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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Lol enforcement: meet the man policing online joke theft

A story of revenge, retweets, and Kale Salad. 

A man walks into a bar and he tells a joke. The man next to him laughs – and then he tells the same joke. The man next to him, in turn, repeats the joke. That bar’s name is Twitter.

If you’ve been on the social network for more than five minutes, you’ll notice that joke theft is rampant on the site. Search, for example, for a popular tweet this week (“did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything” – 153,000 retweets) and you’ll see it has been copied 53 times in the last three days.

One instance of plagiarism, however, is unlike the others. Its perpetrator is the meme account @dory and its quick Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V has over 3,500 retweets. This account frequently copies the viral posts of Twitter users and passes them off – word for word – as its own. Many similar accounts do the same, including @CWGirl and @FatJew, and many make money by promoting advertising messages to their large number of followers. Twitter joke theft, then, is profitable.

In 2015, Twitter promised to clamp down on the unchecked plagiarism on its site. “This Tweet from [user] has been withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder,” read a message meant to replace stolen jokes on the site. It’s likely a message you’ve never seen.

Dissatisfied with this solution, one man took it upon himself to fight the thieves. 

“I'm a like happy internet kind of guy,” says Samir Mezrahi, a 34-year-old from New York who runs the Twitter account @KaleSalad. For the last six months, Mezrahi has used the account to source and retweet the original writers of Twitter jokes. Starting with a few hundred followers at the end of December 2016, Mezrahi had jumped to 50,000 followers by January 2017. Over 82,000 people now follow his account.  

“I've always been a big fan of like viral tweets and great tweets,” explains Mezrahi, over the sound of his children watching cartoons in the background. “A lot of people were fed up with the meme accounts so it’s just like a good opportunity to reward creators and people.”

Samir Mezrahi, owner of @KaleSalad

I had expected Mezrahi to be a teen. In actual fact he is a father of three and an ex-Buzzfeed employee, who speaks in a calm monotone, yet is enthusiastic about sharing the best content on Twitter. Though at first sourcing original tweets for Kale Salad was hard work, people now approach Mezrahi for help.

“People still reach out to me looking for vindication and just that kind of, I don’t know, that kind of acknowledgement that they were the originals. Because all so often the meme accounts are much larger and their tweets do better than the stolen tweet.”

But just why does having a tweet stolen suck so much? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything?

Meryl O’Rourke is a comedian and writer who tweets at @MerylORourke, and now has a copyright symbol (©) after her Twitter name. In the past she has had her jokes stolen and reposted, unattributed, on Facebook and Twitter and hopes this symbol will go some way to protecting her work.

“It’s hard to explain how it felt... as a struggling writer you’re always waiting for anything that looks like recognition as it could lead to your break,” she explains. “When your work gains momentum you feel like your opportunity ran off without you.

“Twitter is a test of a writer’s skill. To spend time choosing exactly the right words to convey your meaning with no nuance or explanation, and ensure popularity and a chuckle, in the space of only 140 characters – that’s hard work.”

However, Mezrahi has found not everyone is bothered by their tweets being stolen. I found the same man I reached out to with a stolen tweet who said he didn’t want to speak to me because it felt too “first world problems” to complain. Writers like O’Rourke are naturally more annoyed than random teenagers, who Mezrahi says are normally actually pleased about the theft.

“If you go to [a teenager’s] timeline it’s always the same thing. They’re replying to all their friends saying like ‘I’m famous’, they’re retweeting the meme accounts saying like ‘I did it’… they don’t mind as much it seems. It’s kind of like a badge of honour to them.”

Sometimes, people even ask Kale Salad to unretweet their posts. College students with scholarships, in particular, might not actually want to go viral – or some viral tweets may accidentally include personal information. On the whole, however, people are grateful for his work.

Yet the Kale Salad account does have unintended consequences. Mezrahi has now been blocked by the major meme accounts that frequently steal jokes, meaning he had to create alternate accounts to view their content. But just because he can’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see him – and he has noticed that these accounts now actually come to his profile to steal jokes he has retweeted, in a strange role-reversal.

“There are definitely times when they're picking up things that I just retweeted, like I know they're like looking at me too,” he says. “It feels like vindicated or validated that they come to me.”

Mezrahi now works in social media on a freelance basis, but would be open to making Kale Salad profitable. Earlier this year he set up an account on Patreon – a site that allows fans to pay their favourite creators. Some people didn’t approve of this, tweeting to say he is “just retweeting tweets”. So far, Mezrahi has three patrons who pay him $50 (£39) a month.

“I mean I spend a certain amount of time on this and I think it’s a pretty good service, so I've been thinking about monetisation and thought that might be a route,” he explains. He believes he is providing an important service by “amplifying” creators, and he didn’t want to make money in less transparent ways, such as by posting sponsored advertisements on his account. Yet although many online love Kale Salad, they don’t, as of yet, want to pay him.

“Twitter should buy my account because I’m doing a good thing that people like every day,” he muses.

Many might still be sceptical of the value of a joke vigilante. For those whose jokes aren’t their bread or butter, tweet theft may seem like a very minimal problem. And although it arguably is, it’s still incredibly annoying. Writing in Playboy, Rob Fee explains it best:

“How upsetting is it when you tell a joke quietly in a group of friends, then someone else says it louder and gets a huge laugh? Now imagine your friend following you every day listening for more jokes because people started throwing money at him every time he repeated what you said. Also, that friend quit his job because he made enough to live comfortably by telling your jokes louder than you can. Odds are, you’d quickly decide to find new friends.”

For now, then, Kale Salad will continue his work as the unpaid internet police. “As long as people like the service, I don’t mind doing it. If that's a year or two years or what we'll see how the account goes,” he says.

“Twitter is fun and I like the fun days on the internet and I like to help contribute to that.

“The internet is for fun and not all the sadness that’s often there.”

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

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