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Interview: Paul Budnitz of Ello


Interview: Paul Budnitz of Ello

The founder of the internet's new unconventional, ad-free social network explains its honest origins and its exciting future

by CH Editors
on 26 September 2014

We've long been supporters of multifarious designer Paul Budnitz—we even collaborated on a Cool Hunting bicycle with the Kid Robot founder. So when he began telling us about his new project, Ello—an ad-free social network—last May, we knew something exciting was in the works. Now in full Beta mode, the free, invite-only network is doubling in size daily, and garnering even more attention in a shorter amount of time than any of us had expected—Budnitz included.

Designed by Budnitz and a handful of fellow artists, designers and programmers, Ello aims to answer the question so many of us seem to be asking: "Is there an alternative to Facebook?" With a firm stance against advertising, data mining (and selling), movement mapping and other "creepy and unethical" practices, Ello puts user privacy first while promoting open-minded creativity. And while the simple, sparse design does admittedly take some getting used to, it's easy enough to navigate (and getting better everyday, they assure early users). Rather than listing more attributes of Ello, we spoke with the founder himself. Below Budnitz discusses favorite users, Ello's stance on NSFW content and the virility of the network's launch.

Ello-Damon-Way.jpg Ello-Space.jpg
Looks like you chose the right time for Ello to launch.

Apparently so. Ello just went viral!

People are fed up with the other social networks, and their tendency to mine data and manipulate people to sell advertising. At Facebook, the real customer is the advertiser, and the people who use the network are the product that's being bought and sold. That feels manipulative in the end, but more importantly, it's just no fun to see ads everywhere, and have your feed filled with posts by companies and people you've never heard of. Ello is different because we don't have ads and don't sell user data. We're just creating an awesome, simple social network that is the one we ourselves want to use.

What are some interesting ways that you've noticed people using Ello that have maybe been unexpected?

There are many amazing artists and designers that are using Ello as a kind of art project. One of my favorite feeds is Duane King. Duane is an artist, and he's only posting images of astronauts. Also love the photographs by Damon Way of TVNNEL and DC Shoes.

What has also been interesting is that certain communities have adopted Ello wholesale, including (it seems) the entire Boston Area goth-rock community, and the Radical Faerie community in San Francisco.

Can you elaborate on your stance on censorship, nudity and the like?

Ello doesn't censor, but we also have rules. There are places on the internet with no rules, and Ello is not one of them. We're totally OK with nudity—as long as it's stuff that doesn't hurt people, doesn't invite violence against others, doesn't involve minors, animals, etc. And as long as you mark your site as NSFW.

Some people have pointed out that Ello functions pretty similarly to a lo-fi Tumblr. What are your thoughts on this?

I think it's actually quite different when you get into it. We have a binary sort mechanism that's pretty unique, and Ello is much more social—navigation is integrated in simpler, more fun way.

When do you expect the mobile app to be introduced?

Mobile works pretty well right now if you just use your browser. An app is a couple months away. We did this consciously, because we didn't want Ello to start out as a photo-sharing/chat app. It's cool if people do that, but we launched with fairly well known designers and artists and musicians on Ello, and grew from there, with long-form content and high-quality images that mostly come from laptops and desktop computers.

This set the tone and it's continued.

Where do you hope to see Ello in one year?

Running smoothly with a lot of really awesome people using it. Maybe we'll change the world a little, and inspire others to create more safe and fun places to go on the internet without ads.

Reporting by Graham Hiemstra and Nara Shin

Request an invite for Ello directly from the source. Images courtesy of Ello and users Damon Way, Duane King and Justin Gitlin

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