On Tuesday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone unveiled Jelly, a social Q&A service that focuses heavily on mobile imagery. Rather than going to a search engine, Jelly pushes users to upload photos with a question that can be passed along to friends (or strangers) to get answers. While I enjoy crowdsourcing inane questions to my Internet hive-mind as much as the next guy, I don’t see Jelly taking off the way Twitter did.

At first glance, the app seems like something of a non-starter. Yahoo! Answers has already cornered the market on giving bad advice to (mostly) absurd questions. Plus, it has such a large body of questions built up that any answer is one Google search (or Yahoo! search, I suppose) away. Sites like Quora and Stack Overflow have the professional and technical discussion realm buttoned up tightly, and those are not discussions that most people are likely to replicate on a mobile device.

Granted, I was strongly anti-Twitter until it grew large enough to start breaking large news events, but Jelly lacks a few of the strengths that Twitter has always had in its corner. Twitter was the first of its kind, where Jelly has to make up ground on apps like Thumb, which do not limit answers to your personal networks.

However, Jelly does have one thing in its corner, if it can make it matter to users: images.

Image-Based Search

Building a social search engine around imagery is a great idea, but I think Jelly has missed the bus on this one. Even before Twitter started including most images in your feed, it was never difficult to post a “LOL what is this crazy spiral broccoli tree” after taking a photo of your fancy dinner and get a response from your friends. Like many recent tech announcements, Jelly seems to be fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.

If you're curious, it's called Romanesco.
If you’re curious, it’s called Romanesco.

Delayed Gratification

In my limited use of the app, one thing really stands out: The feed is terrible. While it is nice that you can quickly swipe away a question, never to be seen again, each image query is a full-screen affair that must be swiped away. There’s no feed, no timeline – just an individual question. While this supports Stone’s notion that people want to connect to individuals to share knowledge, it’s an odd choice that he diverted so starkly from Twitter, which has succeeded by giving us a constant stream of information.

Sure, people can give a modicum of thought when answering their friends’ questions, but it delays gratification for the user. The mobile nature of the app means that users will shy away from deep questions better left to Quora, and focus more on questions that require shallow answers (see above). And, rather than growing bored waiting for an answer from Jelly, most users will probably remember that their phones have access to basically any information they might require. It even has a handy image search.

Services like Uber succeed because they give users almost instant gratification and an upgraded service from what we expect. Jelly does neither. First, there are already ways to get the information you want quicker, and you have no guarantee the answers you receive are accurate. At least Yahoo! Answers lets the community grade answers to possibly approach a correct answer.

If a Question Falls in the Forest, and No One Hears It…

Jelly lets you sign in with your Facebook and Twitter account and uses an algorithm to decide which of your friends are most likely to know the answer to your question. As of right now, I know one person using Jelly, so the questions in my feed are mostly from followers of people that I follow. And there’s no real indication that anyone wants to ask serious questions, and no one is giving serious answers if they did. It’s fun, but nothing that can’t be delivered better by other platforms.

The sort of hard-hitting questions you can expect on Jelly.
The sort of hard-hitting questions you can expect on Jelly.

Even though you sign in with Twitter or Facebook, there’s also no obvious way to share your questions with those platforms, so there’s really no compelling reason to not just upload your photo to Twitter or Instagram to get an answer. And since you can’t share, you’ll have to actively encourage your friends to join Jelly if you’re dead-set on making it a fun experience.

Sure, every new social network has to build its own network, but Jelly – at least at launch – does a terrible job at leveraging the networks that we all already have in place. Facebook and Twitter have more reach. Instagram has a better feed. Snapchat has better targeting. What’s the point of asking a question if no one is there to answer it?

Stealth Marketing Heaven

While we’re always on the lookout for new marketing channels, Jelly just seems rife for stealth marketing. Since you’ll see questions from accounts you follow on Twitter (or from followers of those accounts), I doubt it will be long before Jelly fills in with questions about your favorite donut flavor or brand of luxury vehicle.

Ultimately, Jelly 1.0 delivers a pale imitation of actual human interaction. Most of the questions I’ve seen so far have rivalled Yahoo! Answers for silliness, and the answers are almost all pure snark (which I don’t mind), but that is another service that Twitter provides in spades.

Are you Jelly? Let us know what you think.

Photo Credit: Jason Pratt


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