Shane BarnhillWednesday,8 January 2014

The Snap:

On Tuesday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone released Jelly, a photo-based Q&A platform that surfaces questions to users based on their Facebook and Twitter connections. Jelly’s app is billed as an alternative to search engine queries: “No matter how sophisticated our algorithms become, they are still no match for the experience, inventiveness, and creativity of the human mind,” notes the Jelly blog. The Jelly team’s hypothesis is that visually-enhanced queries targeted to real-world connections will produce results that are not only useful, but also fun. The app is available for download in both Apple’s App Store (for iPhone) and Google Play (for Android devices).

The Download:

Jelly has only been out of private beta and in the public’s hands for about 24 hours now; thus, the core product will undoubtedly evolve through multiple iterations over time. Here are my initial observations of the product:

1. Social proof is a key element of the user experience. When you see a question in Jelly, you not only see the identity of the person who posted it, but you also see a mutual friend/connection that ties you to the them. All those familiar avatars — see Robert Scoble’s in the embedded screen below — add an air of legitimacy to the queries.

2. You cannot sign out of the app. That’s right, Jelly is apparently designed to be the Hotel California of apps. You can check out of it any time you like, but can never leave — unless, of course, you uninstall it completely. This is an odd choice given the next point below.

3. Jelly does not support multiple accounts, meaning that it’s not (yet) brand-friendly. My friend Lauren Colman brought this to my attention via Twitter, and it’s a big issue. Because users cannot sign out of Jelly and then sign in under a different email address or Twitter handle, brand representatives are unable to employ Jelly for both personal and professional use.


4. The process for connecting social profiles when creating an account is completely frictionless. I was blown away when I downloaded Jelly, created an account with my Twitter profile, and then connected my Facebook account. The process was completely effortless and required only a few taps. I wasn’t ferried away to off-app screens for authentication — the entire process took place instantly within the app. However the Jelly team pulled this off, it has to be considered the new standard for social apps.

5. The cards interface is modern and intuitive. I’ve always been a hard-to-please technology user. In my view, instruction manuals are the hallmark of bad design, and apps — beyond a handful of on-boarding screens — should be no exception. New products shouldn’t be difficult to understand, and Jelly’s interface — for its content area — is easy to master right away. Downward swipes dismiss active cards, and sideways swipes reveal cards with additional user-provided answers to questions.

6. Users cannot manage their notification preferences. Jelly relies on push notifications to re-engage users and notify them when their connections have posed questions within the app. If a lot of your friends/connections are early adopters, then this means you’ll be getting a lot of push messages, and this can become annoying rather quickly. The app has a gear icon which seems destined as the home based for account management, but at the time of this writing, the gear icon is a tap to nowhere. There are no settings to manage — no notifications, no social networks — nothing.

7. Jelly reinforces the notion that cameras are, as Semil Shah notes, “by far, the most important mobile sensor” for smartphone owners. In a guest post for Lane Terralever, I once wrote that apps and social networks “will become even more visually-oriented over the next few years. Twitter, for example, is already becoming more visual, and it soon won’t even remotely resemble the text-heavy communication network that it has been in the past.” Jelly, like many photo (and sticker) apps, is evolving the standard for mobile communications away from text and towards non-verbal (or at least extremely brief) mechanisms.

8. Despite its issues, Jelly is a pleasant, low-effort, “lean back experience.” Over the past day, I’ve found myself using Jelly in the same way that I tend to use Instagram — I open the app when I’m in line at the store, or waiting for a meeting to start, or listening to the hold music before a conference call. Unlike Twitter, which can require concentration and mental effort (scrolling, reading tweets, opening links, sharing, etc.), Jelly is a low-effort way to pass a few spare moments.

In summary, it’s still “early days” for Jelly, and the app’s evolution will be interesting to watch — if only because of Biz Stone’s high profile. At this time, however, the product feels half-baked. Unless Jelly provides more user control over account settings and notifications, many users — myself included — might be uninstalling the app very soon.

A screen shot from Jelly

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Hat Tips:

Semil Shah, Jelly BlogImage Credit: Flickr

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