What Would Andy Buy?

And where would Charlie eat? And where would Jane shop? And what book would Steve recommend? So asks a new "social commerce" iPhone app, Wikets, which helps you curate your most trusted, tasteful friends' recommendations of products and places.

Wikets, a social commerce app that lets you recommend products and places to your friends (and receive their recommendations in return) launches today for the iPhone. For users, Wikets has a potential advantage over a service like Yelp in that it allows you to zero in on the recommendations of friends whose taste you admire. And for merchants, the data that Wikets stands to accrue could be very valuable in helping them target their most loyal and influential customers. The app, whose founders are Andy Park, Vijay Manwani, and Ravi Reddy, has garnered $1.5 million from Battery Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, among other investors.

The idea for Wikets grew from conversations the cofounders began having in 2008. Park and his wife had had children before many in their social circle, and now that many of their friends were having children, too, the Parks were constantly being asked for product recommendations. Trusting his judgment and expertise, Park’s friends kept wondering, “What would Andy buy?” So they’d ask him, and eventually a spreadsheet of trusted products went into circulation. “We’ve had at least 10 or 15 people ask for that spreadsheet,” Park tells Fast Company.

That question—“What would Andy buy?”—is the question animating Wikets. Not that Andy Park is the guru on all things related to commerce, of course. But swap out the name, and change the context, and you know that there are friends whose taste and judgment you trust most in certain matters. For music recommendations, I’m turning to Paul; for books, to Chelsea; for restaurants, to Sarah; for what to do in Savannah, Georgia, to Jon. Typically, I might solicit recommendations when I see these friends at a party, or via email or text at the moment I need the recommendation. Wikets, though, is a constant stream, easily searchable on demand, of the products and places my taste-making friends recommend.

Social commerce, as Park is the first to admit, is a hotly contested space. “There are a universe of companies going after the so-called ‘interest graph,’ or ‘taste graph,’” he says. Pinterest, Hunch, Foodspotting, ShopKick, and others are just a few populating this universe; a slew of barcode scanning companies are right behind them. And of course, Yelp’s reviews, and Facebook’s “likes,” are to a certain extent efforts to go after the “taste graph.”

Wikets differentiates itself in a few ways, however. For one thing, unlike Yelp, Wikets becomes a compendium only of things that friends heartily endorse. “Reviews always converge to some kind of median,” says Park, somewhere around 3 or 4 stars, often. But wouldn’t you prefer to know what that one friend with spectacular taste in sushi has to say about Japanese food in New York, rather than the averaged-out opinions of several hundred people you’ve never met? “Your judgment on someone’s taste is something that’s very hard to measure, that you can’t numerically measure,” says Park. “It’s something intangible based on your interactions with that person.”

Log in to Wikets and you can begin sharing your recommendations, or “recs,” in the app’s parlance. You can also save and store recs into custom wishlists, "re-rec" (Wikets's own version of a retweet), group message around a rec, buy within the app, and receive reward points for various actions, points that can be redeemed later toward purchase. While other sites or apps employ some of these features, the Wikets team says that to the best of their knowledge, their app is the only one combining them all in one place. Most importantly, though, by converging around firm endorsements, Wikets becomes a fundamentally positive place. “A rec I want to distinguish from a review or a check-in,” says Park. “A rec is a lot cleaner. It’s saying, ‘Hey, this is something I’m putting my name behind.’”

Wikets plans to make money by charging merchants, down the line, for access to data about their most loyal customers and for helping them reach those customers with deals or rewards to further boost their loyalty. In a sense, this makes Wikets something like an anti-Groupon (though both of Wikets’s principal investors invested in Groupon, and Wikets hopes to collaborate with Groupon in the future). Groupon’s model is to offer steep discounts to new customers. Park thinks that the focus on discounts may be misguided: “What we’re going to bet on is, if you invest in your best customers, those most effective at recommending,” then that investment will pay dividends. Instead of luring 500 new customers to trample through your store, stress out your employees, and leave negative tossed-off reviews on Yelp, why not convince the guy who comes in three times a month to come in five or six times? Or why not convince his friends, who will be primed to like you, too? The group-discount model of social buying embodies a kind of commitment-free, commercial hooking up; Wikets, by contrast, hopes to strengthen the bonds of existing relationships.

Wikets doesn’t seem in a rush to make money; Park says they hope to pilot a program of sharing data on some users with merchants in about a year. But investors, of course, see dollar signs. “We feel it's a big bet with a clear possibility for monetization,” says Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Down the road, Wikets might verticalize the app—with more specific apps for wine aficionados or car enthusiasts, for instance. In the meantime, expect iPad and Android editions by summer.

One of the most refreshing things about Wikets is that, unlike most apps, it is not meant to be a vortex in which all your free time disappears. Unlike, say, a certain game involving irate fowl, or other apps whose addictiveness is seen as an asset, Wikets is pleased to have you spend as little or as much time in the app as you find useful. It’s not an app for killing time; it’s an app to help you better spend the limited time (and money) you have.

“It becomes something you use really easily,” says Park. “I put my best stuff here, you put your best stuff here, and we use it when we need it.”

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[Image: Flickr user coolinsights]

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