We've all been there: Endlessly searching the Web for the perfect present for a friend or spouse, but nothing seems right. And if you need to buy a gift for someone you don't know very well—well, you're pretty much out of luck.
Michael Lee Johnson, an entrepreneur based in Manchester, United Kingdom, decided to tackle that conundrum. In mid-November, Johnson and his business partner, Thomas Pongrac, began working around the clock to build an algorithm that, using Facebook's API, could tap into their friends profiles and determine what they might like to buy for Christmas. Thirty days later, they had a start-up—and a functional web app. It's called Chrift, and it lets users log in with their Facebook accounts and immediately mine their friends' interests, mentions, and "Likes" for indications of tastes in physical things they might just want.
"By analyzing the Facebook social data of your friends and family, and doing some state-of-the-art David-Blaine-like magic on the back-end, we're able to intelligently display a user-friendly window of personalized Christmas gift recommendations, specifically tailored towards your friends and families unique social data," Johnson tells Inc.com from the U.K., where Chrift is based. "It generally works out what your friends want."
In other words, say your friend recently posted a link to an article about Sons of Anarchy (a TV series about a motorcycle gang), Chrift might suggest buying them the series on BluRay. Or, it may suggest a leather motorcycle jacket. Then, by partnering with retailers, Chrift earns a small percentage from every sale made in a traditional affiliate marketing revenue model.
The site isn't specific to Christmas gift buying. Johnson says he and his partner plan to unveil another app in February that's geared toward other gift-giving occasions, including birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentines Day.
Although it may be the latest start-up to attempt to solve the gift-giving rdiddle, Chrift is hardly the first to leverage social media to recommend presents.
Hunch.com, for instance, recently teamed up with Gifts.com to build a Facebook algorithm to recommend gifts. One difference, however, is that Gifts.com asks users to answer a list of questions, some basic (are you male or female?) and others more bizarre, like whether or not your friend believes in alien abduction.
Chris Dixon, co-founder of Hunch.com, recently told ABC, "What we do is take that sort of basic information and then, using kind of a large database, make inferences...We're able to fill in a lot of the gaps.
Wrapp, based in Stockholm and Silicon Valley, allows friends to give their friends free gift cards, which retailers offer in hopes that friends will "top off" with extra funds. Last month, Wrapp raised $5.5 million in venture funding. "We were intrigued by the concept that gift giving is much nicer than gift buying," Hjalmar Winbladh, the founder of Wrapp told VentureBeat. "This is not discounting or daily deals. This is turbo-charged gift giving."
Another app, Giftiki, which has raised $1 million in venture funding, lets Facebook friends pool funds to buy a friend a present that would otherwise be unaffordable. "We were just fed up with getting gifts we didn’t want," Justin Stainslaw, co-founder of Giftiki, told Mashable in October.
Even Walmart has broken into the social gifting market with its own app, Shopycat, a social gifting platform that recommends presents for friends based off their interests, "Likes," and discussions on Facebook.
In late November, TechCrunch pointed out that unlike other social gifting services, the app "is smart enough to understand the sentiment behind a Facebook status update, too, not just the keywords involved…It also knows what items are more "giftable" than others, using algorithms that examine a number of signals, including recency, uniqueness (e.g., a collector's edition over a standard edition), and the aggregate buying behavior of shoppers on Walmart.com."