Jelly journalism: Some thoughts on Biz Stone’s new answers app

I guess Jelly’s appeal among journalists might be that it asks questions and that’s what journalists do – ask questions. So it seems reasonable to ask, what can Jelly do for journalists?

Asking a question on Jelly

Asking a question on Jelly

If you haven’t already discovered it, Jelly is the newish question-and-answer app launched by Twitter founder Biz Stone at the beginning of the year.

Where Twitter used to ask “What are you doing?” and Facebook (still) asks “What’s on your mind?”, Jelly asks “What is this?” by allowing users to photograph an object or upload a picture, annotate it with a finger-scribble if necessary, and send it out with a question to their extended networks.

It’s not the first service of its kind – the closest thing to it of any scale I imagine is Quora. While both services allow users to crowdsource answers and both ride on the back of users’ existing social networks, Jelly has a few important features that set it apart:

One, obviously, is that it encourages users to associate their question with a picture (with the result that most questions are sort of here-and-now variety (like ‘What kind of flower is this?’ rather than big issues like ‘Have we reached peak oil’?).

Second, it’s purpose-built for mobile and the serendipitous nature of mobile.

Third, like the marine organism (dessert?) for which it is named, it couldn’t be simpler.

In some ways it strikes me as a sort of uncurated version of the The Guardian’s Notes & Queries with the same kind of whimsicality and odd mix of the serious and utterly frivolous. And I have to confess that, on a personal level, I’m rather addicted to it.

A number of corporates have already bought sponsored questions (much to the irritation of early adopters) but  so far I can find little trace of news organisations or journalists using it in any meaningful way (although Jelly’s searchability is nearly non-existent).

So, predictably enough, I put the question out on Jelly itself: How do (should) news organisations use Jelly?

I didn’t exactly get a deluge of answers (on the other hand, I got a lot of replies, very quickly, when I asked Jelly-land for health advice on my dogs after they gutsed their way through a bowl of salted popcorn). I think the visibility of questions in the network may depend on a Jelly algorithm and I have no idea how that works. If anyone’s cracked it, I’d be curious to know how to push a question up the ranking.

But I did get a few, good answers, including:

Melanie Wood: For polls and opinion gathering. It’s a potential focus group. This could also identify people they want to interview about a particular subject.

Dilyan Damyanov (@dilyan_damyanov): I’ve seen a fair amount of trolls around who deliberately give bad answers (not maliciously, mostly: but just because they think they’re being funny). But maybe worth a shot when looking for quotes/sources?

Fergus Donaldson (@phergd): They should post the picture and let people submit the headlines. For example, with the image of Putin talking about using force in Ukraine I’d suggest: ‘Putin on the blitz.’. See, it’s working already.

Lee Coleman (@MTVNewBiz) suggested I ask @cnbc which I did but they haven’t replied yet.

It was interesting that only one of the people who responded is someone I follow. The others were all from the second-level of my Twitter and Facebook networks – and this has happened with other questions I’ve asked on Jelly and the bulk of the questions that have surfaced on my profile. That kind of network dispersal could be really useful for reporters looking for answers outside their traditional base of followers.

I do think Jelly could be a great way of lining up interviewees during the initial research phase of sourcing a story when one is looking for people who may have a specific background or experience, and who are outside of identifiable groups, and using the picture as a trigger. I’m thinking of a crime reporter asking motorists, ‘Have you ever paid a bribe to a traffic officer,’ or a consumer journalist looking to interview owners of a particular model of mobile phone.

Jelly allows the question-asker to insert a link that can take respondents back to a survey page or a contact form if one needs to take the answers off-line.

There are undoubtedly promotional and pure engagement-for-fun uses for Jelly too as in @phergd’s fun ‘caption this’ suggestion or maybe a regular, ‘where are we?’ kind of competition run by a local paper and pushing readers back to their own website.

Because of the visual, on the fly nature of Jelly, it would also be a great tool for A-B testing of magazine or app covers, front/home page pictures for a publisher looking for some quick feedback.

Of course it’s still early days for Jelly and, as someone else (@eskays) who responded to me pointed out, readers and journalists are still getting to grips with the platform and until it nudges a bit further along the Gartner cycle  there won’t be masses of users to tap into.

More about Jelly:

 App for journalists: Jelly, for posting questions and answers

Biz Stone: Humans can outsmart the Internet

Jelly, Biz Stone’s New Q&A Platform, Uses Images To Find Answers

Biz Stone Dishes Details on Jelly, His Post-Twitter Mobile Startup

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