Two years ago during the Christmas season, Philip Jacob watched his wife e-mail and instant message her friends links to numerous retail sites. When it came to finding the right link to the perfect gift, it became lost in closed conversations and a sea of e-mails.
Jacob, 31, was then to launch StyleFeeder, a social shopping internet experience that he created in his dining room. The company is based in Cambridge, Mass.
"The idea started from watching my wife shop and it wharfed over time," said Jacob. "There are millions of products online. If I put all of these products into one building, how would I help someone walking into a building with a million products find the top 10 things they want."
StyleFeeder combines social networking and e-commerce. It allows individuals to share their personal style while discovering new things. Users can create a virtual wish list, otherwise known as a "Style Feed," and rate what’s on other people’s lists; the site even recommends other items you may like. By adding 10 things to your Style Feed, by simply bookmarking items, the site knows enough about the user to make recommendations.
"Users are creating the content that’s going out there," said Shergul Arshad, vice president of Business Development. "They are self-expressing themselves and we have extended that trend to shopping."
This is the first major social shopping network to launch, according to Arshad.
While there is no set definition as to what StyleFeeder actually contains, 90 percent of the items on the site are retail products, said Arshad. Some exceptions to the rule include a castle in Northern Vermont and, strangely enough, people.
"We don’t limit," said Jacob. "We don’t restrict it. People have their tastes and express their tastes."
"I also put items in my Style Feed that I found humorous, but wouldn’t actually like to own," said Viil Lid, 34, Honolulu.
She has a toilet with a fish tank in her feed. "It’s such a crazy object I just had to share it, but I would never dream of buying it!"
These feeds can be exported to a widget, which can go onto various websites and blogs. This has allowed StyleFeeder to become known through the internet’s word of mouth.
Two weeks before last Christmas, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen tested the product on their website. This application showed the online community the difference between the twins through expressing their own styles and interests.
Before the Olsens put the widgets onto their website, StyleFeeder had zero sales and marketing. Since the Olsens’ test use, the number of users has tripled.
Last May, Jacob sold the website to Top10 Media. Although the help of trendsetters such as the Olsens’ has helped StyleFeeder become more well-known, it does not necessarily promote what is mainstream.
"There’s a bunch of Mary-Kate and Ashley fans on there," said Erin Sullivan, 17, of Cherry Hill, N.J. "I mean, whatever, they can like what they like. It’s just like everywhere else in the world, mass culture is for the masses. This makes it easier for me to find good stuff."
To Sullivan, good stuff consists of handmade items from websites like Etsy and Daylab. "They’re about independent artisans, not mass-produced crap," she said.
StyleFeeder is also used as a virtual trip to the mall for people who live miles apart, or for those who are not old enough to drive.
"Mostly I like it cause I can shop with my friends online," said Holly Villers, 14, Pasadena, Calif. "We used to go all together but some of them have moved away and sometimes we’re busy but this way we all get to share ideas."
Social shopping allows people to "raise their hand and say here are things I like," according to Arshad. StyleFeeder also enables people to put their own creations up for sale by listing their own products. These products are also linked to Google and can be found in its web search results.
The social networking further comes into play with a "Watchlist" feature. By adding friends or users whose Style Feeds capture your interest, users can keep track of what they are adding while forming a social bond.
Other celebrities are catching onto this online community, such as 14-year-olds Dylan and Cole Sprouse of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," and 25-year-old ABC News video blogger, Amanda Congdon.
According to Arshad, StyleFeeder is continuing to work on enhancing their capabilities.
"We need to grow a bit," said Jacobs. "We definitely look to the future to expand."