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Testing the User Experience on Ello

Hannah Alvarez  |  October 03, 2014

Over the last couple of weeks, everyone’s been talking about Ello. The new social network, which is currently in closed beta, has gotten a lot of attention (for better or worse) for its extremely minimal design.

But more importantly, its major selling point is its strict ad-free policy. Unlike other social media sites, Ello promises it won’t sell ad space---or sell users’ data to advertisers.

So what do users think about the new social network?

We ran a study to watch five social media users go through Ello’s onboarding process: signing up for an account, filling out their profile, writing a post, finding friends, and interacting with a friend’s post.

We wanted to see what Ello is doing better than its more established competitors, what its biggest usability problems are, and what users are hoping for when Ello leaves beta.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Users are surprised by the amount of white space.

When asked to describe their first impression of Ello, all five of the test participants pointed out that it is clean, simple, and uncluttered. And it’s not hard to understand why.


The home page of Ello is almost entirely white space.

After years of interacting with Facebook, Twitter, and even simpler networks like Tumblr, users were struck by how little is happening on the Ello news feed. One user said it looked “more like a blog” than a social network, and another said that in comparison to other social media sites, “it’s a pleasure” to see so much white space.

2. The icons are too small, too light, and not descriptive enough.

As part of its minimalist design, Ello uses tiny, faint icons to guide users through the navigation, rather than relying on clunky menus and lots of text. But it seems they’ve taken this idea too far.

Four out of the five participants remarked that the icons were confusing, and it took them a fairly long time to even notice that they could click them.

3. The navigation is not intuitive.

Not only is it hard to see the icons, it's also hard to find your way around the site using them.

All five test participants clicked around wildly when trying to find their way to any given page. The navigation primarily happens on the left-hand side of the screen within the toolbar… except if you want to visit your own page, and then you must click on your avatar, which is not in the toolbar. Plus, you only see labels for the icons if you hover over them, but that only works on certain icons.

Confused? So were the users.

The test participant in the clip below clicked the Ello logo twice thinking it would take him to his own page.

Without breadcrumbs or clear labels on the navigation buttons, the navigation on Ello has a pretty steep learning curve.

4. It’s difficult to find your own friends.

New social networks always go through an awkward Catch-22 phase: they aren’t much fun if you don’t know anybody, and no one wants to join if it’s not much fun.

With Ello, this problem gets amplified by the fact that it’s difficult to search for your friends. There isn’t an option to import contacts from an email account or another network, and the Search feature only searches user name---not actual name, location, or interests.

We asked our test participants to attempt to find some of their friends on Ello, and none of them were able to do this successfully.

While it’s possible that these users simply didn’t know anyone who is a current Ello user, the interface made it impossible for them to be sure.

5. Users who care a lot about privacy are willing to excuse Ello's usability problems.

[Tweet this.]

Even though there are some serious problems with the interface, Ello’s appeal lies in its dedication to ethics.

Many social media users don’t trust other social networks because they feel like their personal information is not secure, and they don’t appreciate being bombarded with ads. Three of our test participants stated that having no ads on Ello is a big plus.

One user launched into a rant about his poor experience adjusting privacy settings on other social sites, saying, “I can see how it’s just leaking my profile information all over the place, and I find that not very nice.” He really appreciated how easy it was to change his privacy setting in Ello, and he felt confident that Ello wouldn’t sell his information to third parties.

He also happened to struggle greatly with some very basic tasks in Ello.

But he didn’t mind.

Despite the fact that it was time-consuming and confusing for him to find his page, write a post, and interact with the navigation buttons, he reported that “nothing” frustrated him about Ello, and he would be “very likely” to recommend it to a friend.

If Ello fixes its usability problems and gathers a large user base, it could force the other social networks to re-think their ads and their privacy policies. In the meantime, we'll have to wait and see if the early adopters stick around.

What do you think about Ello?

If you've used Ello yourself, tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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About the author:

Hannah is a content manager, dedicated to helping marketers and designers build amazing experiences. In her free time, she likes making things and going on adventures.