[iDC] RE. Ello--Alternative to Facebook

Mushon Zer-Aviv mushon at shual.com
Wed Oct 1 05:55:46 UTC 2014

Thanks Elliot,
Just a quick note about AdNauseum, the site and Firefox extension you’re currently seeing is a work in progress.
BUT, AdNauseam will actually be officially launched at #DL14 where we will also present our thoughts about it and about other data obfuscation tactics.
Helen and Daniel could add more details in their introduction (nudge nudge).

Greetings from the Responsible Data Forum in Budapest,
Mushon Zer-Aviv
Mushon.com | Shual.com | @mushon

On September 30, 2014 at 9:02:45 PM, Elliot Vredenburg (elliot.vredenburg at gmail.com) wrote:

I too would gladly pay a user fee to avoid the monetizing of my data, on FB especially, and Ello's model of voluntary payment seems to at least throws a bone to that option.

There's been some interesting work on palliative responses to the stalemate of VC-funded dataveillance (see Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum's work on data obfuscation, and Daniel Howe and Nissenbaum's Ad Nauseum, for example), but it seems to me that the two options for social networks that we're frequently provided with—either paying for membership or sacrificing all your user data—are a bit unimaginative, to say the least. 

Not to say we're permanently stuck at this impasse, though: One example of of an attempt to design our way out of this box is the tale of Jeremy Rubin's Tidbit (read the EFF brief here), a code that allows a user to trade some of their CPU cycles in exchange for blocking ads. Despite being quickly hit with a subpoena and taken down, I think it's these kind of approaches that will allow us to rethink the horizon of VC-funding that is difficult for tech to see beyond.


On Tue, Sep 30, 2014 at 10:09 AM, matt g <matt.lists at gmail.com> wrote:
> I for one would pay such a fee to avoid the "dataveilance" on FB.

Well, there is/was the app.net model, which involved such a system. . .

I fear that it is just a matter of time before Ello closes due to the scale of usage or monetizes user info to remain afloat. I sincerely hope it won't come to that, but I share Karyn's concerns about the long-term viability of the platform.

Despite what David described as the frustrating inefficiencies grant-funded/university-sponsored efforts, I think that universities have a key role to play in creating free and open alternatives to VC-funded models. At CUNY, we have created the CUNY Academic Commons and abstracted that into a platform called The Commons In A Box (CBOX); CBOX was created through grant funding by Sloan and has been sustained by funding by Mellon, the NEH Office of Digital Humanities, and, importantly, by continued investments by the City University of New York. The Commons is not a perfect analogue to the microblogging model of twitter/ello, and it has its flaws, but it is a free-software project that is built upon a stack of open software projects (WordPress and BuddyPress), which it both draws from and sustains (see this page for contributions we have made to larger software projects). And it has fed sister projects both within and outside of CUNY, including the City Tech OpenLab, Blogs at Baruch, the MLA Commons, the ProjectMuse Commons, and others. 

The point here is not so much about these specific projects but rather about alternatives to the VC funding models that perhaps provide ways to escape dependencies on "dataveilance." Can they scale? I am not sure, but maybe "scale" is something we need to rethink in this context.


Matthew K. Gold, Ph.D.
Executive Officer, M.A. Program in Liberal Studies
Associate Professor of English & Digital Humanities
Advisor to the Provost for Digital Initiatives
City Tech & Graduate Center, City University of New York
http://cuny.is/mkgold | @mkgold

On Mon, Sep 29, 2014 at 10:59 PM, Karyn Hollis <karyn.hollis at villanova.edu> wrote:
Here's a very basic question.  Why would vulture capitalists put any money at all into Ello if they didn't hope to get a return on it?  And if they do hope to get a return, then as many have said, Ello must make money from users, right?  So ultimately Ello doesn't sound like much of an alternative to FB.

And another question--since web hosting is not free (or are there free web hosts?), is charging a user fee the only way to fund a FB alternative?  I for one would pay such a fee to avoid the "dataveilance" on FB.

Thanks to all for a great discussion.

Karyn Hollis, Ph.D., English Department
Director, Concentration in Writing and Rhetoric
Associate Director, Cultural Studies Program
Villanova University

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