Say Hello to Ello!

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By Rachel Munford

You’ve seen the array of Facebook statuses trying to prevent Facebook selling your personal information to 3rd parties and you know it doesn’t work. Yet what’s the alternative? Live like a hermit and exclude yourself from opportunities that only Facebook can provide? Or you could use a different social network?

This is where Ello comes in.  Ello is an emerging social network which boasts of its non-Facebook nature. It is the first social network to try and earn money by NOT selling your information to third parties and businesses. I had a chat with the CEO of Ello, and creator of Kidrobot, Paul Budnitz.

Could you briefly explain why you created Ello?

We’d become fed up with the existing social networks. They’d become cluttered, negative, and filled with ads. There was also this feeling that all the data they are collecting about all of us wasn’t in our best interests.

So, we decided to create our own. We used Ello for about a year with 100 of our close friends. After a while there were thousands of people asking to get on, so we opened it up to the public.

What does Ello offer to its members?

A beautiful, simple experience without ads, where you can meet and talk to many of the most creative people in the world.

So what does happen when you remove advertising from a social network?

For a start, it means that every new feature that we build for Ello only has one purpose: to make Ello better. We work for our community. On an ad-driven social network on the other hand, every feature is really there to either show more ads, or gather more data about users, since the advertiser is really the customer.

Without ads, there’s really no reason for us to collect data about user activity (we don’t). We don’t sell data either.

But I think the biggest effect is the positivity that we experience on Ello. There is really very little of the negative behavior that we see on other social networks. Personally, I think this is because on other networks you feel that you’re being fucked in subtle ways. All the ads and boosted posts and data collection makes us feel like we can’t trust our environment, and encourage negative behavior.

Last thing to say about this is that because we don’t have boosted posts, there is no algorithm saying what you see and what you don’t see. You can see 100% of the posts by the people you follow, and vice versa.

In September last year, Ello was receiving nearly 35,000 membership invite requests every hour. It’s came a long way since its original inclusive membership. How does it feel to see Ello grow so rapidly over the last six months?

It’s been intense. In the beginning we grew as much in 6 days as we expected to grow in 6 months! It’s been a lot of work, many late nights keeping things running.

One thing that may shock users of other social networks is that Ello contains NSFW content. Why do you think it’s important not to censor this content?

Yes. It’s not our job to censor. Whose to say what is and isn’t pornography?

Ello doesn’t censor, but if you put up a lot of adult content we ask you to mark your account NSFW so that someone who doesn’t want to see adult content can turn that off. That’s respecting everyone’s point of view.

Following on from the topic of censorship, how do you feel about Facebook’s recent controversy of removing pictures of women breastfeeding and blocking users who display this content?

If you read about it, the whole thing happened because some advertisers didn’t want to show their ads on the same page where women were breastfeeding on Facebook.

I think it’s ridiculous that a social network should censor like that. It’s small minded and quite frankly shows who is in control over there — it’s the advertisers who are more afraid of offending a few people than doing the right thing.

You don’t identify Facebook as a competitor but you have previously spoken of charging for some features, such as illustrated emojis. How do you hope to compete with other social networks who offer these features for free?

Ello is always going to be free. I realize this doesn’t sound very humble, but we think it’s the best social network by features on the Internet. One of the reasons is that because we don’t have advertisers and data mining services looking over our shoulders telling us what to do, we can just make Ello more and more awesome to use.

In this respect Ello is a little bit like the iPhone — it comes with everything you need to use it, but everyone wants to customize their phone to do just what they want it to do. Ello’s going to have an app store that’s a lot like the Apple App Store, where you can choose to buy enhancements and apps for a few dollars (in your case pounds) each.

The great thing about this is that you get the Ello you want, and I get the Ello I want. Nobody has to see ads and there isn’t any clutter.

Ello recently partnered with threadless to create some really awesome t-shirts. What made you branch off into clothing, especially when Ello is a social network?

The guys at Threadless are friends of ours, and we have so many awesome artists on Ello, we decided that we could collaborate with them to build our T-shirt store.

Also, selling things is part of our business model — when you buy a T-shirt, it supports Ello, and believe it or not we’ve sold a LOT of T-shirts, and the artists get a royalty too. It’s a great thing for everyone.

One of the most important questions is when will there be a mobile app?

In 6–8 weeks. We’re in the middle of testing now!

You’re a very creative and diverse person. You have a lot of things going on at once and that must take a lot of enthusiasm as well as motivation. What is your piece of advice to students in order to prevent a loss of motivation?

Take risks. Don’t play it safe. Do things you love.

And most of all, remember that there’s a difference between courage and fearlessness. Superman isn’t courageous, he’s invulnerable. Courage is when you face your fear, make friends with it, and move ahead anyway.

I can say that the only difference between me and many people is that I’m scared all the time, but I don’t have a problem with it. I just get back to work.

What would you say to a young person considering starting their own business in a creative field?

First, make sure it’s a good idea. Not all stupid ideas are good ideas, but all new ideas sound stupid at first. You need to know the difference.

Then go for it. You’ve a lot less to lose than you think.

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