Twitter founder's next social vision

Details of Biz Stone's new social media venture, Jelly, may be thin on the ground but the app's focus on the nature of connectivity and its suite of high-profile backers have the pundits talking.

As investors continue to rush into the stock of Twitter, site co-founder Biz Stone is mulling the “natural next step” for a connected society, having exited all commitments at the social media group to build Jelly Enterprises.

Stone, who has previously been named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine, told attendees of the recent World In 2014 summit in New York that his new mobile enterprise is almost ready to be unleashed.

The information on Jelly is so far intriguing, though it is not what it is that intrigues about the new venture so much as the thought process behind it.

“It was one of those things that popped into my head only because I was asking myself questions,” Stone explains of the formation of the company, which was so named because of the jellyfish and its decentralised nervous system.

“I (asked) myself: what’s the true promise of a connected society? Why are we all connected?”

Stone perceives a lack of thought behind most social media exploration, which leaves plenty of potential for development untapped.

“I don’t think any of us have a long-term goal in mind, we are just clicking the follow button because we want to look at the photos from our friends, which is fine – but I think there’s sort of an unconscious movement to get to this level of connectivity,” he suggests.

“This is something to build on.”

Not surprisingly, details of the new venture are thin ahead of the launch, but the ebullient Stone believes it will aid society – and hopefully turn a profit in the process.

The blog for the enterprise at least stretches a little further.

“People are basically good. When provided a tool that helps them do good in the world, they prove it,” it reads.

Rumours have centred on a next-level Q&A service, which would marry with the credentials of Ben Finkel, Stone’s fellow Jelly co-founder.

Finkel created Q&A site Fluther, which in turn was purchased by Twitter three years ago, though one suspects the idea is deeper than mere Q&A.

Last month, the company said it had set up an office in San Francisco and its small team of eight includes former employees of tech giants Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google and, of course, Twitter.

That elite team sits comfortably alongside a select group of backers, which includes former US vice president Al Gore, U2 frontman Bono, LinkedIn co-creator Reid Hoffman and Twitter co-founders Dorsey and Williams.

For the first two names on that list – Bono and Gore, both now activists – the notion that the venture will help people makes sense. But in what form?

Stone has seen how Twitter has played a role in uprisings as well as assisting people during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and perhaps he is hoping to extend on this promise. That’s not to say it will be a site set-up for uprisings – far from it – but perhaps it will lead incite positive political change as well as improve information gathering for the masses. Conceivably it could see big data providing more assistance to individuals instead of business.

Stone’s efforts may have less substance than anticipated, but the notion of the next step for connectivity is worth weighing up. We are less than a decade on from the creation of Facebook and one suspects there will be plenty more action in the social media space.

Stone, for one, is expecting several game-changers in the years ahead.  

“We’re definitely not done,” he asserts. “We’re really still just experimenting.”

While Stone has moved on from Twitter, he retains more than a passing interest, saying that the IPO was far from the finish line for the group.

“It may be the end of the beginning, but it’s definitely not the end,” he insists. “It’s the beginning of something much, much bigger.”

In the coming years he wants to see the concept of engagement redefined, from time on site to the number of visits.

“A lot of companies like to measure engagement by number of hours people look at our service. I’d like to instead see it measured as number of times people come back throughout the day because it’s helping.”

The key to Twitter’s success stems from its emphasis on mobile from the beginning. Stone’s latest venture appears likely to have the same focus: mobile first, with a free app to be available on Android and iOS platforms any day now.

“We’re hoping to launch this month,” he reveals, before cheerily continuing with tongue firmly in cheek, “and in 2014 we will fail.”

Don’t count on that.

Daniel Palmer is Business Spectator's North America correspondent @Danielbpalmer