Ad-Free Social Network Ello Goes Mobile, And Hints At Retail Revenues

When Ello debuted in 2014, the minimalist social network attracted interest as an alternative to places like Facebook and Twitter. It was invite-only and lacked a mobile app, though, two factors which limited adoption. 

That’s now changing, as Ello releases its first mobile app in the Apple Store and lifts the invitation requirement. 

After attracting a small but apparently loyal user base, Ello now has several million users, according to CEO Paul Budnitz, who declined to be more specific. 

That number could grow with the release of a free mobile app; industry reports suggest that as much as 75 percent of smartphone consumers check social media on their phone once a day, and 64 percent of tablet consumers do the same. Those trying out Ello for the first time will find a very different aesthetic from Facebook or Twitter, and those familiar with the network already will note that the app is very faithful to Ello’s stripped-down look on the Web. 

For Designers, By Design

As one might expect from a social network made by and for designers and artists, Ello looks striking. The app carries over the browser-based version’s black-and-white themes, with some shades of gray. Overall, it has a spare look. It’s an environment where huge, high-resolution images can thrive. 


The Ello app’s launch on iOS coincides with the requirement for an invitation being lifted. 

The app features five tabs at the bottom. The leftmost tab, Discover, shows content Ello thinks you might be interested in. The next tab over shows notifications of when people interact with you. The central tab houses two Ello feeds, one for your friends’ posts, and one for your “Noise” feed, Ello’s way of helping you separate people you actually know from people or accounts you follow for other reasons. The next tab to the right is your Ello profile, and the leftmost tab is the one you use to post your thoughts and images. 

Unlike Twitter, Ello has no length restriction for your posts. 

One way in which the app and browser version differ is that the Web-based Ello doesn’t restrict adult content, though it requires users who post such content to flag their accounts as “NSFW,” or not safe for work. Due to Apple’s restrictions, the app won’t show content flagged as NSFW, according to an Ello spokesperson. Users who post adult content without flagging their accounts may have their accounts flagged by Ello, and they also risk suspension or deletion.

Below each post, you can see how many people have viewed that post, comments and replies pertaining to that post, and whether anyone has “Loved” it. Like Twitter’s “Favorite” button, the “Love” button lets you flag a post as interesting to you. Users’ Loves lists are public by default, though this can be turned off. 

See also: Ello Founder Paul Budnitz Did Something “Stupid” … And It’s Still Working

In my poking around Ello, both closer to launch and recently when testing the app, I did find it home to far more quality images and amazing-looking things than other social networks. One wonders how much that will stay the same after the general public starts using the app. 

“At first we brought in artists, designers, cooks, and they brought in their friends,” Budnitz said. “Ello now has a gigantic core which is a super creative community.” 

With that core user base in place, Ello seems unlikely to change drastically in the short term. Other problems that have been common on networks like Twitter, such as harassment, have been relatively minor concerns at Ello so far, according to Budnitz.

“We’ve had some trolls and weird stuff, but we’ve talked to people we know at other networks, and by percentage the number of issues we’re having is tiny,” Budnitz said. 

When Ello released test versions of the mobile app to some of its top users, their usage rate doubled, according to Budnitz. Android and Windows versions are coming later this year, which could boost usage further. 

A Buy Button On Ello?

Budnitz says Ello is thinking about a commerce feature which would let users sell items directly through their Ello feeds. It sounds less like the “Buy” button Pinterest just launched and more like some of the competitors that have tried to take on Craigslist over the years, like Yardsale. (Yardsale renamed itself Fobo in 2014, and was sold in 2015, according to cofounder Ryan Mickle’s LinkedIn profile.)

With Ello’s forthcoming commerce feature, the seller will take a picture and draw a box around the item or items for sale. People following the seller on Ello will click the boxes in their feed and purchase the item then and there. Ello will take a small cut of the sale.

It’s far from clear how Ello will handle payments, fraud, and other headaches that come with operating a marketplace. Budnitz would only say that the system was proprietary and that Ello has applied for patents on it.

But the e-commerce plan  does represent a possible revenue stream for a social network committed to remaining ad-free and not selling user data. 

“Ello is about quality content and communication,” Budnitz said. “We’re really not trying to be the next Walmart of social networks.”

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