Biz Stone's Jelly spreads the search love

Twitter co-founder launches his latest venture, a Q and A service for mobile that leverages your social network. Jelly sits "somewhere alongside or parallel" to traditional search, he tells CNET.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read
Jelly, Screenshot: Richard Nieva/CNET
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has unveiled his new, highly-anticipated project: a question and answer service for mobile that allows users to search for answers using their friends instead of algorithms.

In a blog post, the company explained the idea: It's a question accompanied by a photo. For example, a user who spots something unusual can snap a picture, circle the befuddling object, and ask friends -- who are other Jelly users -- from social networks what it is. The thinking is that if no direct friends know, maybe a friend of a friend does. Users can also pass on other people's queries through text.

On the other end of that query are contacts logged onto the service who see the photo and question. People who know the answer can reply or swipe down to show the query again later.

The company even gives a slight callback to Stone's Twitter days when it explains Jelly's photo functions. "In a world where 140 characters is considered a maximum length, a picture really is worth a thousand words," the blog post reads.

The bet on photos is looking more and more like a safe one these days. Snapchat and Instagram are immensely popular, with engaged daily users. "Photos are what make mobile, mobile," Stone told CNET. "Without cameras, smartphones would just be little computers."

It's natural to make the comparison between Jelly and other Q and A platforms like Quora, Cha Cha, and Yahoo Answers. But there are certainly differences. For example, because of the mobile experience of Jelly, "it actively discourages conversation. If you don't know, it disappears forever," Stone said. "If you want to have a long discussion of what it's like to work at a certain place, Jelly's not the place to go." (That place would be Quora.)

The company is quick to note in its introductory blog post that all of this is a specific form of search. And when viewed through that lens, Jelly is just the latest example of tech companies trying to shake up traditional search. Apple is said to be devoting more resources to Siri. Its acquisition of social media analytics firm Topsy could help that effort. And Yahoo plans to revamp its search efforts with more of a focus on personalization.

Stone makes a distinction between simple information retrieval and what Jelly does. Where does his company sit in comparison to traditional search? "It's somewhere alongside or parallel to it," he says. "And it couldn't have existed until recently."

There may be other uses for the service as well. A tool that lets users snap a picture then get instant feedback from friends could end up being very intriguing for a marketer in some permutation. Stone didn't rule out this type of business application as something the company could explore "down the line," but emphasized that he's more focused on trying to first give users a valuable experience.

Update, 4:40 p.m. PT: Adds comments from co-founder Biz Stone.