Why the New Search App “Jelly” Gets at the Heart of Private Online Communities


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Have you heard of the new search app, Jelly? If not, get ready! It might be the next “big thing.”

Designed to function as a search engine that relies on your social networking contacts to answer questions you post, Jelly works on the basic principle that people want to help other people.

Perhaps the biggest indication that Jelly might be on the cusp of revolutionizing search is the creators behind it: Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, alongside Ben Finkel, the CEO of Fluther.com. Stone says that they developed Jelly to create a search engine for the world they currently live in.

Unlike the world was when search engines were originally developed, everyone is now mobile, carries a camera everywhere they go embedded in their smartphones, and are much more comfortable with sharing online.

Though the app only just launched at the start of 2014, the support behind it is tremendous. With investors like Al Gore and Bono, Jelly has certainly garnered a lot of attention. In the app’s first week alone, Jelly users asked over 100,000 questions.

And if you’re wondering why they decided to call it Jelly, the answer is actually pretty neat. According to their website, “We chose the jellyfish to represent our product because it has a loose network of nerves that act as a “brain” similar to the way we envision loosely distributed networks of people coordinating via Jelly to help each other.”

Kindred Spirits: Jelly and Your Private Online Community

Private Online Community Platforms are Building HelpfulnessIn a lot of ways, Jelly embodies the heart and purpose of private online customer or member communities. Stone and Finkel understand something that companies that provide private online communities to their customers, employees, members, or partners have known for awhile: helpful is the new social.

People innately like to feel knowledgeable and useful to their networks and Jelly plays right into that role. It allows you to get answer from your community in real time—which is one of the key features of a successful and engaged private online community.

Take this example. It is the kind to story we hear often at Socious:

A doctor is on her way to a meeting. During her walk across the hospital campus, she posts a question to her professional online community from her mobile device. She’s about to give a presentation about a new procedure and wanted to clarify just one detail.

Before she even walks in the door of the meeting room, she has answers from other doctors halfway around the world. Thanks to her private online community, she is better prepared for his meeting.

On a basic level, this is what Jelly is seeking to replicate for the public social sector: the idea that you always carry a mobile community with you in your pocket. The success of Jelly as an app that brings people together to share knowledge and help one another validates what private online communities have been doing all along.

Two Private Online Community Advantages That Jelly is Missing

Though both are designed to help people solve problems and get answers to questions, it is important to note that private online community platforms and Jelly do not compete or support similar business strategies.

I have no doubt that Jelly will reach relatively high degrees of success. However, Jelly could still stand to learn something from private online community software platforms.

Who Can See Your Questions?

For starters, Jelly makes your search engine searches a public matter, rather than something between you and your computer, or you and your private community.

When users of Jelly pose a question, it is posted publically to your social networks, unlike your Google search history, which you can hide with a simple change to one setting. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does take away the anonymity associated with a typical search on a regular search engine. And it’s not just your network that Jelly is sharing your searches with—it’s potentially the people in your network’s network.

When it comes to increasing adoption by making people feel comfortable sharing or asking questions, private online communities have the advantage over Jelly by narrowing the field of people who see your request for help. Since your questions and responses are not made public, you get to keep some discretionary control over who sees what you inquire about.

Mixing Your Personal and Professional Networks

Jelly doesn’t keep your personal and professional networks separate. To get a feel for the app, I signed up and posted my first question: a photograph of a dome light in my kitchen that asked how to get the cover off so I could change the bulb.

I received an answer from a work contact and was able to successfully change the light bulb, but it got me thinking. Though I was happy to have my light changed, I felt a little strange about sharing this interaction with a “work contact,” with whom I had previously only had professional interactions. By connecting on Jelly, our relationship changed.

Showing your human side can be a positive in your professional life. However, some people may not feel comfortable asking either personal or work-related questions in an environment where friends, family, and colleagues can all see them.

One of the things that make private online communities so popular with businesses, associations, and user groups is the ability to connect with people who are “in the same boat,” so to speak. Let’s revisit our example of the doctor walking to her meeting and imagine if she’d posted her medical procedure question to Jelly instead of her private online community.

As a doctor concerned with her professional brand, she probably wouldn’t want the vulnerability of her question exposed to social contacts, like her patients (and their lawyers), friends, or even family members. Many professionals would be much more comfortable to ask peers in a secure online community of professionals, who would understand their need to double check their thinking, rather than question their authority and competency.

Though Jelly was designed to have public searches that mix personal and professional networks, the lack of privacy and professionalism is something that might hamstring adoption by businesspeople.

While not a straight apples-to-apples comparison, Jelly surely reinforces private online community strategies built around the need for a contained and professional network of people interested in helping each other.

Jelly & Private Online Community Takeaway

Only time will tell how successful Jelly will be—just think of how Twitter snowballed from its early days to its current success! If you are planning a private online community for your customer base or membership, it’s encouraging to see the need for a network based on getting help and answers validated in such a public way. This core value has been a driving force in private online communities from the very beginning. Jelly and other new apps like it are merely confirming the necessity.

Free Online Community Resources: Learn How to Create a Private Online Community for Customers or Members

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at http://blog.socious.com.


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