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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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

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