Ello is what Facebook cannot be: purely a social network

27-3-2014 / Randstad Vandaag, Erasmus Universiteit / Facebook is spending a fortune on incorporating other networks to their ranks and on March 25th  bought the virtual reality Oculus glasses. After acquiring WhatsApp a large group of people stopped using the messenger service due to fears over Facebook’s privacy policy. / Read it here

It has been predicted that the social network will see a steady decline in members this year. Many users are tired of the sheer volume  of advertisements on the site.  Once such person is Paul Budnitz from New York who, out of frustration, developed a private social network for himself and his friends. After using this social network privately for a year, and due to its overwhelming popularity, Ello is being launched publically, probably in May. I interviewed Budnitz about his plans.

Paul Budnitz (47) is a man of many trades. These days he’s known mostly for his designer toys company Kidrobot and some of his toys have found a permanent home in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is also the founder of Budnitz Bicycles and author of several books. As a teenager he programmed software for nuclear power plants and games for the Commodore 64. He studied photography, sculpture and film at Yale University and his first movies (93 Million Miles and Ultraviolet) won awards at the Berlin Film Festival in 1998. While filmmaking he became frustrated with the limitations of editing on computers and hacked into his own hardware system to improve it.

He often looks for alternatives out of frustration with existing systems.  The current case in point being social networks: “Facebook and Tumblr aren’t social networks, they are advertising platforms. They exist to sell ads. They aren’t there to make sure you have a good time. They sell advertising, as much as possible. Everything else they do is pretence.” Tired of being bombarded by ads, he created a new social network called Ello along with his designer, artist and programmer friends. They started out by inviting about 100 friends: “The only problem was that everyone wanted to invite their friends, and their friend’s friends wanted to join too. We hadn’t built it to grow, so recently we took it offline to rebuild it.”

Ello is mainly focussed on creative minds who are interested in having content-related discussions and making connections with each other. There will be no advertisements on the site: “Because we don’t need them. Unlike Facebook, we’re not trying to take over the world, so we don’t need to make $1 Billion every month. We don’t want to trade the user’s data. They are not a product.” Budnitz and his friends already have alternate income sources so they are rather looking to create a platform that is only focussed on the social aspect and not on revenue. “We will ask people to donate something from time to time, but it will be totally optional. If you don’t donate, you can still use the same features.”

Budnitz claims that Ello will have a ‘real’ privacy policy, where there is no room for stealing or using people’s personal information. However, Facebook and other internet giants have also made promises like this in the past, and have gone on to change their policies in order to facilitate information sales. Why should the public believe that this new start-up would behave any differently? “We’ve talked a lot about that ourselves. Our history and work speak for themselves. That said, if we ever aren’t doing what you like with Ello, you can instantly delete all your data. Forever.”

Ello will not allow instant access to start with: “You will need to be invited by someone who is already on the network, or request an invite on the website. We’re trying to maintain the feeling of community that we have so far, and also to be sure it doesn’t grow too fast.” However, this invite-only policy is unlikely to guarantee a slower growth rate since everyone knows everyone on the internet. Apart from that, people have been voicing their irritations with other social networks for a long time. At the start of this year a Princeton study predicted Facebook would lose 80% of its user base. Ello could very well be the next destination of the many people who are sick of manipulative and dysfunctional networks.

According to Budnitz it will be very simple: “No bullshit. There are no useless extras. People can link up with friends, post, comment and work with many other content-related activities. Ello’s interface is very intuitive to use and fast.” The website will also have a system to sort all of the posts according to the user’s preferences. “We built Ello by ourselves, for ourselves, out of love. We hope we can change the world!”

Ello will be live in six to eight weeks, requesting an invitation or reading the manifesto can be done at http://ello.co



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