Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recently launched 'Jelly', a new question and answer style social network. The concept of Jelly is that people take a photo of something with their mobile device then ask a question about it - 'What's this?' 'Where is this?' 'How do I fix this?' Then they post that image and question to Jelly, which circulates it to any of their Twitter and Facebook friends who are also active on Jelly. It's like talking with a group of your friends over a drink, utilising their collective knowledge to answer your question. The idea is if you give people a forum to help others and they'll do so, which is quite an admirable ambition. But will it catch on? And can it be used for business?
One of the first things to clarify about Jelly is the reach of your questions. Before I started, my understanding was you would have a relatively high level of control over who sees the questions you post - your questions would only be visible to your immediate friends and followers - but that's not the case. When you post a question on Jelly, it can be seen by any of your followers or friends PLUS anyone who is friends with your friends or follows people who follow you. So if your friend Jim has 1000 followers who don't follow you, all of those people will also be able to see your question. This means the average reach for each question, based on average Twitter followers per user (208) and average Facebook friends by user (130), is 60,164 people. Of course, it's limited to users who have an active Jelly profile, but that's a pretty large potential pool of knowledge to be drawing from. It also makes the group a lot less intimate.
Making Learning Fun
One of the big drivers of Jelly is fun. In my experience using it, there's definitely a good, light-hearted feel to the community of early adopters. I can see how Jelly will find a place with a lot of users because of this, as it provides an opportunity to communicate, rather than just looking up answers on Google. It also offers people the chance to showcase their knowledge, which will also appeal, but whether that will result in a compelling experience long-term is impossible to predict.
Can Jelly be used for Business?
Quite a few brands have already jumped onto Jelly to test it out, see what they can get out of it. Most of this early commercial presence is very much 'dipping a toe in the water' so there's no real evidence of business benefit as yet, but I can see a number of potential brand uses in future, including:
- Businesses answering questions in their areas of expertise, enabling them to further establish their brand as a trusted authority
- Businesses involving followers in development projects ('This is our new progress bar - what do you think?'), helping build brand relationships
- Creative questions and images tied into larger promotional campaigns to create buzz - like a photo of a dinosaur foot, for example, saying 'What's this?', and it ends up being an ad for a new dinosaur exhibit at a museum.
- Puzzles and mystery bulding posts tied into TV or movie promos - maybe questions posted by characters linked to images showing early pre-production stills from an upcoming film.
- Planted questions - a user might say 'What's the best steak joint in Texas?' giving the business, whom he's friends with, a chance to respond with their restaurant details, which is then seen by all others in the network
- Straight up ads - a picture of an ice cream with a logo visible and the question: 'Looks good, right?'
- And there's also potential for spam - companies posting photos of a coupon or special offer ad, with the question 'Have you heard about this?' - the type of ads Snapchat is battling at present.
The last one is the most concerning for the future of Jelly. With the potential reach of each question so high, the potential for spam, or at the least, untargeted advertising, is also quite elevated. For example, I play basketball with a friend who's into four wheel driving. I have no interest in four wheel driving, but let's say my friend is following a four wheel drive dealer who uses Jelly to take a picture of a truck he has for sale - 'Is this truck really only $15,000?'. That ad would also come to me. Now, I'm not the most popular guy on the internet, but my network is bigger than the 60k average quoted above and I follow a lot of people who are well above those averages. The larger your network, the more likely you're going to get unwanted ads, and this could become a useability issue.
This is actually why I assumed they'd restrict the answer pool to only your immediate network, because then you would have more control over what questions you see through your own followers and friends, but with it being wider than that, there's a high chance that some of your network members are going to be following brands you have no interest in, potentially even total spammers who could flood your Jelly feed with junk. What's more, someone may follow a spammer on Twitter unknowingly, who could then infect their Jelly network without that person even knowing, particularly if they weren't checking into Jelly regularly. While, of course, you'll be able to swipe through them, spam and untargeted ads could, potentially, have a significant impact on the user experience.
There is also business potential based around the ability to search questions by keyword/s (analytics company RJMetrics has already been able to do this and no doubt it won't be long till users have the ability to search questions by keyword). If that option becomes available, brands will be able to target users by either answering their questions direct (if they're linked to that users' network) or by contacting the user via Twitter, offering them a discount coupon related to their question or adding them to their advertising list. In that context, it could be useful, but could also be intrusive, as it's the conversations are not publicly accessible.
Jelly is definitely an interesting concept that can be good fun, in that 'solving problems amongst your friends' spirit, and it'll be interesting to see how the company handles potential mis-use, if it occurs. The governing concept of giving people a forum to help others is great, and I hope it succeeds for that reason alone - if we could all spend a few moments each day helping others, the world would be a better place. I'm definitely on board with Jelly, and the philosophy behind it, but my commitment to its mission will be tested if I end up having to wade through streams of unwanted ads.