Fall 2015

Emergent Digital Practices degree sets the stage for Ello co-founder’s creative success

Alumnus Justin Gitlin is one of the founders of social network Ello. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Alumnus Justin Gitlin is one of the founders of social network Ello. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Justin Gitlin is all about community.

As one of seven founders of Denver-based social-media network Ello, Gitlin and his company — creative computation studio Mode Set — are making headlines as the team behind the latest and greatest online community. The site’s claim to fame is that it’s ad-free and has pledged never to sell its users’ data.

“We’re not another Silicon Valley site. We’re homegrown out of Denver,” Gitlin (BA ’02) says. “We’re taking a stance against the current industry model of selling advertisements. People really seem to love that.”

Offline, Gitlin is connecting people the old-fashioned way — in person. He’s the brains behind OhHeckYeah, a series of community-building, interactive video games that launched in downtown Denver in summer 2014. On 15 different nights spread over the course of two months, the project took over the giant LED screens at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and turned them into a gaming street festival. Mode Set is continuing the project and taking it to multiple cities, including Boston, where OhHeckYeah launched in May 2015 as a partnership with Northeastern University.

“I like to refer to it as making magic in the street,” Gitlin says. “We’re providing a safe place where people of all types play games together. It’s using the same technology we can build a social network with, to a large degree, but rather than online, we’re using it to bring us together in real life to have a shared experience.”

At DU, Gitlin was a double major in computer science and Emergent Digital Practices (EDP) — a DU-specific major that brings together art, design, media, culture and technology studies in a hands-on, collaborative environment.

“I’m using everything I learned in my double major today,” he says. “The EDP and computer science degrees were the precursor to the work I do every day, both for my day job and my digital art side projects.”

And he feels especially fortunate, he says, to have studied in Denver, where tech-savvy startups are launching on a near-daily basis.

“Starting my career in Denver and having the opportunity to work with so many talented people has brought me to my current place,” he says. “All of the people you meet along the way may become your boss, give you a referral, or even just spark an idea that leads you to your next chapter. It’s all about working hard in your field and being a good community member. Share the wealth and treat people right, and you’ll go as far as you can dream.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *