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Biz Stone's Jelly: A new kind of search engine, or an app for apps' sake?

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has kept his new project under wraps for months. Speculation has abounded as to what exactly was in the works – and today the release finally came.

After leaving Twitter, Stone and his Twitter co-founder Evan Williams went to work on other projects under the umbrella the Obvious Corporation - half startup incubator, half investment vehicle. Together they have already released some semi-successful platforms like Lift, Medium and Branch.

Back in April 2013, Stone announced a mysterious new venture with the enigmatic message: "People are basically good — when provided a tool that helps them do good in the world, they prove it."

By May we knew that Jack Dorsey, Bono and Al Gore, among other high profile public figures, had all signed up to invest in the burgeoning startup. Rumours began to spread. Would the project be a new social network, or some kind of distributed hive mind?

Now, eight months later, the project has been released. The result is Jelly – a new kind of search engine for Android and iOS.

A new kind of search engine?

"Say you're walking along and you spot something unusual," Stone explains. "You want to know what it is so you launch Jelly, take a picture, circle it with your finger, and type, 'What's this?'"

Once your question has been posted, it becomes visible to all your contacts on social media networks – so far just Facebook and Twitter.

Jelly takes the concept of Yahoo and Google's 'Answers' platforms, or question-and-answer site Quora(which also has an app), native mobile. Users can pose their own questions, along with pictures, or pitch in answering the questions of others. The stroke of genius comes in the fact that it's not just your own friends who can answer the questions, but the friends of friends, which drastically widens the net of potential users.

"Humanity is connected like never before," Stone said in a blog post.

"In fact, recent white papers have concluded that the proverbial 'six degrees of separation' is now down to four because of social networking and mobile phones. It's not hard to imagine that the true promise of a connected society is people helping each other."

The slick and gamified UI features a number of cards that can be either answered, or down-swiped to pass. Users can also read existing answers by swiping up.

First day reception

The app's first-day reception has been, dare we say it, wobbly. Opinions have been mixed, with some users expressing enthusiasm about the concept, and others complaining about release bugs, crashes and a lack of availability on a wide range of devices.

"Love the concept. Simple like Twitter, helpful like Quora," one user wrote in a Google Play review.

"Love the Concept & the UI, but like most early stage apps it seems to be a bit buggy (crashes randomly)," added another.

Other users have been less full of praise, calling the concept into question.

"I hope it gets better," one reviewer wrote, "but after 20mins of flipping I couldn't find a question I could (or felt like) answering. I just wanted to say "Google it" on 90% of the questions...they were that simple."

The predictable day-one technical issues have also been causing no little amount of ire among early adopters.

"This app should have a warning that it is proof of concept or in beta," one disappointed user wrote. "The developer really has some work to do before the app can be user reviewed. I expected better from a twitter Co-founder."

Many users have also expressed annoyance that Facebook and Twitter are the only social networks to be compatible with Jelly so far, with some calling for Google+ to be added to the mix.

An app for apps' sake?

All-out dismissal has been largely confined to publications like ValleyWag, which described Jelly as "Yahoo! Answers for the bourgeoisie... a revolution in engorged, cloying, dumbstruck rhetoric, a true disruption of horse sh*t... an app for the sake of apps."


Whether or not there's a future in Jelly remains to be seen. Our own experiments with Jelly here at ITProPortal have confirmed that it's an addictive experience, at least initially.

With such a talented team behind it, it's certainly an app to watch for the future, and a master class in UX design. But one thing's for certain – Twitter this is not.

However, it might be worth remembering what Evan William said about Twitter, looking back on its success in October 2013: "They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn't replace anything. There was this path of discovery with something like that, where over time you figure out what it is."