Meet Ello, the social network that wants to be the anti-Facebook

Originally published September 28, 2014

By Ian Sherr

Have you ever wanted Facebook to get rid of all those ads? Paul Budnitz went out and did something about it.

Budnitz founded Ello, a social network that launched about six weeks ago and pitches itself as an alternative to the world’s largest social network. Its biggest selling point is the feature it doesn’t have: advertising.

It seems like a joke at first. Budnitz is a 47-year old designer and entrepreneur who splits his time between Vermont and New York, and whose resume includes creating a boutique bicycle shop and a toy company. Ello’s website is sparsely filled, it has few images, and the black text on a white background looks like it’s still a work in progress.

But its dead serious manifesto is becoming a rallying cry across the web: “Your social network is owned by advertisers,” Ello says, adding that every post, friend and link is tracked meticulously by competing social networks, and all of that data is used to help advertisers send you ads. “You are the product that’s bought and sold.”

Ello’s growing popularity, pegged at more than 35,000 people asking to sign up per hour, can be explained in two ways. Ello is something new, and that alone is enough to attract many tech enthusiasts. But Ello is also making waves after a tumultuous summer for Facebook.

In June, social network giant came under fire for manipulating the News Feeds of nearly 700,000 users as part of  a study it conducted along with a couple universities. Not a month later, customers again cried foul when it began forcing customers to download a second application to their mobile devices in order to message with friends. Then, there were fears over the broad access to data the app asked for on their phones.

Ello promises it will be different. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Could Ello unseat Facebook? That seems unlikely, said Kenneth Wisnefski, head of WebiMax, an advertising technology firm. But it taps into  an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among some of its users. For them, Facebook “lost some of its cool factor,” he said, though it is still ingrained in the daily lives of 829 million people.