Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. Advertisements litter most of our go-to social media platforms, not to mention the fact that we basically hand over our personal information to data trackers in a little blue box with a white ribbon on top. In this day and age, it’s crucial to protect ourselves online. As for the advertisement overkill, that’s just purely annoying. An alternative option? Seven artists took it upon themselves to design a “simple, beautiful, and ad-free” social networking outlet — meet Ello.
Ello, as described on its website, is a simple, ad-free social network. The ringleaders behind the creation of Ello are Paul Budnitz, the 47-year-old CEO, graphic designers Todd Berger and Lucian Föhr, and four creative engineers from Mode Set. The creators invented the site out of frustration with their existing social media accounts. Reportedly, Budnitz got fed up with his friends getting lost in the clutter of unnecessary posts and advertisements. Instead of simply complaining about it, he took the initiative to create something ‘new and improved’ to solve the problem.
The site is still in beta, which, in software development terms, means it’s in the second phase of testing the program with its intended audience. It’s been depicted as a type of online hipster sanctuary, but as the site continues to gain global recognition, the user-base expands.
Just as Facebook started, Ello is an exclusive, invite-only network. Initially, Ello was comprised of about 30 users, but this skyrocketed after Facebook made the mistake of offending the LGBTQ community. At one point, Ello was even acquiring 31,000 new users an hour. Facebook’s naming policy requires users to create a profile using only their birth names, and therefore, shut down numerous profiles of drag queens and transgender people. Sister Roma, a famous drag queen from San Francisco, was forced to change her profile name back to her birth name, a name with which she truly doesn’t identify.
Offended by Facebook’s discriminatory policies, the LGBTQ community flocked to Ello. Ello states it has zero tolerance for “any form of hate, trolling, stalking, spamming, flaming, impersonating others, harming children, child pornography, or any other behavior designed to hurt another person, physically or emotionally.” Juxtaposed to its exclusive invite-only feature, Ello practices complete and total inclusion of all human beings, promoting a hate-free environment.
Essentially, Ello is the anti-Facebook. Its clean, black and white interface provides simplicity. Not only are we freed from the clutter of ads, game invites, and tacky tabloid articles, but our parents and grandparents won’t be liking and commenting on our every move. Cue sigh of relief.
In fact, to ensure users that Ello will honor its no-ad policy, it became a USA Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) on October 23, 2014. This solidifies that it is virtually impossible for Ello to ever sell ads or user data. Ello affirms on its site, “We think ads are tacky, that they insult our intelligence and that we’re better without them.” Agreed.
How Does Ello Work?
Ello’s design of utmost simplicity and cleanliness shows your friends’ profiles on the left-hand side, each of them represented by small circular avatars. The newsfeed is on the right-hand side, showing anything your friends post: short messages, photos, links, GIFs, and @replies to fellow Ello-ers. The feed is fluid and straightforward.
The Ello users you follow can also be organized into two lists, “Friends” and “Noise.” Ello keeps your secret safe though; the site promises no one but you will be able to tell which list they’ve been placed. Your feed will display the posts by Friends in an expanded list format, offering a way to follow the people you’re really interested in with full-sized content. The users in your Noise section are shown in a much more compressed grid-based layout, making it easy to browse through posts more quickly.
The simplicity of Ello is pleasing to the eye, but also creates some confusion. The controls for posting an update or uploading a photo are shown in a light gray type that seems to blend in with the rest of the page. Comments are also shown from newest to oldest, opposite of the way they’re displayed on Facebook and Twitter. While some have criticized Ello as being difficult to figure out and too abstract, like other social media platforms, it just takes a little time and experimentation.
In order to maintain success as well as an ad-free atmosphere, Ello plans to earn money by offering special features that users can pay for if they choose. Ello’s designers ensure that Ello exists as a PBC to produce a benefit for society as a whole — not just to make money for Ello’s investors. Who are Ello’s investors? Three companies, the Foundry Group, Bullet Time Ventures, and FreshTracks Capital, invested a whopping $5.5 million in Ello. The Foundry Group trusts Paul Budnick’s vision for Ello wholeheartedly as the company has done business with him in the past. The investors see Ello’s ad-free promise as something to be truly valued by users.
Ello strives for its users to understand that, unlike other social media platforms, Ello will not treat its users like a product. “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life.”