Jelly uses photos to ask questions, maybe make a better world in the process

Jelly is an app designed to create empathy, according to Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter. He should know, as it's his new company. Using Jelly, you post a picture and you Twitter and/or Facebook friends who also have Jelly installed can look, answer, ignore or forward your photo question to someone who they think might be able to help. It's a noble cause, empathy, but does Jelly have a shot and making us more willing to help? Do the answers on Jelly mean anything, or will this be yet another Internet Q&A fooferaw that will devolve into silly answers for real questions?

This has all happened before...

For some background, the web has tried many, many times to connect people with questions to people with the answers. It's actually a pretty huge business, but the hardest part is always validating the person answering your questions. Yahoo Answers is a free-for-all, and as such you'll find hilariously wrong answers to sometimes very serious questions on there. I'm particularly agitated when I see someone on Facebook ask a question that I absolutely know the answer to, only to see my valid answer lost amid a sea of "well I think" and "my cousin's brother's dog's aunt told me that..." and so on. In other words, most of the time Q&A on the web is crap. One exception might be Aardvark from Google, which did some tagging to determine whether an answerer actually had in knowledge about your question. What a concept, right? Yeah, Google killed Aardvark as a front-facing service. Apparently much of the team was reassigned to Google+, although the less I say about that mess the better. Let's just say you're just as likely to find correct answers on G+ as you are on Facebook.

A picture is worth a thousand notifications

In my testing, I turned off notifications on setup. I do this routinely these days, as there are too many developers who seem to think that I desperately want my workday to be constantly interrupted with the minutiae of everyone else on the planet. Not so, thus notifications were off. Turns out this was lucky, as ReadWriteWeb discovered you'll soon be bombarded with folks looking for answers. Well, you're probably more likely to be bombarded if you're a writer for a site about the web, apps, etc. Not everyone is so connected. Still, I wish developers would stop assuming that we all crave to be interrupted constantly.

Nevertheless, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't see any activity after setting up the app. I was pretty confused, in fact. Jelly is based on your social network, even if it is its own social network. You can connect it to either or both of your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and it will connect to those folks who are also using Jelly. Thing is, when you first launch, if none of your friends are currently using Jelly, you won't see much of anything. You'll wonder what the point of this app is entirely. I think that's not a great first impression, but it could be because the service is young and few of the people I know are on it. Nevertheless, I was basically "forced" to ask a question because I couldn't figure out how to do anything else after initial setup. Oh, as an example of just how lost you'll be: The gear icon in your activity stream is not preferences or settings, as it would be in every single other app in the known universe, but a list of your thank you cards. Remember folks, this app is building empathy.

You want answers?

So, at 3am on a Saturday night I took a pic of a crazy light in my living room that has some colored bulbs in it and asked, "What color is this?" I then closed the app, went to bed, and checked in a few hours later. I had over 50 answers waiting for me!

Let's be clear, Jelly is a sort of social network. I opted in with both Facebook and Twitter, expecting only my friends to see or answer. Not so. None of this is very clear from setup, by the way. But I got responses from people with whom I have no connection, and several with whom I have a connection via social networks. As an example, I got an answer from @BradmanTV, who I am connected to via Christina Warren.

The crux of this service revolves around the answers you get, so how are they? I asked "what would you call this color," which is pretty subjective. In an example posted on TechCrunch, a 14 year-old had her question forwarded all the way to a creative director somewhere, who managed to answer her math question. While that's great, I think it sets a crazy expectation that so many people will take the time to send your questions to the right people, but it definitely hints at building empathy.

My question was largely answered with a simple "blue" or a creative spin, like "electric blue." You can thank an answerer, share their answer, or (by clicking a small caret to the right of their name) you can report the answer as inappropriate or say you don't like the answer. You can't comment on answers, or interact beyond these options. I wasn't really sure what to do here, because a lot of people had similar answers and thanking them all seemed a bit much. I'm prone to "like" something on Facebook or "favorite" something on Twitter if I like it, but I can also respond to those. All too often I felt as if I was saying "thanks... for nothing." Empathy?

People who respond can apparently respond with a photo, and one person wrote Cyan on the photo to illustrate his point. I got a few questions to my question, but without a way to interact, there was no way to follow up. I got 53 answers, and most were pretty basic (but so was my question). Two were funny, but the majority were essentially duplicates.

That said, I did notice that overall people were being helpful. Check out this answer to "what orchid is this," for example.

Empathy & answering

Next I tried answering a question. @donc asked about some blue spots on his cooking pans. I happen to love cooking and cookware, plus I'm fascinated with materials and how they change with use, so I took on his question by doing some research. I, too wanted to know what these were, having seem them on a pan I had some time ago. One problem: You can't pinch to zoom a photo in Jelly. Like Instagram, everything is locked down, so I was unable to get up close to see better. I'm hoping this is temporary, because in this case zooming would have been welcome. Also, while answering you can't easily go back and look at the photo again -- something that would be rather useful as well. If you go back to the photo then back to compose an answer, your text is deleted. A small thing, but annoying when you are busy and attempting to help someone by being accurate.

When answering, you have a limited character count, which is only indicated by a little pie chart that gradually fills up as you type. I tried to be thorough, and warn this person that his pan was corroded beyond the discoloration (seriously kids, you don't need to be cooking in a rusty pan if you can help it), but I wound up turning that circle orange, which I guess means I was over the limit, whatever that is. You can also add links, or draw on the photo itself.

When you send your answer, a cute sound effect plays that sounds like some sort of aquatic critter swimming off... perhaps a jellyfish?

The nascent now

Jelly is brand new but shows some promise. The next question I saw asked "where can I find more art like this?" but the first answer was "who is it?" -- without a way to complete that loop, Jelly becomes a bit limited. Still, I can see that the limits within Jelly are designed to encourage certain behaviors. I believe my inability to see anyone's questions after first setup was intentional. I had to ask a question first. That's pretty clever!

Also keep in mind that while Jelly is putting photos front and center on its PR, the photos are often a ridealong with other questions. I moved to another question by thumbing the card down (using those great iOS 7 physics, I see) and saw a question about monetizing a blog, with a link to the blog, accompanied by a generic picture of a group of people.

I browsed the answers to this question, and you can mark them as Good or share them, as with answers you recieve.

Feedback loops

After you've asked a question you'll start seeing questions from others. You can flip through those or answer them. If you click on your activity stream (the icon is a silhouette of a person, and has an orange dot if there's new activity), you'll see if anyone marked your answer as "good", who answered your questions, and if anyone gave you a thank you note. I got one such note, but when I tapped the gear, all I saw was the Jelly logo. This seems like a bug, but it was the only one I found while using the app.


Jelly is free for iOS and Android. The design is sparse but constructed well and it's actually a lot of fun to use. People are drawn towards images, so brain scientists tell us, and based a sort of social network around those is a smart idea (hello, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.). Jelly has only just begun, which may limit its utility for a while, but I think Biz and team are on to something here. Jelly won't be the next Facebook, but it could very well encourage more people to help one another -- which was the goal all along.