SXSW

Meet Jelly, the new search engine by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone

At SXSW, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone explains why his new startup Jelly could change search forever. 

Posted March 14th, 2016

Story highlights
  • How Jelly could change online search forever.
  • Jelly offers more helpful answers than Google, says Twitter's Biz Stone.

Let's say you want to go on a trip to Yosemite with your husband and five-year-old son. 

It's the five-year-old son part that has given you pause, so you do the next logical thing: Google it. 

An article pops up and tells you about 10 cool things to do with kids at Yosemite. But you know that's not the real answer. That's paid promotional content. You want to ask another parent who has been there, done that with a 5-year-old. And you don't have time to wade through pages of search engine results. 

Enter Jelly, a crowdsourced search engine being developed by former Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Ben Finkel, whose company Fluther was bought by Twitter. Jelly works by connecting people asking questions with answers from real people. It also "learns" from your behavior on the site to better match questions and answers in the future. 

In a conversation with Search Engine Land founder Danny Williams at South by Southwest Interactive, Stone pitched Jelly as a more "helpful" version of Google that saves you time with expert advice rather than wading through pages of search results. "It is essentially humanity dressed up as technology," Stone said.

And that Yosemite example? That actually happened to his wife, who struggled to plan the trip using Google. 

How it Works

Jelly is like having access to a network of experts and Know-It-Alls who have been there, done that. Want to know about knee replacements? Jelly will connect you with someone who recently had knee replacement surgery, Stone said. Want to know which store sells the best jeans in San Francisco? Jelly can answer, he said. 

"We're not going to give you a bunch of search results," Stone said. "We are going to give you a helpful answer." Stone said it might take longer using Jelly to get an answer, say, 15 minutes instead of Google's lighting-fast responses. 

Stone said if an answer doesn't come in 15 minutes, they will shoot that question over to people he described as "super dorky people" who live on their computers and love answering questions. No question will go unanswered, he vowed. 

Jelly 2.0

In his candid, sometimes meandering, conversation with Williams, Stone acknowledged that this was his second attempt at creating Jelly after the first attempt was a failure. Stone left Twitter in 2011.

That first version of Jelly involved people posing questions to their network of friends. But Stone said they had a hard time getting enough questions. And having people's identities known was a problem because people weren't willing to ask questions they feared were embarrassing or dumb. They had no problem getting answers. 

"People really do love answering questions," Stone said. "They love the credit of having gotten it."

What Stone is calling "Jelly 2.0"  instead asks all Jelly users your question, and you are anonymous. He said it's not intended as a Google replacement. 

"Google is the bridge between millions of lost souls and trillions of websites," said Stone, who used to work for Google before he started Twitter. "But Jelly is just different. Jelly is the only search engine in the world that has an attitude. That has an opinion. It's the only search engine in the world that can tell you that you asked the wrong question."

Business model? What business model?

One thing that emerged from the interview is that Stone's Jelly-building efforts are still pretty nascent. He has a team of eight people helping him, he said, five of whom are engineer. He said it will "take a while" to change people's habits about how to search, and that he isn't particularly worried right now about making money. 

Stone offered some hints about what a business model could look like. "There will be a business model at some point," he said, adding later that he hoped it would be something "very native and very helpful." He threw out the example Lowe's Home Improvement signed up for Jelly 1.0 and helped answer questions, but didn't hawk products.

RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMANModerator Danny Sullivan, founding editor, Search Engine Land, right, looks on as Biz Stone, CEO Jelly, discusses the topic, Accessing the Inaccessible: Evolving Search, during South by Southwest Interactive held in Austin, Texas, on Monday, March 14, 2016.


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