Almost no one seems to use Facebook because they like Facebook these days. Walls, excuse me, timelines, are hard to navigate and can sometimes obscure the content you're looking for. And the newsfeed can sometimes feel more like an advertising stream than a channel for personally useful information.
There's also the creep factor: The advertisements on Facebook make it clear to users that the company knows where they've been online. And, with its revamped Atlas ad platform, Facebook will use what it knows about its users to target them on other Web sites and mobile apps.
The younger, hipper kids have already moved on in a series of generations -- to Twitter and Tumblr, then to Snapchat. It's a cycle that is by no means new: Facebook was the new kid on the block when the establishment was MySpace, and before Myspace there was Friendster.
But Facebook came of age just as regular Internet use came into the norm, and its population reflects that. There are over 1 billion users. Roughly one-sixth of the world is on Facebook.
So even when current users might decide they've had enough, they are locked into the service by a sort of social obligation: I am on Facebook because my oldest friends, parents, grandparents and maybe even those old classmates whom I really like being able to know I am doing better than in life are all on Facebook. It's too convenient to quit -- and years of people's social interactions are captured by its digital clutches: Walk away, and the connectivity you have been conditioned to crave may be cut.
And yet, there have been rumblings of an exodus. An upstart -- a sleek but quirky social network still in its testing phase -- has been ballooning in recent days, apparently the beneficiary of outrage over Facebook's real names policy in LGBTQ circles. The company, Ello, which launched this summer, even included a shot at Facebook in its opening manifesto:
But it's questionable whether people actually are leaving Facebook for Ello. There are also questions about the new site's ability to protect against online harassment and cyberstalking -- such features on Ello appear to be inadequately enforced or nonexistent. This doesn't necessarily doom the product -- it's still in an invite-only trial phase. But the fact that Ello is gaining popularity now, when its growing pains are still apparent, is probably not ideal.
"Popularity" is a loose term, at best. Yes, the service says it's approving tens of thousands of invites per hour. But few people seem to be full-scale migrating to Ello and deleting their Facebook presences. Instead, large parts of Ello appear to suffer from the same dead disco syndrome that has plagued Google+: There are pockets of extreme activity surrounded by vast social deserts, which will likely prevent a mass entry of users. Why use a social network if none of the people you want to be social with are there?
Even Ello users who have found their community on the service may not find the utopian vision it promises. That vision, as my colleague Caitlin Dewey points out, is a bit naive. The company does not appear to have any particular business plan to support their current level of growth, and their privacy promises, while in refreshingly plain English, leave plenty of wiggle room to be changed if the site is acquired by another firm or decides it needs to change direction to become profitable.
And even if you delete your account, Ello warns, your data may not actually disappear from the company's servers.
Ello stores its data on servers run by third parties. We or a third party we work with may keep backups of Ello’s data and code, which may or may not include posts and other information that you put on Ello, even after you have deleted your account. Therefore, even after you delete your account, your data may remain in backups on our system, although it will be no longer visible or publicly accessible on Ello.
As a result of the core service it is delivering, Ello will still have your data -- even if it says it doesn't want to monetize your information.
Which brings us back to the business model, or lack thereof. Ello is not a nonprofit. It's a venture capital-backed start-up -- the company has already received $435,000 in seed funding from FreshTracks Capital and is reportedly now flooded with offers -- and investors expect returns.
For now, founder Paul Budnitz says that shouldn't be an issue. "The venture capitalist can get upset, but it wouldn’t matter because they have no control," he told Business Insider, noting that founders control a substantial majority stake in the company. "And Ello is so deeply based, we put a flag in the stand with a manifesto, I can’t imagine how that would change and people would stick around."
Instead, Budnitz seems to be proposing various "fremium" models -- a $2 fee for managing more than one account, or micropayments for future new features. But it remains to be seen if people will actually be willing to pay for these type of services -- thanks in no small part to the years of consumer perception that social network are "free," though of course they have actually been paying for them with their personal information.