If I were a graphic artist I’d adorn this post with a graphic of the classic ‘Uncle Sam Wants You’ image and replace Uncle Sam with Mark Zuckerberg, or maybe the Twitter blue bird. The social networks are really among the first massively successful technology companies to demonstrate how to use their users (are they customers?) as their product. When Wall Street evaluates Facebook or Twitter, what do they look at? They start with how many of you are signed up and how active you are on the service. When the social networks look to monetize by selling ads, or sponsored tweets or posts, the pitch to marketers is all about you guys who use the service.
Another great example is the consumer review sites. The value of Yelp is what? Without all of us using the service, rating and writing reviews, they are no more than digital yellow pages. TripAdvicsor? Same thing.
One of the pioneers of turning your user base into a product is Biz Stone. He is best known as a co-founder of Twitter and of Medium. In his presentation at SXSW Interactive today, he introduced and discussed his latest venture, Jelly.
Jelly is a re-invention of the search engine. Instead of indexing a gazillion Web pages that are processed to deliver instant answers to your search queries, Jelly focuses on another source of answers – YOU.
The idea is to provide human answers to a search query, sort of like what you got before there were search engines. Instead of accumulating data from Web pages, Jelly captures data from its users about their experience and their expertise and the more they use the service, the more it learns about you. Hence the more valuable you become as part of their product. When a query is made, the system will match it to the users with the most expertise or most relevant experiences, send them the query and then return their answers. Stone estimates the process might take 15 minutes. But once you get the answer back, it’s an invitation to start a conversation.
Jelly is currently in closed beta. From this presentation there does not appear to be any incentives provided to answer. It works because, Stone says, “People love answering questions and they love getting the credit for answering.”
“We need Google search, the Internet is broken without Google,” Stone explains, “but you can’t beat human experience and human opinion.” He calls Jelly “the only search engine in the world that has an attitude, that has an opinion.”
While Stone did not address this, there does seem to be a built in way to monetize this kind of search engine by enabling commercial interests to provide the answers and to perhaps re-jigger the priority of responses. Stone pointed out that Lowe’s signed up as part of the beta and provided answers to home improvement type questions without getting commercial. If successful, that is surely going to be a challenge. But then again the top listings on your search engine results aren’t organic either.