On March 6th, Twitter co-founder and Silicon Valley nice guy Biz Stone sent me a very sad email.
"Thank You," the message was titled.
Thanks for downloading Jelly. It's been more than a month now and we have learned a lot simply by paying attention to the various ways people are using the product. The most exciting thing we've learned so far is this: Jelly works!
Oh, buddy. The message wasn't just for me, but part of a spam-blast to people who'd downloaded Jelly when it debuted eons ago, in January. It was, if you take away the twee greetings and self-pep-talk, a reminder that we'd ever downloaded Jelly in the first place. Remember me, the superficially pretty app for asking your friends questions in a convoluted manner? That startup backed by a year of hype, celebrity investors, and a star CEO?
Note the young apps that have never had to remind you of their existence: Snapchat, Secret, FrontBack—really, any of them. And even when a startup does spam you, it's to drive growth, to trick you into spamming your friends in turn. This Jelly message didn't have the guts to exploit your contact list; it just wanted another chance. But would re-installing the high-design boredom simulator even give Jelly a jumpstart? The app is so far down the App Store rankings—even after receiving a coveted, priceless spot in Apple's featured section—that it'll take the hand of God to make it popular, not an executive plea:
(via App Annie)
That's worse than Path, a mark of unpopularity that would require a quantum physicist to fully unpack. Even if you put aside metrics, for the few people actually using Jelly, the app is a desert. The devoted few seem enthusiastic about Jelly, but struggle to think of anything fun or vaguely interesting to do with it:
Browse the app for a few minutes and you'll find most posts are mundane (Q: What's this rock? A: I don't care.) or jokey. Quality is low. Even the people who stuck around past launch day aren't taking it seriously.
The quick counterpoint would be Twitter, which took years to hit tech adolescence. Stone's role there will give him plenty of currency in the excuse market. And, sure, maybe we'll all be laughing about Jelly's early day on Jelly in 2024, at a conference surrounding Jelly's IPO. But I doubt that very much. Twitter was at least charming from its very start, if only for a geeky cadre of early adopters. It was quiet, it was clever, and now it's everywhere through virtues it had at birth. Jelly is the inverse: the vanity project of a rich man with all the attention and resources in the world, which has screamed for recognition and gotten none.
Even if Jelly is a dud—I think it is—it's by no means dead. It has enough money-momentum to fuel its unpopularity until Stone can convince a friend to acquire it, or it pivots into a Candy Crush clone or something. In the meantime, it'll serve as a needed reminder that tech's golden boys are as prone to making pointless toys as anyone else—maybe the most prone of all.
Photo: Alonso Torres/Flickr