ello: Can Social Media Exist Without Ads?

on Wednesday, Oct. 1st

A version of this story aired on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A version of this story aired on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Vermont’s 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.

“We set out to prove that a social network will survive and thrive that doesn’t have an business model of selling ads to its users,” said CEO and co-founder Paul Budnitz. He owns a bicycle company in Vermont, and he’s also the founder of Kidrobot, which makes high-end art toys. Budnitz said ello’s creators initially launched the site for their circle of friends. They wanted a clean online space to exchange large images and longform text. The site has been growing steadily for about a year, he said. But that changed last week, when news stories about a group of disenchanted Facebook users mentioned ello as an alternative, and set off a stampede of interest.

“We’re getting 40,000 combined signups and requests per hour…so it’s a lot,” Budnitz said with a chuckle.

You need an invite from a friend to use ello, and that amps up the allure. Many ello users I talked to, like 24-year-old Charity Walden, say they joined simply out of curiosity. “I use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat,” she said — and now ello rounds out that group. “I think it’s really cool to be there at the beginning, and see how it’s developed.”

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 — a claim that attracts scrutiny. Once it was learned that ello received venture capital money in January, the critics went to town.

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

“If you take venture capital, that means at the very beginning, you had to present your exit plan, because that’s when the investors make their money back. Even before you built the thing, you’re selling the people that you hope to get to use it,” he said.

I mentioned to Balkan that for many ello users I spoke to, the fact that it’s ad-free wasn’t necessarily the reason they joined. Attitudes like this are a problem, he said. “We’re just rushing headlong, we’re just making things…not necessarily being critical about the impacts they will have, and just jumping from one bandwagon to the next.”

After just a few days, ello user Jimmy Chan is also losing interest in the site, but for a different reason — he says he’s not getting much out of it. “Some of my friends are jumping in to say ‘You’re all still here?’ as if it’s Monday morning, and people are still in their living room from a Sunday night party,” he joked. Chan says ello probably won’t be fun for him until it picks up traction with more friends, and offers different features.

The site’s being tweaked and re-worked in full view of a rapt online audience. The founders are responding to complaints and requests as the site takes shape. Co-founder Paul Budnitz has a relatively chill attitude about the critiques: “I’m in Vermont, not in Silicon Valley.”

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.

Say Ello to the latest David to Facebook’s Goliath

on Thursday, Sep. 25th

Before we go any further, I’d like to say that this isn’t–likely–Ello’s fault.

Before we go any further, I’d like to say that this isn’t–likely–Ello‘s fault.

People have been hungry for a Facebook-killer for a long while now. There was a momentary flash where it looked like Google+ might be it. The whole “circles” idea was different enough to pique interest, and FB had been around just long enough to be boring.

Google blew it, however, by insisting that everyone use their real name. They had forgotten that this is The Internet, and real names are for boring people.

Read the rest

Virtual Reality’s Future Hinges on Presence and Patience

on Tuesday, Sep. 23rd

There are two reoccurring themes in the reports out of this past weekend’s Oculus Connect developers conference in Hollywood.

There are two reoccurring themes in the reports out of this past weekend’s Oculus Connect developers conference in Hollywood.

The first is disappointment that virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR didn’t announce a release date for the first commercial version of their Rift hardware. The second is that the latest prototype has achieved a level of that elusive experience known as “presence” that pretty much blows everything up until now out of the water.

Read the rest

Apple & The Magic of NFC

on Monday, Sep. 8th

The speculation engines have been set to maximum across the tech Internet as all eyes turn towards the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, where Apple will make what everyone assumes will be an historic product announcement.

The speculation engines have been set to maximum across the tech Internet as all eyes turn towards the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, where Apple will make what everyone assumes will be an historic product announcement.

Historic because this is the same theatre where the original Mac itself was unveiled back in 1984, and the company has built a large temporary structure next door to the venue for the event.

The assumption on everyone’s lips is that Apple will unveil both a new iPhone and the long rumored “iWatch,” both of which are said to use Near Field Communication technology, or NFC. The killer app for NFC? Mobile payments, specifically frictionless point of sale transactions.

While payments have gotten all of the ink, that’s just one of the magical uses of NFC. We could be in store for a lot more surprises, starting with toys.

Read the rest

Seven Things To Know About The Future of Immersive Entertainment

on Friday, Sep. 5th

im·mer·sive

adjective

1.

im·mer·sive

adjective

1. (of a computer display or system) generating a three-dimensional image that appears to surround the user. Source: Google.

Immersive. The word pops up in conversations about entertainment with as much frequency as “engagement.” While the definition is tied to its roots as techno-jargon in the cyberdelic 90s, its popularity comes from the fact that the meaning has grown beyond those roots.

Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality start-up Oculus VR earlier this year put the word back in the mouths of the mainstream press, and this week Samsung announced the Gear VR head mounted display adapter for their next generation phone. Another use of the term is tied to immersive theater productions like the long-running Sleep No More in New York City.

Whether in virtual or flesh and blood reality, the singular goal of an immersive experience is to suspend disbelief so totally that the audience gets wrapped up in the world around them to the exclusion of any other.

What follows is a primer, of sorts, on what the future of immersive media will look like.

Read the rest

Samsung Hits The Accelerator on the VR Age With Gear VR

on Wednesday, Sep. 3rd

A couple of weeks back I watched the vice president of content for Jaunt VR—makers of a revolutionary live action video camera for virtual reality—hint at the imminent arrival of a consumer VR device.

A couple of weeks back I watched the vice president of content for Jaunt VR—makers of a revolutionary live action video camera for virtual reality—hint at the imminent arrival of a consumer VR device. Jaunt and New Deal Studios would be releasing a short WWII themed film made with the camera this fall, and that meant people would need to able to watch it on something, after all.

There was no way that Sony was fast-tracking Morpheus, and all signs pointed Oculus VR’s first consumer product needing until 2015 to be ready. Google has the DODOcase Cardboard kit already available, but that thing is more like a Viewmaster on steroids than a fully realized VR device.

Which left one suspect in the room: Samsung, and their rumored “Gear VR.” Today the South Korean manufacturer came clean: they will be unleashing the Gear VR, a headset adapter for the forthcoming Galaxy Note 4 phone. The kicker: the software running the Gear VR is from Oculus.

Read the rest

The Dumbest Case Against Games Journalists You’ll Ever Hear

on Thursday, Aug. 28th

WARNING: Contains Opinions.

WARNING: Contains Opinions. (Oh no!)

When I look at what the culture of gaming has become this summer I recoil in disgust. The worst excesses of geekdom, wherein the bullied become the bullies, have been on display.

The most hideous form of this has been what’s happened to developer Zoe Quinn and feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian in the past two weeks. Quinn was doxed as part of a revenge campaign begun by an ex-boyfriend. Sarkeesian was driven out of her home by threats of violence against her and her family.

Quinn’s story has splintered into a ranging discussion about journalistic ethics in the gaming enthusiast press, even though no one has been able to show that an ethical breach occurred. The problem is that the accusations of unethical behavior found an all too willing audience: gamers just don’t trust the enthusiast press.

Read the rest

Something Wicked Heads To Social Media: ‘Project: Alibi’

on Tuesday, Aug. 26th

The spooky season is almost upon us, and that means its time for storytellers of all stripes to try and scare our socks off.

The spooky season is almost upon us, and that means its time for storytellers of all stripes to try and scare our socks off.

Such is the plan behind what’s currently called Project: Alibi, a mulit-platform ghost story from a pair of transmedia luminaries who are working together for the first time.

Read the rest

Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Censorship & Trolls: The Battle For Twitter’s Soul

on Friday, Aug. 22nd

It feels slightly ridiculous to talk about Twitter being in a state of crisis while the world falls apart, but the social media network has become the main artery for news around the world.

It feels slightly ridiculous to talk about Twitter being in a state of crisis while the world falls apart, but the social media network has become the main artery for news around the world. Which means that a broken Twitter helps to foster a broken world.

Not only do headlines and links spread across the service in 140 characters, but actual news is reported directly in places as far apart as Ferguson, Missouri and the Gaza Strip as reporters, citizen journalists, and ordinary citizens alike on the scene deliver brief dispatches in real time.

Which means that Twitter’s decision to suspend some accounts linking to the video of execution of journalist James Foley this week set off warning bells for journalists like Glenn Greenwald.

Read the rest

You’ll Believe A Geek Can Fly–Virtual Reality in LA

on Tuesday, Aug. 19th

This past weekend in Sylmar, a neighborhood in the far north end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, a few hundred curious nerds descended upon New Deal Studios, a production company and special effects house who played host to the latest Virtual Reality Los Angeles event.

This past weekend in Sylmar, a neighborhood in the far north end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, a few hundred curious nerds descended upon New Deal Studios, a production company and special effects house who played host to the latest Virtual Reality Los Angeles event.

Companies on the cutting edge of the virtual reality scene—from Oculus VR to Sony and a host of smaller companies in between—showed off their latest wares. Some of it is consumer-ready, while other companies are essentially giving sneak peaks at what they believe will be the future of entertainment.

If the flying simulation I got to play with at the start of the event is any indication, they just might be right.

Read the rest

ifthey

The Good And Bad Memes In #Ferguson Race Conversations

A friend of mine launched a depressing conversation recently, and asked me how much I think he is worth.

Sponsors

amazon-local-register

Amazon Joins Mobile Payment Game, But Have They Lost The Magic Touch?

Once upon a time it seemed that Amazon could have been destined to be that rare company that could do no wrong.

thermaltouch-interface

Augmented Reality: German Firm Shows Off Touch Based UI

We seem to be on a collision course with wearable computing.

evevr

Will VR’s Killer App Make You Sick?

Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has a close-in look at the design philosophy going into Eve: Valkyrie, the “killer app” for virtual reality systems.

Image: Rachel I. Berman (Alice); Publicity image by Darial Sneed for Then She Fell.

Immersive Cinema And The Age of Voxelpunk

In the wake of the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR the issue of the future of virtual reality beyond games has stepped into the media spotlight.

placeholder

Contributors

All Day Play • Youth Radio • First Love America • Closet Tour • The Recollective • Davey D's Hip Hop Corner • Tilapia Film • Of Note Magazine • Favianna • Discolorations • Youth Speaks • Jonathan Poritsky • Lucas McNelly • Angry Asian Man • Mike Belleme • Black Folk Don't • Vocalo Very Smart Brothas Us Ordinary People Son of Baldwin • Radio Pocho

Partners