SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter co-founder Biz Stone hopes to demonstrate that a picture can be worth even more than 140 characters of text.
That’s the concept behind a smartphone application released Tuesday by Jelly Industries. Using part of the wealth he accumulated at Twitter, Stone launched Jelly nine months ago without revealing precisely what he was working on.
The intrigue is over now. Jelly’s free app for iPhones and Android phones allows people to tap into the collective knowledge within their Twitter and Facebook networks to find answers about things that puzzle them. The questions are accompanied with a photo taken of an object that triggered the curiosity of the app’s user.
Twitter and Facebook friends must also have the Jelly app to see the questions. But those friends can then forward the questions to others who might know the answer, even if they don’t have the app.
Although Stone believes Jelly can grow into an “awesome business,” Stone doubts he would have tackled the challenges of building another startup unless he believed it could help teach people that computer-driven algorithms don’t necessarily have all the answers in life.
“If we are successful, then we will be introducing into the daily muscle memory of a whole lot of people this idea of, ‘How can I help someone today?'” Stone said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Maybe we can sort of nudge up the global empathy quotient so people start thinking about other people a little more.”
Stone, 39, can afford to gamble on a company with an altruistic bent after Twitter’s successful public stock offering two months ago. Twitter’s stock has more than doubled from its initial public offering price of $26. Just how many millions Stone has made from Twitter remains a mystery because he didn’t own enough stock for his stake to be disclosed in regulatory filings. Stone told the AP that he still owns a substantial amount, but wouldn’t say how much.
Stone left Twitter two years ago, though he says he remains a company adviser who meets at least once a week with fellow co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey to exchange ideas about the service. Some of those are passed along to Twitter Inc. CEO Dick Costolo.
“I still have my Twitter badge and my email,” Stone said. “I can walk in any time I want and look at this amazingly huge company with all these people whose names I have forgotten.”
Twitter now employs more than 2,300 workers, much greater than eight years ago when Stone began working on a service that would broadcast messages in bursts of 140 characters of less. Back in 2006, it was just Stone, Dorsey and another engineer, Noah Glass, trying to come up with a viable idea within Odeo, a struggling startup run by Williams.
Those origins are explored in a provocative book, “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal,” released just before the company’s stock market debut. The book, written by Nick Bilton of The New York Times, delves into the behind-the-scenes drama that resulted in Glass being ousted from Twitter long before the service became a cultural phenomenon. The book framed Glass’ unceremonious departure as a sinister scheme orchestrated by Dorsey to elevate his own fame and fortune.
Stone said he only has skimmed the book, though he said his wife, Livia, praised it as “surprisingly riveting” after reading all of it.
“There was nothing for me in the book that was personally difficult,” Stone said. “I thought it was a little unnaturally mean to Jack, but I understand it. Somebody had to be the bad guy.”
Both Dorsey and Williams are among Jelly’s early investors. Stone also persuaded former Vice-President Al Gore and U2 lead singer Bono to invest, as well as Reid Hoffman, who became a billionaire as co-founder and chairman of professional networking service LinkedIn Corp. The venture capital firm Spark Capital also has invested an undisclosed amount in Jelly.
Eventually, Jelly’s app will extend its reach into other online networks besides Twitter and Facebook, Stone said.
“It will get better and smarter over time,” he promised.