A few months ago, I found this strange white mold growing in my garden in California. I’m a novice gardener, and to make matters worse, a novice Californian, so I had no idea what these small white cells might portend for my flowers.
This is one of those odd blank spots -- I used the call them Googleholes in the early days of the service -- where the usual Delphic source of all knowledge comes up relatively useless. The Google algorithm doesn’t know what those white spots are, the way it knows more computational questions, like “what is the top-ranked page for “white mold?” or “what is the capital of Illinois?” What I want, in this situation, is the distinction we usually draw between information and wisdom. I don’t just want to know what the white spots are; I want to know if I should be worried about them, or if they’re just a normal thing during late summer in Northern California gardens.
Now, I’m sure I know a dozen people who would be able to answer this question, but the problem is I don’t really know which people they are. But someone in my extended social network has likely experienced these white spots on their plants, or better yet, gotten rid of them. (Or, for all I know, ate them -- I’m trying not to be judgmental.) There are tools out there that would help me run the social search required to find that person. I can just bulk email my entire address book with images of the mold and ask for help. I could go on Quora, or a gardening site.
But the thing is, it’s a type of question that I find myself wanting to ask a lot, and there’s something inefficient about trying to figure the exact right tool to use to ask it each time, particularly when we have seen the value of consolidating so many of our queries into a single, predictable search field at Google.
This is why I am so excited about the new app, Jelly, which launched today. I’ve been beta-testing for the past few months, and I love it because it becomes a reflex response for those fuzzier questions, the ones that don’t fit well with Google. You can ask questions with pictures, and the whole service is designed to seek out the people in your extended network who might have the answer. “How much is the new Battlefield 4 game?” is a great question for Google. “Is the Battlefield 4 game appropriate for a ten-year-old?” is a great question for Jelly. Not because it’s going to link you to some review page on Commonsense Media, but because it’s going to connect you to another parent with a ten-year-old who has played Battlefield 4 -- someone you know, directly or indirectly.
Jelly, if you haven’t heard, is the brainchild of Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders. The service launches today with apps on iOS and Android. (Biz himself has a blog post and video, which you should check out.) I’ve known Biz since the early days of Twitter, and I’m excited to be an adviser and small investor in a company that shares so many of the values around networks and collective intelligence that I’ve been writing about since Emergence.
The thing that’s most surprising about Jelly is how fun it is to answer questions. There’s something strangely satisfying in flipping through the cards, reading questions, scanning the pictures, and looking for a place to be helpful. It’s the same broad gesture of reading, say, a Twitter feed, and pleasantly addictive in the same way, but the intent is so different. Scanning a twitter feed while waiting for the train has the feel of “Here we are now, entertain us.” Scanning Jelly is more like: “I’m here. How can I help?”