Jotly was originally conceived as a promo video for a fictional app. It ended up being built into a real app, with a feature on the frontpage of the Wall Street Journal to boot. This is a short story about its creation.
- Writer/Director/GFX: Alex Cornell
- Writer/Actor: Phil Mills
It began as a parody of the startup landscape at the time. SoLoMo ruled the App Store and startup feature-sets continued to get more and more absurd. The thinking was, what if we combined it all into one app, and fabricated an app that could “rate everything”. As crazy as it sounded, it wasn’t long after Jotly was released that a number of real apps appeared with the same purpose.
The promo video was to be the focus, with a website and brand cocoon around it to make getting press easier. The video would show how the app allowed you to rate literally everything; especially things that would provide absolutely not utility whatsoever. It was preferred if the app was used to rate pointless things like people’s expressions, the time of day (ex. 4:32pm), or maybe specific flies.
The name of the app was very important. It had to be new and different and certainly couldn’t already exist. It also had to feel like one of the startups we were making fun of. Jotly was chosen as a combination of the literal action (jotting) and the overplayed “ly” suffix. It was as startupy a startup name that could be mustered.
The video was shot in one day using a 5DMKII. Much of the script was written on set, with about half of the rated items were determined beforehand. The shots were designed to be modular, so despite the chaotic shoot process, the flow could be made coherent in the edit. All of the motion work was done in After Effects, and the edit in Final Cut.
A minisite was created to go along with the video. It followed all of the design-conventions of the time: lowercase lettering, the color blue, heavy gradients, three feature boxes etc. It all may be a bit nauseating now, but at the time this was the cutting edge of startup cliches. With the mini site and video complete, Jotly was ready to be unleashed.
The press pickup was immediate. Jotly was covered in just about every major tech blog, multiple times. It was a lot of coverage for an app that didn’t exist. In this way, the project was a success. It was conceived as a commentary on the landscape at the time, and publicity all served to enhance and spread this message. One of the most exciting pickups was the Wall Street Journal, which featured Jotly on the frontpage of their July 24th 2011 issue.
To complete the story, Jotly ended up being built for real by the team at Firespotter Labs as a fun side project. The app did just what it promised: allowed you to rate everything. For a long time, the Jotly web feed was a hilarious and terrifying portal into the subconscious of the collective internet mind.