Hello Ello – The Ethical Social Network

I’m doing my best to keep to my ear to the ground and weed out young voices around the world that are echoing my old fashioned passion for individual choice and human rights. Technology’s innovations are almost unimaginable to me (I grew up with a telephone operator, party lines and a father who flew a B-17 Flying Fortress over Germany in WWII) and too many of the innovations seem to move us closer to dystopia. It can be a confusing world for those of us who have been here awhile. So when Ello, the new social network, popped in my face through blogs and messages, I decided to investigate.–Jinx Davis, Millennium Group

What is an ethical social networ? It’s not Facebook.

Here’s what Ello posts on their About page:

• Ello is a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers.

• Ello doesn’t sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties.

• Virtually every other social network is run by advertisers. Behind the scenes they employ armies of ad salesmen and data miners to record every move you make. Data about you is then auctioned off to advertisers and data brokers. You’re the product that’s being bought and sold.

• Collecting and selling your personal data, reading your posts to your friends, and mapping your social connections for profit is both creepy and unethical. Under the guise of offering a “free” service, users pay a high price in intrusive advertising and lack of privacy.

• We also think ads are tacky, that they insult our intelligence and that we’re better without them.

Ello is completely free to use.

It didn’t take long to breeze through the online buzz about Ella and find hope. The bustle about the site is polarized between those that prophecy its demise before it even begins and those that are firmly in their corner. The majority of mainstream media offers its typical dribble for an increasingly ignorant America. Yet, there are many bright young writers that will resonate with ole’ gals like me and they deserve the attention of those of us that are not in the inner circle of innovation and technology. These excellent minds are:

Quinn Norton, an American journalist, photographer and blogger covering hacker culture, Anonymous, Occupy movement, intellectual property and copyright issues, and the Internet.

Andy Baio, an American technologist and blogger. He is the co-founder of the XOXO Festival, founder of Upcoming.org, a former CTO of Kickstarter, and author of the Waxy.org blog.

Katryna Dow, an entrepreneur and writer. She is the CEO and founder of Meeco, the Australian tech company that is building a world leading data independence platform for people. Meeco guarantees individual’s choice and data sovereignty rights in the way they interact in the digital world and with the Internet-of-things. She is a student of human behavior, including neuro-economics, archetypes, mythology, profiling systems and psychographic segmentation.

These young men and women are constantly worried, inspired and empowered by the change happening around us and their voices are strong, intelligent and encouraging. Let’s pay them heed.

Quinn Norton explains social networking:

Social networking software latches onto the fact that humans are incredibly specialized to pay attention to each other. We get nearly every need we have as an organism out of a web of attention created with other humans. Our ideas of nightmares often involve being trapped far from other people. Solitary confinement is one of the most torturous punishments we’ve ever invented. Exile has often been considered worse than death. We have evolved specialized brain functions for facial processing and language acquisition. We are defined, explicitly and implicitly, in terms of each other. We are fathers and sisters and employees and citizens and members. This effect is biological and cultural, and they reinforce each other fiercely. The hyper-sociality of humanity is both genetic and epigenetic, and it runs through everything we do.

Katryna Dow pulls from the past to remind us of the dangers of innovation with a quote from Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince and The Discourses, 1513, Chapter 6:

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than an attempt to introduce innovations. For the leader in the introduction of changes will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.”

Pushmi-pullyu Effect

Those of us who read the Doctor Dolittle series of children’s books by Hugh Lofting will remember the pushmi-pullyu character. The pushmi-pullyu (pronounced “push-me—pull-you”) is a “gazelle-unicorn cross” which has two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body. When it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions. And so it is with Ello, Facebook and technological innovation in general. There is social shift towards privacy and personal freedom on one the hand, and confirmation of surveillance and control far beyond what is healthy in a democratic society on the other.

Ella is trying to take the higher road. It gained angel investment from a new breed of investors who are earnestly trying to do the right thing and change the model of profit, control and big return. Better yet, Ello doesn’t have an exit strategy. They seem to be honoring process and not end gaining. As Ms. Dow states, “Maybe we are returning to the days when the journey can be as important as the destination? Were the great inventors and founders of the past only concerned with flipping everything they invented? Might changing the way society functioned, creating new forms of value or championing rights have motivated them? There is an amazing reward in seeing that what you create finds a place and purpose in the world…Not everything can be reduced to monetary binary value. What about the public good or greater good? What about the generations to come? If we only ever considered the return on investment for everything then would we risk falling in love, or having a family? We don’t do these things because they make a lot of economic sense; we do it because the experience is the reward.”

It takes trust. It takes people. It takes investment. It takes time.

Ms. Dow goes on with her enthusiasm about projects like Ello:

If we are going to evolve models we will need to speak to the hearts and minds of different groups. Early adopters don’t mind anarchy and are usually up for a revolution. Here we find the pioneers, the ideologists, those that don’t mind the pain for the gain. Theirs is the energy that fuels change and helps make the new normal, normal.

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.

- Isaac Newton

For the mainstream we need to find ways to enable people to ease in. Revolution and anarchy might look great on HBO but it is hard to do alongside getting kids to school, paying bills and just wanting life to be easier or more convenient. Things need to be familiar enough that adoption is not overwhelming, yet new enough that the effort to change feels worthwhile.

While Ello is in the beta stage you can pursue its elegant platform with existing members from its private network life. I encourage you to spend a little time listening to Ello and the voices who speak in its support. When it goes public, consider it. I will.

Click on these hyperlinks:


Quinn Norton

Andy Baio

Katrina Dow