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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Amazon's unlikely role in the Calais relief efforts

Campaigners are using Amazon's wishlist feature - more commonly used for weddings and birthdays - to rally supplies for the thousands camped at Calais. 

Today and yesterday, relief efforts have sprung up across the web and IRL following the publication of shocking photos of a drowned refugee child. People are collecting second hand clothes and food, telling David Cameron to offer refuge, and generally funneling support and supplies to the thousands in Calais and across Europe who have been forced from their homes by conflict in Syria and elsewhere. 

One campaign, however, stuck out in its use of technology to crowdsource supplies for the Calais camp. An Amazon wishlist page - more familiar as a way to circulate birthday lists or extravagant wedding registries - has been set up as part of the  #KentforCalais and #HelpCalais campaigns, and is collecting donations of clothes, food, toiletries, tents and sleeping supplies. 

Judging by the Twitter feed of writer and presenter Dawn O'Porter, one of the list's organisers, shoppers have come thick and fast. Earlier today, another user tweeted that there were only six items left on the list - because items had sold out, or the requested number had already been purchased - and O'Porter tweeted shortly after that another list had been made. Items ordered through the list will be delivered to organisers and than transported to Calais in a truck on 17 September. 

This, of course, is only one campaign among many, but the repurposing of an Amazon feature designed to satiate first world materialism as a method of crisis relief seems to symbolise the spirit of the efforts as a whole. Elsewhere, Change.org petitions, clothes drives organised via Facebook, and Twitter momentum (which, in this case, seems to stretch beyond the standard media echo chamber) have allowed internet users to pool their anger, funds and second-hand clothes in the space of 24 hours. It's worth noting that Amazon will profit from any purchases made through the wishlist, but that doesn't totally undermine its usefulness as a way to quickly and easily donate supplies. 

Last year, I spoke to US writer and urbanist Adam Greenfield, who was involved New York's Occupy Sandy movement (which offered relief after after hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2011) and he emphasised the centrality of technology to the relief effort in New York:

Occupy Sandy relied completely on a Googledocs spreadsheet and an Amazon wishlist.  There was a social desire that catalysed uses of technology through it and around it. And if that technology didn't exist it might not have worked the way it did. 

So it's worth remembering, even as Amazon suffers what may be the worst PR disaster in its history and Silicon Valley's working culture is revealed to be even worse than we thought, that technology, in the right hands, can help us make the world a better place. 

You can buy items on the Amazon wishlist here or see our list of other ways to help here

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.