Associate Managing Editor, MacworldMAR 15, 2015 6:03 am PDT
AUSTIN—When Twitter cofounder Biz Stone first came up with the idea for
Jelly, an app that lets users ask questions for other users to answer, everyone he pitched it to loved the idea. But instead of feeling reassured, Stone felt unsettled. It was as if they idea was accepted too easily. (After all, most investors didn’t think Twitter would catch fire.)
Jelly was easily funded, especially because Stone was behind it. Even so, Stone wasn’t exactly surprised when Jelly quickly fizzled out after an explosive number of downloads at launch. And from there, he decided to pivot.
Switching gears and not being afraid to fail were the recurring themes of Biz Stone’s session at South by Southwest on Saturday, “Biz Stone on Creativity and Redefining Success.” On stage, he openly discussed the story of Jelly, admitting defeat without any shame—because it was that failure that lead to the birth of his new app,
“What I want is hundreds of millions of happy customers, because that’s how you make an impact,” Stone said during the session. “I knew Jelly wasn’t that.”
The idea for Jelly was born as kind of a new-wave search engine: one that was mobile-first, and was filled with information that wasn’t already available. It was a platform where people could ask questions about things they couldn’t find elsewhere online, and get an answer back from the Jelly community and their own social network. With Jelly, Stone wanted to create a platform for people to help each other.
“Mobile phones are the hyperlinks of humanity, and the true promise of a connected society is people helping each other,” Stone said.
Jelly saw a ton of downloads when it launched in January 2014, but the amount of active users spiraled down from there. The problem, Stone found, was that most people didn’t want to ask questions, but there were a ton of answers. Thus, the solution was simple: Take away the questions, and focus on the answers. It’s presenting those answers—or comments, thoughts, or vignettes—that poses the challenge.
Stone and Jelly cofounder Ben Finkel went back to the drawing board and came up with Super, which Stone calls “an evolution in social communication,” as users’ interests shift toward more expressive genres. Super is all about empathy: You post something personal, following the given prompts within the app (“The best…” “The secret to…” and “Ladies and gents…” are a few options) and add a photo, then share. Your followers can only reply with a Super post of their own.
Visually, Stone credits artist Barbara Kruger as the inspiration. Super’s look is reminiscent of Kruger’s conceptual art, popular in the 1960s: bold text splashed over background images, which can be pulled in from your Camera Roll, or found via an in-app Google image search.
Because Super is still so new—it just launched in February—Stone says he doesn’t quite know how to determine whether it’s successful or not. He considers Super and Jelly to have similar missions: Jelly is about helping people, where Super is about feeling empathy. Jelly is still in the store and still active—it still has a core group of users, so they won’t shut it down completely—but it hasn’t been updated since December 2014. (“Does anyone want it?” he joked.) Basically, it’s as good as dead: Stone pulled the whole team away from Jelly to work on Super.
And if Super eventually crashes and burns, Stone won’t be discouraged for too long. It’ll just be on to the next project.
“Creativity is a renewable resource,” he said. “You never run out of it.”