Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone Explains The Surprising Goal Of His New Company, Jelly

Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone revealed his top-secret new startup Jelly, a mobile app that enables users to ask short questions of their social network through pictures. For instance, Stone snapped a photo of an art piece in San Francisco, asked his network what it was, and got a few dozen answers.

Since this morning’s announcement, there’s been a swirl of confusion and criticism about Jelly, especially because it seemed odd to limit an information utility to short questions within one’s own relatively small social network.

But, after speaking to Stone, it appears that Jelly has a much more unique and ambitious purpose than we’ve come to expect from web utilities. The primary goal of Jelly is to increase empathy, and is built more for the answerer than the asker.

“Using Jelly to help people is as much more important than using Jelly to search for help. If we’re successful, then we’re going to introduce into the daily muscle memory of smartphone users, everyone, that there’s this idea that there’s other people that need their help right now.

“Let’s make the world a more empathetic place by teaching that there’s other people around them that need help.”

To be sure, Jelly is still a utility. I successfully used it this morning to answer a math question:

The same could apply to asking about what to wear, where to travel, or how to decorate one’s room. In one anecdote, COO Kevin Thau’s niece solicited some art advice for an acrylic painting, which eventually got forwarded all the way to the art director of a friend and director of TV’s House, Greg Yaitanes.

“That art director answered it brilliantly,” he gushes. “In what world does a 14-year-old girl in Florida get a professional answer from an art director?”

Success for Jelly is about creating a comprehensive question-and-answer network that users tap throughout the day, especially in their downtime, such as while waiting in line at the grocery store.

“All these people are working on artificial intelligence. How about just intelligence? There’s 7 billion people; there’s a lot of intelligence out there.”

But, the search engine seems almost instrumental. Biz’s stream-of-conscious explanation is worth quoting in full:

Beyond being a very useful search engine, like I said before, it creates this circle of empathy, where people realize that ‘Oh, there’s other people who need my help and I can actually help them and they’ll feel good about it and they’ll get trained to thinking about helping other people. And, maybe that’ll even jump outside of the app and just into the real world and they’ll start looking around and helping people and wouldn’t that be great?

With this, the format of Jelly makes more sense. Offering knowledge in an instant is the shortest path to helping. Jelly is explicitly discouraging discussions or any long-form back-and-forth. Just quick answers, a shot of personal dopamine, and off to the rest of the day.

Jelly is the first major application that I’m aware of to be built for the person helping, not the one seeking help. It’s this counterintuitive proposition that makes Jelly so intriguing. More importantly, Stone is no stranger to wild success. Few would have ever thought Twitter would become a staple of modern-day media.

Yes, Jelly is ambitious, but it’s being directed by someone who has the track record to actually make it happen. It’s new territory, and we’ll be following his grand experiment.

“We just kind of increase that global empathy quotient just a bit in our lifetime, and wouldn’t that be great?”

Gmail lets strangers on Google+ email you (but you can opt out)

SAN FRANCISCO — Privacy advocates are raising the alarm about a new feature in Google’s email service Gmail that lets Google+ users send you emails even if they don’t know your email address.

"Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven’t actually exchanged email addresses? If you are nodding your head ‘yes’ and already have a Google+ profile, then you’re in luck, because now it’s easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email," Google product manager David Nachum wrote in a blog post. "As an extension of some earlier improvements that keep Gmail contacts automatically up to date using Google+, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients when you are composing a new email."

Your email address isn’t visible to a Google+ connection unless you send that person an email, and that person’s email address isn’t visible to you unless he or she sends you an email, Google says.

The new feature is part of a broader effort to commingle Google+ with Google’s other services. The 2 1/2-year-old social network has 540 million active users. When people sign up for Gmail, they now automatically receive a Google+ account.

Google said that if users do not wish to receive email messages via their Google+ profiles, they can change their settings.

To opt out, go to your Gmail settings (click the gear in the top right corner of your inbox and then choose "Settings" from the drop-down menu). Scroll down to "Email via Google+" which asks the question, "Who can email you via your Google+ profile?" Change the answer to "No one." Then scroll down to the bottom of the Settings list and click "Save Changes."

If you’d like some but not all Google+ users to be able to email you, you can instead choose "Circles" (only the people you know) or "Extended circles" (only the people you know and the people theyknow).

Emails from strangers will land in a special inbox that is separate from messages from friends. If the recipient does not reply to the message, Gmail will block future messages.

Privacy advocates say Google should have made the new feature "opt in," meaning that users would have to sign up to receive messages from Google+ users, rather than turning on the feature for everyone. Businesses and celebrities will not have the feature automatically turned on.

Gmail users began receiving emails about the new feature Thursday.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the feature was "eerily similar to the Buzz fiasco, when Google tried to force Gmail users into Google’s social network service Buzz," violating their privacy.

Google reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over Buzz that called for Google to ask users before sharing their data with outsiders. The settlement required Google to submit to independent privacy audits for 20 years.

"The FTC needs to determine whether this change to Google’s business practices violates the consent order that resulted from the Buzz investigation," Rotenberg said.

By Jessica Guynn

January 9, 2014,8:43 p.m.


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