When we have a problem, it’s tough to know what to do sometimes. Sometimes we don’t even know the question to ask. If there’s someone around who’s been in the same situation they can almost always help you out, but these days not only do so many of us not have the time, but so many things are just too new to have a lot of people available to answer. And if you can’t do a quick internet search for it because you don’t even know the right question to ask, it’s like getting stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Before last Thursday, that meant that you’d spend anywhere from minutes to weeks online researching, and more often than not failing to get an answer quickly. Then on Thursday Jelly released it’s same-named app, a simple two-function iPhone and Android application that allows users to ask questions, and then for their extended network of friends and peers to answer those questions. It sounds ordinary and plain. In reality, it’s one of the most progressive apps to come out this year, just a few weeks in, and will likely remain one of the top downloaded apps for mobile phones.
Jelly is a social networking tool with a sole purpose: ask/answer questions from people you know, and the people that they know. Users register with Facebook and/or Twitter, and everyone you are friends with or who is following you will see the questions that you post, and vice versa. Questions are posted with a photo, like two cans of tomato soup with the question “which is better”. The photo is the most basic point of reference; interestingly, in the hours I’ve spent using Jelly, the photos rarely mattered for any question except for very dull queries like “what is this?” with a photo of a restaurant or a piece of cake. Banal stuff…but then again, isn’t that how all social networks start?
Once a question is asked, the extended network can choose to answer or dismiss. Dismiss a question and you’ll never be bothered by it again. You can choose to read all available answers as well, so if you have one but someone’s already said it, you needn’t waste any time. In fact, if someone’s already answered and done a good job, you can highlight that answer so the questioner can see that it’s a more popular one, adding gravitas to the opinion given. Should you choose to answer yourself, you may answer with just text, draw on the photo, or provide a link using the built-in web browser (which has such a great little system that it’s perfect for the task). And once your answer is out, anyone else who sees it can mark it as a good answer, and the questioner can also thank you for your answer. Should you be a naughty boy or girl and decide to do something inappropriate, users can mark your answer (and question) as inappropriate. There’s also a “I don’t like this answer” function; it’s unclear what that does, though I hypothesize it’s for future use to segregate the types of questions (and possibly people) you want to see.
Why Jelly is the future is fascinating, and really the biggest difference between Google and Apple right now. Google believes that the future is data-driven, that with enough data you can do and prove just about anything. And, if their stock price and current standing as a company means anything, it would seem that they’re onto something. If we learned anything about this past CES it’s that people want more data about themselves, their lives, and everyone else too.
Apple on the other hand does everything by hand. All hardware and software goes through a design team (according to the recently released biography of Jony Ive, starts with the design team) to answer the first question of the product: what is it for? That’s why the App Store is completely curated, because the iPhone and iPad are great devices and there are hundreds of thousands of apps available, but no one has the time to sit and look for them, nor can data really tell you whether this is the sort of app that you’d like to use (yet, perhaps). So Apple hires hundreds, if not thousands of people to do this app curation by hand.
What Jelly offers is instead of a simple Google search for whatever it is you’re looking for, a human-curated search. Those humans are your extended network, and they aren’t paid. They ask and answer questions willingly. Crowd-sourced learning, you could call it. The point is that, just like if you ask someone for help and they’re willing to do so (or not), Jelly provides a digital platform to provide the exact same “service” straight from your mobile device.
And the reason it’s powerful and that it works is because the makers of Jelly understand human psychology. They know that while some scientists may say that humans are inherently selfish and do whatever helps themselves, that we do also receive satisfaction from helping others. To promote this idea, every time you do anything that gets noticed, the app notifies you of exactly that. Asked a question? Every answer you get is another ping. Answered a question? Every “good” and “thank you” is a ping. Favorited a question? Every time anything happens, you get a notification.
The beauty of the system is that if you use the app enough, every new notification is a mystery and a surprise. Every time the app tells the user that something new has happened, it’s not like every other app on the market that buzzes and jingles anytime anything happens, whether it’s related to you or not. Jelly utilizes push notification perfectly, and the more active you are on the app, the more active you’ll be over time too because your questions and answers will have more and more meaning. The power that Jelly provides is that your questions and answers matter. So every time your phone buzzes, you are told why: someone liked your answer, someone answered your question, or someone thanked you, but you don’t know for what. So you go and look at the question, and voila. The circle of encouragement continues round and round, speeding up ever so slightly and making you more involved in the community.
Jelly is not done, not by a longshot. The app is as bare-bones as it could be, but if it stopped right now it would already be an extremely powerful, beautiful app that should make every product designer, every data analyst, and every human being aware of the power we as individuals have. Jelly does it by providing a platform for questions and answers. I can’t wait to see what else 2014 has in store for us.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more questions to answer.
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.