Here's Jelly, the strange, hyped-up Q&A social network app

One of Twitter's co-founders has launched a kind of Q&A micro-social network app called Jelly. Here's how it works.

The buzz app of the week is Jelly, a social network built around asking questions and answering questions from other people. Its founder is Biz Stone, co-founder of such sites as Medium and Twitter - and indeed, it’s worth thinking of how Jelly works compared to an established Q&A site like Quora as being similar to how Twitter works relative to proper blogs.

If you’re not familiar with Quora - and forgive me for using another like-to-like analogy - it’s similar to Yahoo Answers, but useful. Founded by two of Facebook’s founders in 2009, its links with Silicon Valley gave it a cachet that attracted (and still attracts) powerful, intelligent, connected people with fascinating stories (for example, here’s a thread of people talking about times they met Steve Jobs, or here’s another with millionaires revealing whether getting rich is worth it).

Jelly isn’t a place for detailed questions and answers, and nor is it aimed at only the Silicon Valley elite. It assumes that there are some questions which cannot be answered by using a search engine, and which are instead better served by other people. Hypothetically, even if your friends don’t know the answer, the exponentially larger number of friends of friends will.

So, open Jelly, take a picture of something, and write or draw a question. Share it on Twitter or Facebook, or rely on people within Jelly seeing it. You’ll also see questions that your friends (and their friends) have asked. Here’s how CNN Money sees it:

To follow a question, simply tap the "favorite" star in the upper right corner and notifications will appear within the app. But if you dismiss a question, you can't go back to it later when you think of the answer or remember you have a friend on Facebook who probably knows it.

Questions also can be shared outside the app and answered via the Web by people who don't use Jelly. These answers show up as "forwarded by ..."

Stone says in the future they'd like to figure out a way to connect names with outside answers, but it isn't a top priority right now.

Users can also rate answers to their own questions, and to other users' questions, as "good," and send virtual "thank-you cards" to helpful respondents.

I downloaded Jelly and asked the first question that came to mind (because obviously):

Within seconds I was getting responses (all from other tech journalists trying Jelly out, of course), which was nice, but I can’t say I was too impressed by what everyone else seemed to be using it for. Questions ranged from the practical (like “why is the date dial on my watch not working?”) to the mundane (a picture of a desk and the question “what’s your desk look like?”).

Which brings us to the strangeness of it. Anything that would fit on Jelly - a quick question, accompanied by a picture, that relies on personal know-how - would also fit on Twitter, and it’s always hard to get people to move away from an existing social network that already manages to do something quite well, to do it inside a completely different app.

There are technical problems - no way of filtering for different types of question, for example - which can be attributed to the app’s newness, but it’s hard not to agree with many of the reviews in the App Store that call it a “waste of time”. Clearly, not everyone is ready for this Jelly.

The friendly green logo of Jelly. (Screenshot)

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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“Stinking Googles should be killed”: why 4chan is using a search engine as a racist slur

Users of the anonymous forum are targeting Google after the company introduced a programme for censoring abusive language.

Contains examples of racist language and memes.

“You were born a Google, and you are going to die a Google.”

Despite the lack of obscenity and profanity in this sentence, you have probably realised it was intended to be offensive. It is just one of hundreds of similar messages posted by the users of 4chan’s Pol board – an anonymous forum where people go to be politically incorrect. But they haven’t suddenly seen the error of their ways about using the n-word to demean their fellow human beings – instead they are trying to make the word “Google” itself become a racist slur.

In an undertaking known as “Operation Google”, some 4chan users are resisting Google’s latest artificial intelligence program, Conversation AI, by swapping smears for the names of Google products. Conversation AI aims to spot and flag offensive language online, with the eventual possibility that it could automatically delete abusive comments. The famously outspoken forum 4chan, and the similar website 8chan, didn’t like this, and began their campaign which sees them refer to “Jews” as “Skypes”, Muslims as “Skittles”, and black people as “Googles”.

If it weren’t for the utterly abhorrent racism – which includes users conflating Google’s chat tool “Hangouts” with pictures of lynched African-Americans – it would be a genius idea. The group aims to force Google to censor its own name, making its AI redundant. Yet some have acknowledged this might not ultimately work – as the AI will be able to use contextual clues to filter out when “Google” is used positively or pejoratively – and their ultimate aim is now simply to make “Google” a racist slur as revenge.


Posters from 4chan

“If you're posting anything on social media, just casually replace n****rs/blacks with googles. Act as if it's already a thing,” wrote one anonymous user. “Ignore the company, just focus on the word. Casually is the important word here – don't force it. In a month or two, Google will find themselves running a company which is effectively called ‘n****r’. And their entire brand is built on that name, so they can't just change it.”

There is no doubt that Conversation AI is questionable to anyone who values free speech. Although most people desire a nicer internet, it is hard to agree that this should be achieved by blocking out large swathes of people, and putting the power to do so in the hands of one company. Additionally, algorithms can’t yet accurately detect sarcasm and humour, so false-positives are highly likely when a bot tries to identify whether something is offensive. Indeed, Wired journalist Andy Greenberg tested Conversation AI out and discovered it gave “I shit you not” 98 out of 100 on its personal attack scale.

Yet these 4chan users have made it impossible to agree with their fight against Google by combining it with their racism. Google scores the word “moron” 99 out of 100 on its offensiveness scale. Had protestors decided to replace this – or possibly even more offensive words like “bitch” or “motherfucker” – with “Google”, pretty much everyone would be on board.

Some 4chan users are aware of this – and indeed it is important not to consider the site a unanimous entity. “You're just making yourselves look like idiots and ruining any legitimate effort to actually do this properly,” wrote one user, while some discussed their concerns that “normies” – ie. normal people – would never join in. Other 4chan users are against Operation Google as they see it as self-censorship, or simply just stupid.


Memes from 4chan

But anyone who disregards these efforts as the work of morons (or should that be Bings?) clearly does not understand the power of 4chan. The site brought down Microsoft’s AI Tay in a single day, brought the Unicode swastika (卐) to the top of Google’s trends list in 2008, hacked Sarah Palin’s email account, and leaked a large number of celebrity nudes in 2014. If the Ten Commandments were rewritten for the modern age and Moses took to Mount Sinai to wave two 16GB Tablets in the air, then the number one rule would be short and sweet: Thou shalt not mess with 4chan.

It is unclear yet how Google will respond to the attack, and whether this will ultimately affect the AI. Yet despite what ten years of Disney conditioning taught us as children, the world isn’t split into goodies and baddies. While 4chan’s methods are deplorable, their aim of questioning whether one company should have the power to censor the internet is not.

Google also hit headlines this week for its new “YouTube Heroes” program, a system that sees YouTube users rewarded with points when they flag offensive videos. It’s not hard to see how this kind of crowdsourced censorship is undesirable, particularly again as the chance for things to be incorrectly flagged is huge. A few weeks ago, popular YouTubers also hit back at censorship that saw them lose their advertising money from the site, leading #YouTubeIsOverParty to trend on Twitter. Perhaps ultimately, 4chan didn't need to go on a campaign to damage Google's name. It might already have been doing a good enough job of that itself.

Google has been contacted for comment.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.