Jelly, the highly-anticipated application cofounded by Twitter's Biz Stone was finally revealed Tuesday as a "new way to search" based on your network of friends. After playing with it a bit I realized: it's just another social network, and for now, I don't need it.
To use Jelly, you take a photo of something and ask a question about it, then send it out. You can also draw on the photo to annotate what, exactly, you want an answer to. Friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook who also have Jelly will be able to see your question in the application, and submit a response. When you receive an adequate answer, you select "thank you", similar to a Facebook Like.
Like many, I was immediately baffled by Jelly. But I gave the app the benefit of the doubt and checked it out.
I signed up for Jelly with both my Facebook and Twitter accounts, then opted in to receive notifications. That might have been a bad idea; I immediately began receiving notifications that random people wanted their questions answered.
The idea behind Jelly is to use your network of friends to help you answer questions. Sound familiar? It's similar to Aardvark, the search service Google acquired back in 2010 that let users answer questions from an extended network based on what they claim to be knowledgable about.
But according to founders, the idea goes beyond that. Biz Stone told TechCrunch he wants the application to help build empathy and create a better world. (Don't we all, Mr. Stone.)
Beyond being a very useful search engine, like I said before, it creates this circle of empathy, where people realize that ‘Oh, there’s other people who need my help and I can actually help them and they’ll feel good about it and they’ll get trained to thinking about helping other people. And, maybe that’ll even jump outside of the app and just into the real world and they’ll start looking around and helping people and wouldn’t that be great?
If only creating empathy was as simple as building an app.
People Just Aren't That Nice
I'll admit, while Jelly isn't that useful, it can be fun. The first question I posed was asking my network "What is this?" with a picture of a red panda attached. Naturally, the Internet did its Internet thing and responded with sarcasm. "Firefox" was one answer. "Darth," the former photoshop king of Twitter, was another. And, of course, someone answered with "red panda" and a doodle of her own.
The thing is, I already get enough sarcasm on Twitter and Facebook. If I really wanted to know what this red panda was, I would have Googled it.
I'm very skeptical of anything that relies on people to be honest with each other. Just look at Yahoo Answers and the false (but humorous) answers people provide. As much as I love my friends, I know they're just as inclined to tell me something ridiculous as they are something helpful.
"Creating empathy" through a mobile application, while noble in its cause, is startup jargon.
How It Could Work
I've said that there are too many social applications, which is why I don't need another one taking up room on my phone. But I'm always in favor of businesses succeeding, so there are a few things Jelly could do to make me a loyal customer.
See also: Are There Too Many Social Networks?
If users could be verified to have experience in the questions they answer, that would significantly improve Jelly's usability. That was one of the ways Aardvark was so successful—people only received questions for subjects they were tagged as having experience in. If I could tag one of my friends who I know has reputable knowledge about the particular question I'm asking, it could potentially improve the quality of the answers.
I can't answer the math question I saw posed on Jelly, and I don't carry any pocket knives. So far, so boring. But if Jelly went the other way, and became an application entirely built on snark and humor, I might have a little more time for it. A picture is worth a thousand words, and with a great caption, a thousand laughs.
It will be interesting to see how Jelly thrives in the already over-saturated social media market. If it becomes a viable search engine, or a service for snark, I might consider re-installing it.
In the meantime, I'll keep Googling my answers.
Lead image via Jelly