Comparison engine FindtheBest, the startup launched by DoubleClick co-founder Kevin O’Connor (see our story here), has found itself the recipient of some VC funding. The Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers sFund is parting with an undisclosed sum out of its new $250 million initiative, designated for investment in entrepreneurs inventing social applications and services, to the site that hopes to be the go-to center of objective comparisons, from e-readers to smart phones to, yup, VCs, too.
So, what’s social about an objective comparison engine? There’s what’s there now – and what may be there in the future, courtesy of leveraging protocols such as Facebook’s Open Graph. “Social can be a pretty amorphous word,” O’Connor says. The comparison engine works on the human-curated principle, with FindtheBest staffers getting the data about the objects of comparison and then organizations themselves being able to come in and add or update the information, O’Connor says. “We want people to add great objective information,” maybe when a ski lodge has added three new runs to its trails, for instance,” he says. Its internal checks and balances come in for the more subjective – and social – aspects, to keep out those looking to game the system. For instance, contributors have to be registered to share their experiences of products and services, and those that come across as really slanted are axed by the curators before going through. “And we do allow the crowd to move those reviews up or down, so over time, if even something [questionable] gets through, it gets pushed through to the bottom,” he says.
Now back to Facebook. As it happens, investors in the new fund include Amazon, Zynga, and, yes, Facebook, all of whom are reportedly helping the startups that the fund gets behind. To that end, adding to the meta-ratings from expert sources and general community feedback that the site incorporates, “as the next step we would love to bring in your friends’ opinions on their first-hand experiences” O’Connor says. He can’t disclose specifics yet but sees an opportunity to leverage the Open Graph protocol to mine Facebook friends’ info on anything from colleges to cameras and use that to personalize the comparison experience for individuals. “That will be more important over time,” he says. “You need an extremely large audience for making these connections.”
Plans also remain in the works to deliver more navigation options. In addition to the comparison apps, for example, O’Connor says users will gain the ability to compare among all their choices where a product or service rates on a particular feature on a scale of things, thanks to its proprietary technology that understands the semantics of the data and can create relationships across the sets. He also notes that the VC funding is going to forward the big push it wants to make with content publishers, to serve as the source of interactive, updated and comparative views behind data that feeds their articles (e.g. a newspaper’s guide to local area schools).
Another potential revenue model, as O’Connor discussed previously, is Google or Bing sponsored search results, given that advertising is a more attractive proposition the closer someone appears to be to be making a decision. As for the site’s performance on search engines so far, O’Connor says it’s doing extremely well at long-tail searches and moving rapidly up on the head terms. Some random keyword phrases where it shows up high on the page with Google, for instance, are “compare eGRiver vs. Kindle,” “top 10 New York City golf courses” and “best construction project management software.”
By the way, speaking of VC funding for socially-oriented startups, you might want to visit the NY Times article here about whether or not there’s a bubble brewing over the trend.