'Ello' Aims For A Return To Ad-Free Social Networking : All Tech Considered Ello is the viral social network of the moment. Ad-free, invitation-only and with the option of anonymity, it's generating tons of chatter as the latest alternative to Facebook.
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'Ello' Aims For A Return To Ad-Free Social Networking

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'Ello' Aims For A Return To Ad-Free Social Networking

'Ello' Aims For A Return To Ad-Free Social Networking

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We report next on a hot, new social network called Ello. It's been a week or so since that site went viral - a whole week. That is a long time in cyberspace. So now the online world is watching like a soap opera to see whether Ello lives or dies. Nishat Kurwa talked with some of Ello's new users as well as others who are already abandoning the social network.

NISHAT KURWA, BYLINE: Vermont is known for its green pastures, farmsteads and roads free of billboards. The founders of the new social network Ello live in the state, and they want to bring Vermont-like serenity to the Internet.

PAUL BUDNITZ: We set out to prove that a social network will survive and thrive that doesn't have a business model selling ads to its users.

KURWA: That's Ello CEO and cofounder Paul Budnitz. He says Ello's creators launched the site for their circle of friends. They wanted a clean online space to exchange large images and long-form text. Budnitz says the site has been growing steadily for about a year, but that changed last week. News stories about a group of disenchanted Facebook users mentioned Ello as an alternative and set off a stampede of interest.

BUDNITZ: We're getting about 40,000 signups and requests an hour. So it's a lot.

KURWA: You need an invite from a friend to use Ello, and that amps up the allure. Many Ello users I talk to, like 24-year-old Charity Walden, say they joined simply out of curiosity.

CHARITY WALDEN: I use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat and that might be it.

KURWA: And you needed another one?

WALDEN: (Laughter) Yes, of course. I need, you know, to fill up my full 24-hour day.

KURWA: The spike of interest in a new social network also points to intensifying concerns over issues like data mining, online bullying and the protection of privacy. Users can't make their Ello accounts private, but the founders say that's coming soon. And Ello's stated mission is to be profitable without selling user data. That claim attracts scrutiny. Once it was revealed that Ello received venture capital money in January, critics went to town.

Aral Balkan is a privacy advocate who is building an independent operating system. He says he doesn't want to support a VC-backed social network that will face pressure to balloon in size and value.

ARAL BALKAN: If you take venture capital at the very beginning when you went to investors to ask for money, you had to present your exit plan because that's when the investors make their money back. Even before you've built the thing, you're selling the people that you hope to get to use it.

KURWA: After just a few days, Ello user Jimmy Chan is also losing interest in the site, but for a different reason.

JIMMY CHAN: Some of my friends are simply jumping in to say you're all still here? As if it was Monday morning and people are still in the living room from a Sunday night party.

KURWA: Chan says Ello probably won't be fun for him until it picks up traction with more friends and offers different features. The site is being tweaked and reworked in full view of a rapt online audience. The founders are responding to complaints and requests as the site takes shape. Cofounder Paul Budnitz has a relatively chill attitude about the critiques.

BUDNITZ: I'm in Vermont. I'm not in Silicon Valley, you know?

KURWA: He's confident that Ello can make money through a freemium model. Users would pay for extra features like the ability to access multiple accounts with a single login. Budnitz maintains that the founders don't feel undue pressure to compromise their ideals. He says they're content to stay small and modestly profitable in a Vermont kind of way. For NPR News, I'm Nishat Kurwa.

INSKEEP: She's a reporter for turnstylenews.com, a tech and digital culture site from Youth Radio.

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