April 19, 2008
Last week, I benchmarked our private beta site vs. our largest competitors.
I suspected we had a minority of the industry-standard features, and I wanted to evaluate and prioritize what remained. Surprisingly, we were closer to 80% than 20%, if I had to quantify it. Clearly our niche is not competing on functionality, as much as optimized advertising buys.
However, before I feel good about our accomplishments, I must acknowledge that every one of these sites has a critical feature we do not: they have all gone live!
Thus, until the day we go live, none of these sites are competitors.
Until the day we go live, the only competitor we have is ourselves.
April 13, 2008
Sometimes, I get asked by people who want to get ino comparison shopping, what do you think of shopping mashups, or what do you think of my site, etc. I am hardly an expert, but I have been logging untold hours on a niche comparison engine the past year. So for anyone thinking of starting their own comparison shopping engine, here is an example timeline. Your mileage may vary.
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pre-startup - ideas
How many failed comparison websites do you see where the point of failure was the initial idea? From what I've seen at this blog. I'd say most of them. We want to get the idea out of the way and start on the fun stuff. It is only natural. But when you think about how much time you'll spend afer commiting to an idea, this part of the process is intense.
So I analyzed what felt like every industry on the Internet. Not all at once, but over time. The details are too boring to include in this post. Summary: I knew I would not be satisfied with incremental improvements, for reasons both creative and practical. If you only add 10% value to an online market, that gap could be gone tomorrow.
I'm not sure when exactly, but after a search that was more "Peter Lynch" than Web 2.0, I settled on a niche market to compare.
May '07 - mockups
With the idea in mind, I created a couple mockups that were — and still are — a departure from what I have seen in the comparison space. Is that a good thing? While going against the grain creates excitement, it also creates plenty of challenges in wrestling with data. So before getting deeper into business considerations, I wanted to see if all the ideas could co-exist on a computer screen. I created a Category page and a Product page, and the results were compelling. To me, anyway.
June to Sept - partner
By now, my ideas were getting more dynamic, but my skills were still static. Luckily, back in 2005, I met Mike, a developer in St. Louis. We kept in touch as he dabbled with APIs and social shopping. The only thing he did not have was a niche. Eventually we met up and decided we could accomplish more together than individually.
October '07 - Basecamp
We got a paid account at Basecamp. I had not used it, but quickly got hooked. Before you know it, there were messages, mockups, spreadsheets, DB schema, etc.
November '07 - database
The first round of data was loaded in the database. Thus begins a long stretch where you spend all your time on input, with little to show for it in the way of output.
December '07 - grinding
I wish I could say building a comparison engine is glamorous. But that would be a big fat lie.
January '07 - the flu
You win some, you lose some. I got sick as a dog in January, and productivity took a big hit.
February '07 - loose ends
We hoped to launch the private beta, but there were too many loose ends. We had to re-think what went into the first release, and what would wait for future releases.
March '07 - private launch
After what felt like an eternity, we launched the beta and started getting feedback. But for all the code lurking beneath the surface, the site still looked very basic.
April '07 - first revision
Spring is in the air and progress continues. With the addition of a couple features, our site went from barebones to ahead-of-the-curve. Not overall, but in ways I feel will be significant. The feeling of turning the corner is a huge morale boost. We are also getting around to little things, like the logo. Finally, a task we can outsource! However, even with the recent progress, I would not be surprised if we are a few months away from going live.
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I apologize that this is way too high-level and scratching the surface. We will get much more in-depth, soon.
March 3, 2008
Here's an inspirational article for anyone hacking away on new ideas after midnight.
Wired: This Psychologist Might Outsmart the Math Brains Competing for the Netflix Prize
related question: is the current progress in comparison shopping too incremental?
The Shopping Process
February 16, 2008
continuing my thoughts on candidate-matching engines...
- criteria weights: yay or nay
- a la cart vs. guided process
- best match vs 100% match
Continue reading "Can Product-Matching Learn From Candidate-Matching?" »
The Shopping Process
February 14, 2008
1.) even in hibernation and low-traffic, i get my fair share of questions and requests (can you look at my niche engine or shopping mashup, or how can i get started on them, etc.) ...and it's the most fun part of blogging. i hope my recent responses were helpful.
2.) however, my contact form cutoff halfway through a message recently. so if you have not heard from me, i made a few tweaks to try and fix the form. but you can also try the info@ address
3.) only a few more posts about the candidate-matching engines and we'll get to the good stuff
4.) the good stuff as mentioned in bullet point 1.)
5.) happy valentine's day!
February 11, 2008
Everybody likes comparison shopping, right?
I do, you do, and so do millions of people. What's not to like?
Yet, people can be actively, aggressively anti-comparison. At least in certain situations. You see that kind of resistance with the candidate-matching sites.
I suspect many people do NOT want to know how they disagree with their favorite candidate. Or, heaven forbid, discover they align with another candidate.
So they do the most logical illogical thing... avoid these sites completely.
Okay, I can understand the people who are busy, see the longer quizzes, do a quick cost-benefit analysis and say not now. I'm not thinking about them. I'm thinking about the people who see a comparison-matrix as a real threat to their brand loyalty. Can the "anti-comparers" be brought around to a comparison mindset? Is it worth the effort? What kind of anti-comparison sentiments are present in other markets?
In building a niche comparison engine, I'm compelled to consider these questions. Because depending on the answers, I might spend less time on features and more time on communication.
The Shopping Process
February 10, 2008
Here are some notes for my upcoming analysis on Presidential Candidate Comparison Shopping. To be followed by a whole lotta discussion this week...
Continue reading "Comparison of Candidate-Matching Engines (preview)" »
February 4, 2008
Political candidate matching engines have been around since at least 2000. From a comparison "shopping" perspective, how good are these sites in 2008?
Below are ten comparison sites for the '08 U.S. Presidential Election, plus my one-line summary. Results are sorted in order of usefulness, in my opinion.
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Perhaps the most compelling presentation of results, which (coincidence?) were also the most in line with my expectations.
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USA Today "Candidate Match Game"
USA Today has the most interesting, interactive interface... plus at the end, you can toggle the weight to give each issue.
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VA Joe "Candidate Match Game"
The format is much too shallow, but the aggregating of results into a "composite candidate" is an interesting idea.
MN Public Radio "Select A Candidate"
Answers range from binary to potpourri... who decides which topics are black-&-white and which are open to nuance?
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Glassbooth "Election 2008"
Interestingly, you start by distributing your interest to issues, so you only have to answer the most relevant questions.
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ABC News "Match-o-Matic"
ABC takes USAToday's wonderfully transparent tool and wraps it in a black box, from which no insight can escape.
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Electoral Compass "Election 2008"
The questions did not seem professional, bordering on Springer-like, but the Cartesian summary is cute.
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GoToQuiz "Pick Your 2008 Candidate"
Typical of online quizzes. You get numbers, but no analysis. Post to MySpace. Yay.
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Washington Post "Choose Your Candidate"
Seriously, you must choose a Democratic edition or a Republican edition? Lame.
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Select Smart "Presidential Candidate Selector"
How can I take this seriously with all the cheesy flashing advertisements? N/A
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Mainly, I wanted to post this before Super Tuesday, so you can try the tools while there is a selection of candidates.
Later, I want to look at this from a comparison engine perspective. It is interesting to see so many non-comparison sites and their different approaches to comparison shopping. You have news sites, quiz sites, .org sites, hobbyist sites... they bring fresh perspectives. I think they also highlight a few comparison techniques that are clearly better than others.
More later. For now, have fun. Compare early, compare often!
p.s. - if you have tried multiple sites, which one was the most useful?
(I'm not interested in the politics, just the comparison functionality...)
Okay, the good news. I'm finally implementing a bunch of my ideas from this blog. Me and a local developer have been working on a niche engine the last half of '07. The site will not go live for awhile, but I can say it is finance-related. So in addition to my thoughts in general, I'll be able to illustrate specific comparison problems, and our proposed solutions. It could make for the most interesting discussions yet. Generally, you won't find much transparency surrounding anything financial, but I think there are benefits to thinking in public. More soon.
After a healthy hiatus, the blog is back.
Once again, I've got the urge to write about comparison shopping engines. If you liked this blog in 2005, you'll like it again in 2008. I'll continue to explore & expand on many of the same topics. I'll also focus on things like niche engines. One engine in particular. More on that in a minute.
October 17, 2006
"(Give Me Back My Google) automatically strips out a ton of affiliate spam from Google. The results are quite revealing. -Battelle"
Silly, silly, silly. This site is nothing more than a jump page for an advanced search query. Not that there is anything wrong with that. No, the sillyness is that they do not strip out the real crappola, they only strip out the top-tier shopping engines, mainly from the UK.
It is a crude game of whack-a-mole. Get rid of the top-tier shopping engines and you are left with... a zillion second-tier shopping engines... not to mention the real affiliate spam that has no functionality. Still, the sentiment will probably ring true for many web searchers, who feel overwhelmed by commercialization of mixed-intent search results. If that is the case, there are real tools for the job...
Online Shopping Engines
October 3, 2006
Business Week blog mentions video product reviews.
Apparently there is an entire site devoted to video reviews, ExpoTV.com. I guess there is, or will be, a video site for every niche.
(what is next? a product-review podcast company?)
Kind of odd that this is a standalone site, as you cannot progress through the entire buying process via video. Or can you? I'd think they'd at least hook up with an API like Shopping.com, offer consumers more of an end-to-end experience.
On the plus side, they also have transcripts of the reviews.
On the down side, this only highlights the one-dimensionality of some reviews.
(i.e. visual = good, text = weak)
Alexa ranking is better than nothing, but far from Youtubian.
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I've also seen video product reviews sneak on to sites like Ciao, but without much publicity.