An Invitation to Ello: The Anti-Facebook Network


Article by Alison K. Lanier | 1,042 words

Facebook is not the cool new kid at the social network table anymore. Facebook’s emphasis on quantizing “likes” and syncing with users’ ad and music preferences make private friendships and other relationships feel increasingly public. Or at least that’s how the anti-Facebook thinking runs.

Enter Ello. With its hipster, minimalist aesthetic, eyeless smiling icon and smooth, ad-free space, Ello is an invite-only social network that promises its users, “You are not a product.”

Ello page

An example of what an Ello page looks like. Credit:

Request an Invitation

Ello, says CNN Money, is the anti-Facebook incarnate. Ello’s manifesto page—that is, —articulates many of the looming anxieties surrounding Facebook’s privacy issues. These include worries about who can see what data, worries that Facebook seems to rekindle each time it asks users to update or review their privacy settings.

“Your social network is owned by advertisers,” says Ello’s manifesto. “Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. … 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.”

Hence the new, more exclusive format. Ello encourages you to “Request An Invitation” to join. It is not a forum where anybody can make a user page for their cat or for “Ellie Vator.” Anyone, however, can follow Ello’s “WTF” page for information about the site’s evolving policies and for other important notifications.

Ello also, with its emphasis on the individual user, urges visitors to appreciate the site’s favorite, featured user profiles. Ello is setting itself up as a more individualized space designed to make users feel like members rather than statistics.

Creative Minds

The thinkers behind Ello fashion themselves as just that: thinkers. With beautifully designed Tumblr profiles and an exacting eye for details, the personalities put a tall emphasis on presentation, presentation, presentation—far from the cluttered, constant activity of a Facebook homepage.

The top name on the Ello masthead, though he is in fact only one of its seven founders, is Paul Budnitz. Budnitz’s website describes him as someone who “conceives and creates beautiful things that change the world.” These designs range from “elegant” bicycles of “exceptional beauty” to visual art exhibitions. He also founded Kidrobot, a company that, according to Amazon, is the world’s “premiere creator of art toys, fashion apparel and accessories.”

“Paul Budnitz was professionally coding safety analysis software for nuclear power plants by the time he reached high school,” says his Amazon bio. “He also created video games for the now-legendary Commodore 64 home computer.”

This Yale-educated art student, whose name appears attached to most of Ello’s press releases, has an exceptional history of linking technology and design. He is joined on Ello by Mode Set and by Berger & Föhr. B&F are a Boulder, Colorado graphic design duo whose wide and substantial range of work—including the websites for Icon Magazine and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art—carries that same minimalist simplicity as Ello. Mode Set, a “collective of creative technologists,” engineered the software now in place at Ello.

Ello Makers


On Ello’s “Who Made This?” page, all the founders’ faces cycle behind Ello’s eyeless smiley icon. This slightly awkward but clear emphasis on the founders’ anonymity arises from their anti-Facebook impulse. No Zuckerberg puppeteer, no overarching Hollywood-ready personality. The site is pushing users and user creations in a minimal, crisp format designed to showcase rather than inundate.

The Popular Kids

Ello, says CNN Money, is capitalizing on Facebook’s looming unpopularity as a social network that, well, capitalizes on its users. Budnitz told the CNN website, “The more they know about you, the more money they make. … I, quite frankly, don’t care.”

And, says CNN, the strategy is a strong one. From 90 users when the site launched around the beginning of September 2014, the site’s invite requests skyrocketed to what CNN now quotes as 40,000 requests an hour. Internet word of mouth is moving at rapid fire, even as Ello’s site features are still being developed.

The network, begun last year as a private, personal service for the founders, was only recently opened up for wider membership. Anyone with an invite is free to participate. As Budnitz told CNN, “We’re not geo-locating, we’re stripping IP addresses, we don’t ask your name, your gender or sexual orientation. All I care about is that you obey the rules of Ello.”

Ello’s rules are neatly laid out in pseudo-typewriter print on its WTF page: a zero-tolerance for abuse alongside other standard fare for a functioning social network. Ello, though, stands out from the crowd by also offering a utility to manage the “noise.”

Noise and friends, says the site, can be easily separated. Who are you “really interested in following”? They go in the FRIENDS feed. The rest, as Budnitz says, is noise. It can be sorted out elsewhere, in a feed reserved for non-friend news.

Another new, quirky feature is the Ello Smiley, an ordinary colon-parenthesis smiley face, but without the colon. According to the WTF page, “Just like Ello, the Ello Smiley is simple, beautiful and easy to use. It eliminates all the clutter of a normal smiley. All the cheerfulness of a normal smiley, with half the keystrokes. Enjoy the Ello Smiley!” The site’s powers-that-be are encouraging Ello’s members to perpetuate the site’s clean, minimalist design by using smilies with “half the clutter.” In other words, a closing parenthesis ), in place of the full, familiar :).

Ello’s creators are obviously mindful of the rise, plateau and disillusionment of a young clientele who gave its affection to Facebook and then took it away as the trendiness of the service slumped. With features like the Friends/Noise separation and the Ello Smiley, this new site is evidently aiming to create a social network that feels like it comes with a culture of individuality, rather than the quantifying rush that has come to characterize Facebook. Ello’s hope seems to be that this sense of user-value will encourage members to stay connected and stay loyal to the budding community.

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