Jelly: Not Your Daddy’s Search Engine

In January, Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, and Ben Finkel, of Fluther, launched Jelly, the super-slick “next-gen” search engsearch, search engine, Jelly, Google, Bingine for Droid and iOS.  It’s designed to give users quick answers to their questions by linking to their social networks.  Have you seen it? This ain’t your daddy’s search engine.

I don’t purport to tell you that Jelly will replace Ye Olde Google or Bing, no.  Nor will it take the place of collectives like Quora, Yahoo! Answers or even Finkel’s Fluther.  But rather, I will tell you I believe this concept has legs; it combines the crucial feature search engine and collective users want (namely, finding answers), tenets of basic social media success, and the time-wasting, procrastination-inducing, addictive tendencies of any well-designed app.

The Basics

I’ll start with the basics.  Jelly is part of the new wave of search because it’s social.  And it’s mobile.  During a lunchtime conversation with some friends today, we reiterated to each other what is an undeniable fact: folks get their news and information online, often from social media and not from news outlets themselves.  One friend said, “First, it’s Facebook.  Then Huffpost.”  Another said she looks for breaking news on Twitter.  So it’s no surprise when I started researching that a study by the Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found that 8% of American adults get their news from Twitter; a staggering 30% get their news from Facebook.  And we know, too, these numbers will continue to rise. These pals of mine and I are professionals who are mobile and tethered to our devices.  We’re connected to each other on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  We’re texting each other about networking and co-marketing events.  At any rate, we probably should have stacked our phones during lunch, but we didn’t; in fact, one of my companions and I had a Google duel in the midst of our meal, to find the resolution to a query of another friend at the table.  Point made.  (I couldn’t use Jelly because my opponent didn’t have it loaded on her device, alas.)

Social Media Success

After trying Jelly for a few days, I contemplated whether this little app (for that’s all it is, mobile only.  There’s no desktop version, which is another reason it will never supplant the grandpa search engines) was destined to be the future-altering invention Biz Stone believes it to be on the promotional video.  While I don’t think the path of my life will necessarily be drastically altered by Jelly’s existence, I think it is a portent of the future of search.  (Tomorrow’s technology- today! Oy.)

Social media expert Mark Schaefer talks about a vital element of success for any user of social media, as part of a “social media mindset”: authentic helpfulness.  This is the idea that we are genuinely interested in helping others solve a problem, or find the answer to a question, and not to make a sale or seek a business benefit from assisting someone. Jelly plays into the innate human urge to help others.  In a 2009 New York Times article, Dr. Michael Tomasello, author of the book Why We Cooperate, explains that, “[h]umans putting their heads together in shared cooperative activities are thus the originators of human culture.”  This collective effort (as Jelly allows more than one user to answer another user’s question) speaks directly to that need to aid others.

Further, Jelly humanizes the search process.  No more cold links and PPC ads (yet).  No, Jelly makes searching for answers warm and fuzzy, like a giant digital Snuggie.  Content marketing guru and Pure Matter CEO Bryan Kramer promotes the concept of H2H, or human-to-human communication, as part of a successful marketing strategy.  In his February 2014 blog post, “The Rules on How to Speak Human,” Kramer outlines (or reminds) us how simplicity and humanity are the best way to achieve business success. Forget the acronyms and the shop-talk.  Stop selling.  Be HUMAN.  Jelly encourages human-to-human interaction.  There’s no boolean search, no (previously-mentioned) PPC. Simply people asking questions, others answering them.  It’s a different experience than what we’re used to for search.  Dare I say, novel, even though it’s sort of the old-school, pre-historic way to find an answer.  By asking someone.  In this age where machines give us directions, tell us where to be and when, and so much more, it’s nice to just ask someone for an answer.  Plus, with Jelly, you can thank those who give you an answer you like.  Kind of like a digital thank you note.  Your mom would be so proud– such a good boy/girl (insert cheek pinch here).

While I don’t think Jelly will change the way we, say, shop for big-ticket items, I think it’s another tool in our digital arsenal that can make our experience that much more rich and informative.  Sure, you can get reviews on that  new car model online by searching on Bing.  And absolutely, you can get a consumer’s perspective on the digital camera you’re looking to buy.  But here’s another chance to get pointed answers on questions you create yourself– not answers the big search engine thinks you want.

Yeah, It’s Fun

Upon Jelly’s launch, Casey Newton wrote on The Verge that he believes a drawback to Jelly to be that people don’t sit around waiting for questions to answer, and that this will make it difficult for Jelly to build a following.  While he’s not wrong, I do believe that apps hold a different place in our digital psyches than search engines.  Apps are a means to an end, something to help us solve a problem; or, apps are a way to entertain us in the short-term, while we wait to see the dentist or ride home on the train, for example.  So while Jelly may not be a go-to for we perform, let’s revel in its helpfulness, humanity, and novelty.  Because it’s fun.

For more information on social media news consumption in the U.S., check out the Pew Research Journalism Project.
Visit Mark Schaefer online and on Twitter @MarkWSchaefer.
Click by Bryan Kramer’s digs online or say hi on Twitter @BryanKramer.