If It’s A Jelly(fish), Will You Swim With It, Watch It – Or Get Stung?


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Biz Stone is a serial entrepreneur for the mobile, connected 21st century. Stone, co-founder of Twitter, saw this short-burst communication technique build from a novelty to one of the largest, and most meaningful and powerful, social media tools on Earth. In fact, Twitter became so large and meaningful that it grew too “comfortable” for Stone; and, he departed in 2011. He was seeking a new app, something that would be universally useful for people to help one another, the next iteration of social connectedness. Stone believes that with Jelly, which launched about a year ago, he has found it.

Jelly, as Stone sees it, delivers one of the true promises of a connected society. In a nutshell, Jelly is a kind of informal search engine which relies on human knowledge to help users find the answers to their questions. Each question must be accompanied by an image (photo, drawing, or picture), which creates sort of a visual shorthand. If they wish, users can even draw over the images with their finger. The picture or image, according to Stone, adds a new dimension, i.e. a rendering is worth 1,000 words, well beyond the 140 characters allowable in Twitter.

Does that sound intriguing, derivative, or completely unnecessary? After all, people can just ask these same questions of their friends on Facebook or Twitter. Stone is optimistic that Jelly will find a broad audience. He thinks it’s a creative app, especially when people use just the photo or drawing in their responses. As he was quoted as saying in a SXSW interview: “There’s way more to life than the Internet. So, Jelly is like a search engine for everything else. And the reason it works is that we’re all connected. People talk about artificial intelligence. Well, how about human intelligence? We have 7 billion people on the planet. For almost any question, a photo can deepen the context. Also, it allows you to type less: ‘Should I buy a Tesla?’ How about just, ‘Should I buy this (with a picture of a Tesla)?’ A lot of people ask, ‘Why not just ask my social network?’ But what Jelly does is blend Twitter and Facebook together. Jelly gives you far more reach. Your friend’s wife’s lawyer is all of a sudden answering your question.”

What Stone believes, and is counting on, is that a picture-based search service will generate the kinds of personal opinions that are more valued than just a list of links, as on Google. Recently, Jelly rolled out an update to the app which adds the ability to ask about anywhere or anything using maps and locations. The app will then route questions to nearby users. People can ask about local tourist attractions, restaurants, and shopping and entertainment venues. This broadens the Jelly app’s usage approaches, while still maintaining and supporting the original photo/image-based messaging.

So, the premise of Jelly continues to be that both the questions and answers are meant to be conversational in nature, even when the answers aren’t necessarily definitive and finite, but are open to debate and discussion. Despite Stone’s position that Jelly is a tool to ‘make the world a more empathetic place’, there has been a lot of backlash and criticism that the app has just been over-hyped and oversold. Whether the Jellyfish, which is Jelly’s corporate symbol, succeeds in fascinating and engaging users, having people just looking at it as a curiosity, or stinging them, remains to be seen.

And, also yet to be defined: What is the value of Jelly for marketers?

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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