For All Your Despotic Frills

I know, ello. The needs of women online don't occur to you and since your project has no women who are listened to, you don't handle women's needs. But then some women complain, ugh like women do, and you design some features to attempt to placate them. However, your project has no women who are listened to, so your solution doesn't actually fix the problem or it makes some other problem worse.

The thing is: 50% of your intended audience is female, 4% of your intended audience is lgbtq, 2% of your intended audience is intersex, and 28% are not white. That means that about 80%* 70% of your intended audience is minorities that have different needs than you. However, you are still designing everything for yourself, then only after complaints, making patronizingly incomplete solutions for that 70%:

You will have the ability to block specific users from looking at your Ello feed and profile, and from commenting on your posts. We're also adding a simple way to report uncool behavior.


You need to get it into your heads that you are not the people who can design products for women and minorities, that women and minorities count, and that there are women and minorities who will help you with this shit so maybe you should throw out "culture fit" for a few seconds and hire us. Then take a few minutes to listen to us. You don't need to hire us because it looks good politically. You don't need to hire us because HR is on your case. You need to hire us because your product design is harmed by your lack of diversity!

I feel for the guys who made ello because they made this product and they had it in public beta at just the wrong time. Then all the people mad at Facebook jumped into the beta, slamming it and scaling it way past what it was designed for— in a single day. It must have felt great until the servers started falling down, and now the hosting costs must be skyrocketing before they have a payment system in place. ello guys, you're in a tough position that's very stressful and now you're getting complaints that don't sound real to you because you're not trying to hide from a stalker and you're not trying to hide your children from your abusive ex who's court-forbidden to contact them. You took a step back and you recognized just for a moment that this is something that some people really care about, but probably not many people, right? You fell into the "it doesn't affect me or my friends so it must be rare," trap didn't you?

But the latest stats are 1-in-4 women are domestic violence victims, 1-in-6 women are rape or attempted rape victims, 1-in-12 women have been stalked. Life is different for women than for men. I don't mean that domestic and sexual violence against men doesn't count. Those are very important issues as well! But I do mean that 1-in-4 is very different than 1-in-20, 1-in-6 is very different from 1-in-33, 1-in-12 is very different from 1-in-45. The statistics for rape, stalking, and domestic violence are very different for women and men. Add in the power differences and the physical differences between women in men in our society, and you end up with very different needs. All of these are things that women need to work around when using social media.


Guys have told me that they know that women lie about rape all the time because none of their women friends have been raped, which means that rape is rare. That makes those guys precisely the people that rape victims will hide their history from. Women will only confide that to other women or to men who seem to sympathize. If you don't know any women who've been raped, you might want to look at your own behavior to find out why they haven't told you. ello's PR response has been downright haughty and if that's what you guys are like in real life, your friends are probably not going to confess these things to you—even if they are your employees! Those 1-in-20 men, 1-in-33 men, 1-in-45 men face a huge amount of stigma based on being victimized while male and they are less likely offer that information than women are. Do you have any male rape, stalking, or domestic violence victims on your staff? Probably none that will admit it.

ello launched with no way to make a feed private; anyone who hit follow could see the whole feed. Women who are avoiding stalkers aren't going to use a product that sends "woot! Got paid! I'm going out on the town tooooonite!" to everyone— including that guy who for the last 2 years has been showing up where they go to walk by them whispering threats and slurs. People complained and you doubled down on your "but transparency" librotarianism but people kept complaining, so you decided to add a block account feature—which does not solve the problem that I just pointed out because you don't understand the problem! The victim would have to know the account of her stalker to block it, which means that he won't tell her which account is his!


And then there's online harassment. Let's say that the manosphere goes after petticoatdespot on your service. They can create infinite accounts to send messages to me from. So you set up a block by user function! Solved! Except that again… they can create infinite accounts to send messages from. You've decided upon the Whack-A-Mole security service, with crime victims wielding the rubber mallet— only the moles are Mogwai and mole box sits over a stream. Seriously, dudes, I made 4 accounts in the first hour and it was only that slow because it's a PITA to add a google account when you have three other google accounts open on your computer at the time. There are proven solutions to some of these harassment problems; the problem doesn't apply to you so you don't understand the problem, which makes you fail to identify those solutions.


The consequence, frankly, is that you include criminals and exclude crime victims. And that's pretty messed up.

I'm not faulting you for not realizing in advance what women's needs are or trans people's needs or black people's needs. I fault you for not being diverse enough to have someone on your staff saying "but what if reddit finds out that I work in tech?" I fault you for thinking only of yourself and stereotypes of others. I'm faulting you for not realizing that in designing for yourself and only yourself, you're treating the other 70% of the world like they don't matter.


I get it! I really do! Our brains lack the ability to empathize, especially with people with whom we have outgroup bias. It is literally science that you do not have an understanding the needs of women online. The question is: do you want to cater to the small part of that 30% demographic that is incensed that anyone might try to include the needs of the other 70% or does your ingroup favoritism require that you cater only to that 30%?


Which seems like the better business plan?

ETA: It has been brought to my attention that in addition to these issues, the image-based navigation systems with no labels, no alt tags, and only an online handle as identification would be terrible in a screen reader. As a person who is not visually impaired, I cannot predict their needs, just as men can't predict the needs of women.That said, it is fairly standard in web design to be 508 compliant and this would not be 508 compliant. I don't do front-end work.


*ETA2: Thanks to Turner Morgan for pointing out my math error. Numbers have been adjusted accordingly for the rest of the post.Hopefully.

PS For those wondering, I'm still over at and it's not like my Facebook account is hiding.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter