Social media watchers are paying close attention to the launch of Jelly. No, it’s not a new culinary sensation. It’s the latest social app conceived by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Now, there’s nothing about Jelly that suggests it will become a cultural phenomenon like Twitter, but there’s no disputing its pedigree.
Simply put, Jelly is an image-based information engine that taps into your social networks.
Let’s say you want to know the species of a spider that just bit you. You take a photo of it, then share the image with your Jelly friends along with the query, “WHAT THE HELL JUST BIT ME?!?” Through the magic of social networking, your friends will theoretically provide an answer. And if they don’t know the answer, maybe some of their Jelly friends will.
To get started, you’ll need to install the Android app, which can be found by searching for Jelly Industries in Google Play. After launching the app for the first time, it will ask you to connect your social networks; current options include Twitter and Facebook.
Once your networks are connected, you can begin asking and answering questions to your heart’s content. You’ll be presented with questions posed by anyone within your extended social network, which includes your Facebook friends, the people you follow on Twitter, and the friends of your friends on these two services.
Using the Jelly app
After you’ve established your social network connections, Jelly catapults you into the “Point. Shoot. Ask.” screen. The interface activates your device’s camera, urging you to take a real-time photo to accompany a question.
Alternatively, you can click on the photo icon in the bottom left-hand corner and select a pre-existing image from your device. You can even select an image from the web via Google Image search.
After you’ve selected an image, you can rotate it, crop it, or use it as is. Jelly constrains images to a virtual square shape, saving them at 1088x1280. Presumably, this is done so that images will fit well within the app’s portrait-oriented design. Landscape mode isn’t supported in any part of the Jelly app.
Once your selected image is ready to go, you’ll need to tap out your question before sending your submission for review. The minimum number of characters required for submitting a question is just one. That’s right: I was able to post a “question” with a lonely period as my only text. But there is a maximum question size limit: 140 characters, just like in Twitter.
You can use the marker icon to draw on your photo too. This is useful for highlighting a certain part of your image, circling something, pointing an arrow to an object, or just for goofing around with a doodle.
There’s also an option for including a link with your submission, which helps to add context or reference material. If you don’t know the URL you want to use, Jelly let’s you search with Google to find it and select it, all within the app.
The Jelly question stream
After your image/question combo is submitted, you’ll get tossed over to the “Can You Help?” screen. Here you’ll find a seemingly never-ending stream of question cards submitted by other Jelly users. If the active question doesn’t interest you, simply swipe the card down to bring up the next one.
Oddly, once you’ve swiped a question away, you can’t swipe back up to return to it. Once you dismiss a question, it’s gone, vanished, vamoosed! The only exception to this is if you star a question before swiping it away. This will add it to your Activity area for future reference. You’ll also be notified when new answers are posted to starred questions.
The cards design overlays the question text on top of the image, but you can tap the image to view a full unobstructed picture. Directly beneath the question text, you’ll see who asked the question and how they’re connected to you—i.e., whether you’re directly connected on Facebook or Twitter, or if they’re connected to someone you’ve friended or follow.
At the very bottom of the screen, you’ll see a green bar if the question already has an answer (or multiple answers). You can click on that bar to view the existing answers and browse through them by swiping left and right. Swipe an answer card down to return to the question.
At the bottom of the question image, you’ll see options for “Answer” and “Forward.” The Answer function is pretty self-explanatory, though there’s one unique feature that’s worth highlighting: Jelly allows you to draw on the image in the question and submit your doodle as part of the answer. In the image above, I circled three of the air conditioners in the original question image, and included my revised image with my answer.
If you decide not to partake in creating some smartphone finger art, and instead answer a question entirely with text, the character count limitation jumps from 140 to 240.
The “Forward” button found on questions functions much like the “Share” button found in most other Android apps. This lets you send questions out to Facebook, Twitter, email or just about anywhere else. When you forward a question, Jelly will spit out some generic text containing a plea for help, along with a publicly accessible link that will take visitors to the web version of the Jelly question. On the web version of Jelly, anyone can answer the question, even anonymously with no authentication required.
At the top-left corner of most Jelly screens, you’ll see a small icon of a green head and shoulders within a circle. Clicking on this icon takes you to the app’s “Activity” log. Here you can track your questions, answers, starred questions, answers to starred questions, thank you cards received, when someone clicks “good” on an answer you provided, question forwarding and more.
If you have Push Notifications turned on in the app settings (they’re on by default), you’ll receive notifications when someone you are directly connected with asks a question.
Is Jelly worth your time?
I’ve been using Jelly since it launched earlier this month, and so far, I’m just not impressed. Granted, the app is still in its initial launch phase. The Jelly team has received additional funding, and has announced that many more features are coming down the pipe.
But even so, I just can’t see this app enjoying widespread adoption among the general population. And with an app that depends on a large user base simply to work effectively, widespread adoption is critical.
On a fundamental level, there’s really nothing game-changing about the Jelly service. Sure, you can easily draw on top of images when you ask or answer a question. But that’s hardly a showstopper.
If you have a question that you want answered by a trusted source, are you going to ask on Facebook and Twitter, or are you going to ask on Jelly? If you ask on Facebook or Twitter you’ll get replies from people you’ve already vetted at some basic level. But if you ask on Jelly, answers will most likely come from people you don’t even know. Do you trust their facts or judgement? It’s a question that might give you pause.
Let’s also remember that both Facebook and Twitter already support inline image attachments. And they both enjoy mass adoption, and thus a greater installed base of potential question-answerers. So why go through all of the trouble of getting onboard a new social platform just to do something that you can already do directly on your existing social networks? Jelly just doesn’t differentiate itself very well, nor does it uniquely solve a pressing need.
But Jelly does provide one service: It’s another app that you can blithely rummage through when you’re bored, and looking for distractions. Just like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you can flip through your Jelly feed on the bus, or while waiting in line. And who knows, by the time you’ve hit 15 or 20 question cards, you may find a query you’re qualified to answer.