Q&A: The Ello Difference: Is It Real?

Posted October 17th, 2014 at 1:51 pm (UTC-4)
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A screenshot of Ello's website, courtesy Ello.

A screenshot of Ello’s website, courtesy Ello.

Social media newcomer Ello is looking to carve out a niche as a socially-conscious, independent, ad-free alternative to giants like Facebook, which recently angered gay and lesbian members by requiring transgender individuals, drag queens and other members of the LGBT community to use “real” names on their accounts.

Ello’s manifesto complains that users are the “product that’s bought and sold” on other social media platforms and says “the people who make things and the people who use them” should be in partnership. But some questioned Ello’s commitment to users after it received financing from Vermont-based venture capitalist firm, FreshTracks Capital.

Ello’s CEO and co-founder Paul Budnitz, gave TECHtonics a closer look at social media’s latest offering in an email interview.

Q. What is Ello? What does it seek to accomplish?

Budnitz: Ello is a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network where people can be who they want to be and connect with people they want to connect with. There are no boosted posts, no ads, and you can choose who you want to follow, and ignore everything else. Because the design is so well-thought out, it isn’t cluttered — the layout is very modern, very simple. We never sell community member data. Right now people are inviting others to use Ello because it’s fun to use, too.

Q. If Ello tracks users like most everything else on the Internet, then how does it differ from others in the field?

Budnitz: Ello doesn’t track specific user data. We collect user data anonymously and only to improve the site itself. If you don’t want us to track you anonymously, you can turn this off in settings, so you’re completely untraceable on Ello.

Q. Why is the service by invitation only?

Budnitz: Right now the biggest priority is to roll out new features, and make sure the community aspect of Ello is flourishing. We’re listening to the Ello community members and realigning features based on community member feedback, along with making sure the site is running well. We’re very much still beta. Things are still buggy in places, but [that] makes it an exciting adventure for everyone.

Q. Who is your targeted audience?

Budnitz: Ello is for anyone over the age of 13 who is willing to follow our rules, which are comprised with common sense and good behavior in mind. Our rules are posted on our site here: https://ello.co/wtf/post/rules

Because we don’t collect community member data, we have no idea who is using our network. Anecdotally, almost everyone seems to be on good behavior.

Q. What distinguishes Ello from established networks like Facebook and Twitter?

Budnitz: When you eliminate ads from the picture, you also get rid of boosted posts, data mining, ad salesman, and all kinds of other practices that are invasive on a social network. Ello is very simple to use, and because there’s no advertising, everything we do is to make Ello better.

… We don’t really consider networks like Facebook as competition, because they aren’t really social networks. They’re advertising platforms. Ello is a social network — that’s all we do.

Q. How do you plan to sustain Ello long-term if it is free and aims to continue being ad-free?

Budnitz: Ello is a business. Sort of like the app store, the main features of Ello will always be free. For a very small amount of money we are going to sell special features that certain community members may want to add to their account. We have thousands of people writing in requesting features they would be willing to pay for.

Q. Given the venture capitalist funding, please explain where the social consciousness part of Ello comes in.

Budnitz: Ello is always going to be completely free to use. From time to time we will sell special features for a very small amount of money. We’ve always been very open about our funding. Our investors believe in and support our mission to prove that a good company can deliver a great social network without advertising. They’re really, really great people and our neighbors here in Vermont. We just couldn’t ask for better investors.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

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