servers that can exchange social media items between their users. Like email, you can register an account on any server you like, and then subscribe to the feeds of anyone on any GNU social server, and do all the usual social media stuff such as favor, repost, and comment on their posts. Furthermore, if you decide you don't like your server anymore, you can move to a different one and still be in the network. There are some free, open-access servers to sign-up on here: http://gnu.io/social/try/
Or, a much larger list of servers is here; some are private or invite-only, though: http://www.skilledtests.com/wiki/List_of_Independent_Statusnet_Instances.
If you join, you can remote follow me with this address: https://wm.sdf.org/gs/laemeur
Lucklily, that kind soul was not offended by my unsolicited evangelism, and we exchanged another round of emails.