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Thoughtful Thoughts on Ello

Thoughtful Thoughts on Ello


Ello I realize that this is very much a "me too" post.

Last week I received an invite to join Ello (thanks Lee) and jumped into this new network that everyone was talking about. I really do appreciate the non-commercial heart behind this project, I really do. That may seem counterintuitive to hear coming from a person who markets brands online. Making a sacred space to only share non-commercial things or have a website that is completely ad free (well, this one is too...where's my Fast Company article?!) is a space that is apparently attractive to a lot of people.  But this isn't the first time we've tried our hand at a brand-free social network.

Remember Path?

A few years ago, Path was the new golden child of social media. It was private and limited to <150 of your online friends. The app was life-streamy at first, only allowing you to share photos, thoughts, or what you were listening to at the time (until eventually they put in some features like Nike+ integration and stickers). It was an app void of spammy links Path also had two huge things in its corner that Ello does not:

Beautiful design and a mobile presence.

Path was mobile exclusive. It was well-designed. It had everyone talking. Now I hardly know anyone still using it.

Ello Could Be Different

This recent research from RJ Metrics proves that Ello could be more than flash in the pan. It's stickiness is outperforming recently buzzed app Jelly and is on par with Twitter's new user engagement.


Despite these metrics, I'm still lukewarm on Ello.

What It Is: A Way of Sticking It to the Man

Ello's mission statement is to be ad-free. While they can't totally police that, I could definitely see a self-policing effort from users like you see with Reddit and spammy links. Design and UX isn't what makes them different. It's their public commitment to be the anti-marketing social network. With all of the data collection and tracking being done with technology like Facebook's Atlas, the market for an ad-free space isn't niche. There's definitely a demand.

Ello won't survive on vapors and investors for long. They'll have to find a way to monetize. Could they be a social network that requires a membership fee? Maybe. But they won't be able to compromise on their ad-free mission to keep their audience. This focus is THE thing that differentiates them from other ways to spend time online.

Staying true to their mission will make or break them in the long haul.

What It Is Not: A Shining Example of Great UX

Sure, the design is incredibly simple. Not having ads will help in that capacity. However, I didn't find the experience to be uber intuitive.

Signing up wasn't completely straightforward once I received an invite code. I know myself and another lead social marketer had a hard time getting into it. It's not very clear on how to do what once you are in there. It's almost too minimal.

Comment threads are interesting too. You really have to open up the individual thread to read comments. I appreciate the effort to de-clutter the page ( I get it) but it's not super intuitive to use. I guess other sites have us too trained on what we should "expect" to see on a social network. But that may be what makes Ello different (and maybe lead to their success).

What Matters At the End of the Day: Not My Opinion

Until there's a strong mobile component, I don't see myself getting too personally invested in Ello. I may give it a solid try for a week and really invest some time to get to know it. After all, I use to have the same lukewarm feelings about Pinterest (and we saw what happened there). So maybe I'll come around. I'm just not sure it has the stickiness.

I feel like Ello will be very popular for a niche market but may not have the mass utility appeal that Facebook or Twitter do. The "invite-only" angle is what drives much of its appeal at the moment. People want an invite to feel like they're "in" (I'll admit to being one of those people).

But Ello doesn't need my blessing to succeed. They really could be onto something.

What Does Matter: Your Opinion

Who else is on Ello? Any initial thoughts so far?

My New Office Obsession: Grovemade

My New Office Obsession: Grovemade

I have this weird obsession with office supplies. I used to love getting new school supplies and organizers in school every fall. Places like Office Depot and Staples are fun to me. Recently, I've taken that enthusiasm to Pinterest, looking for inspiring home office spaces and cool desk setups and organization methods. Then today, thanks to my wife, I came across Grovemade. This place set a new standard for awesome desk space.


What isn't as apparent in this picture is the keyboard dock. It actually opens up to hold pens, spare batteries and business cards. How cool is that?




They also have cool iPhone docking stations, iPhone/iPad cases and even a desk lamp with the same wooden, handmade look.

I rarely dedicate a blog post to office supplies, but this looked cool. I haven't purchased anything here yet but it may only be a matter of time.



Staying On Course with Mission Drift

Staying On Course with Mission Drift

10472058_1520688594820497_1513832488_nNot long ago, I took time to read Hope Runs by @claire. Through a few Twitter convos on the subject, my friend @andrewhomrich connected me with @chrischancey of Hope International and he was kind enough to send me a copy of Mission Drift. I am glad he did. I gleaned a lot of wisdom not only for my work at DeMoss but also for any charitable organization I get personally involved with. Our agency, DeMoss, works with faith-based organizations. Some are more explicitly evangelistic than others but many have social good endeavors. It's tempting to want to encourage them to take a more watered-down approach to their messaging in order to avoid criticism, especially online. An organization could be doing a lot of great and beneficial things to make the world a better place, whether it's digging wells in Africa, rebuilding homes after natural disasters or fighting the spread of disease. However, if God is brought up in the equation, the chance of attack by outside commentary increases substantially - potentially harming the group and its ability to continue operating (depending on severity).

Mission Drift argues against the notion of taking God out of the messaging. While it makes sense (and I still believe that there is a time/place for evangelism) to skirt around a faith-based organization's initial mission focused on their initial roots, focusing on God and telling others about him at the end of the day should still remain the focus, especially if it's part of the organization's root identity. Faith-based or not, straying from a company's successful founding identity over time rarely reaps positive long-term rewards.

The book points out many institutions that started out with evangelistic roots that I wasn't aware of. Harvard was a faith-centered institution in its inception. The YMCA was very faith oriented. Mission Drift also points out how several other charitable organizations started out faith-based but "drifted" away from their root missions due to things like public ridicule, board member pressure or even due to donor funding.

The Donor Paradox

The most interesting point I gleaned from the book came from donor funding. The writers of the book, leaders of the micro-financing organization Hope International, talk about their own experiences in this arena. Many times, some organizations are offered a lot of money if they tone down or eliminate their religious language.

On the surface, it seems logical to eliminate. How much good could the organization do with that extra cash? The intent on that trade-off appears innocent enough. However, the historical data provided in the book shows that the organizations that "drifted" from their mission in the name of large donations, more often than not, struggled long term. The authors talked about how they lost a major corporate sponsor as a result of not toning down their faith-rhetoric but still managed to not only survive - but also thrive as an organization.

Staying on Mission: Lessons from the Ritz Carlton and Nordstrom

How does any company, faith-based or otherwise, remain on mission? The authors present examples from the corporate world on how they re-enforce their corporate mission and purpose every single day. Faith-based organizations may start the week in devotion. A company like the Ritz Carlton, mentioned in the book, empowers its employees with a $2,000 make good budget for each customer, reinforcing its corporate mission of best-in-class customer service. Other companies may have different rituals or traditions that keep the original identity of the company alive and thriving. I loved how the authors pulled in examples that weren't faith-based (like the Ritz,  to reinforce their points of effectively maintaining a consistent (and successful) corporate culture.

DeMoss Client Counsel Takeaways

The book covers many faith-based charities and social good organizations, many of which have been clients of our agency at one point in time. Taking time to read it has made me more empathetic to the daily decisions that our clients have to make in maintaining their identities. The wisdom offered in this book - how to stay on mission, creating a company culture that last for more than one generation, rituals and routines, etc - will definitely help me in any client work I have going forward. DeMoss and anything beyond.

If you work for a nonprofit or charitable organization, sit on the board of one, or even donate money to a charity or cause, this is definitely worth the read.

Inspiration Found in "Hope Runs"

Inspiration Found in "Hope Runs"

10362129_1448321762082954_703219010_n This book was given to me for free by the Hope Runs team. I also include several affiliate links throughout. 

Typically, when I read nonfiction, it's going to be a business-ish, marketing, "here's how to think better at work" type of book. Books by the Heath brothers, technology inspiration books like Velocity by Ajaz Ahmed or even general books on wisdom (like this one written by my boss). When I skew from this category of book, it's for a fiction book.

Then, a couple of months ago, I was invited to be part of the Hope Runs book launch and received a free copy to read. The book is written by Claire Diaz-Ortiz of "Twitter for Good" fame. She had been instrumental in getting the pope on Twitter and I have had the opportunity to hear her speak a couple of times at the NRB Conference in Nashville last spring. That alone piqued my interest. Combine that with the fact the book was co-written by a boy named Sammy (now an adult) she met in Kenya (and the running theme), I wanted to dive into this book.

I took a brief hiatus to speed read Decisive for our DeMoss Book Club but immediately jumped back into this book. It was a quick read and much more inspiring than anything I expected.

The storytelling in this book is interesting. For many books that I've read that are co-authored (like Dan and Chip Heath's books), the book is written in one consistent voice. This book does it a little different. Each chapter is written individually by Claire and then another by Sammy. They both tell the same story but from their own individual points of view. You read about how Claire shows up at an orphanage in Kenya to live and help for a year from Claire's point of view, following the struggles and the culture shock that followed. Then the following chapter will show that same story from Sammy's point-of-view, how these two women from the US came and helped them out.

To me, Sammy's side of the story really hit home. (Spoiler...sort of) Sammy eventually comes to the US to finish his last three years of high school on a scholarship and talks about all of the little things that seem normal to us are huge lifestyle adjustments for him. When I ran college track, we had a LOT of international teammates, many of my distance teammates from Kenya. Hearing Sammy's point-of-view on the culture shock of coming over here made me more empathetic - and more grateful - for my teammates at Western. They made huge life shifts and probably had a harder time transitioning than they ever let on. However, those guys were the happiest people I think I ever knew in college.

I also admired the selflessness of Claire and her friend Lara throughout the entirety of the story. Nothing that they did for Sammy (or any of the children in the orphanage he lived in) was convenient. With their backgrounds and education levels, it would have been far easier for them to find something more "normal" to do here in the States. However, they dedicated a lot of energy, time and time to themselves to give an opportunity to someone else to make a life better for themselves.

Real servant leadership like I saw in this book is rarely convenient. It means putting our own wants, desires or matters of convenience to the side in the interest of someone that isn't us. As I read Claire and Lara's story, I was reminded that this type of leadership and change comes at a cost. I also saw that it can be incredibly rewarding - though the reward shouldn't be our motivation to help. I loved Sammy's perspective on this:

"Helping should not be about how it makes me feel."

I couldn't recommend this book enough. If you want to be taken out of your comfortable bubble and see another cultural perspective, it's worth the time to read. You can check it out here.

You can follow Claire at @claire on Twitter and Sammy at @sammyikua.

What book should I read next?