Gifting 2.0: Letting the Web Pick Presents for Your Friends

VIDEO: Becky Worley checks out an Amazon warehouse as holiday online purchases heat up.
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Let the gift-giving grief begin.

Every year around this time, holiday shoppers fret and fuss over what to get their friends and family, scouring websites and store shelves in a frantic search for the most fitting favors of the season.

But this year, a few new Web tools offer to be a Santa's helper, whispering gift ideas in your ear.

Using profile information pulled from Facebook, these websites try to match your friends' preferences and interests with products you can buy online.

"Every e-commerce site has this problem of gifting, and it's a significant chunk of e-commerce," said Chris Dixon, CEO of Hunch.com, a recommendation engine that recently launched a social gift finder tool with Gifts.com.

But now that social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, have helped turn the Internet from just a "Web of cookies and computers" into a Web of people, he said, companies like his can add a layer of tools that analyze people and their preferences to personalize the Internet – and their purchases.

Hunch.com, for example, asks users a series of questions to develop a "taste profile" for them, which it then uses to help make recommendations about anything from books and movies to restaurants and gadgets.

Facebook 'Likes' Help Gift Finder Shop for Friends

Its latest project, in partnership with Gifts.com, combines Facebook profile data with its own taste-based algorithms to help shoppers find potential gift ideas for friends and family.

Once you allow the site to import information from your Facebook account, it looks for what your Facebook friends have "liked" or identified as interests.

It then builds a list of possible gifts for each friend, which you can refine by answering questions based on what you know about them.

The gift finder covers the basic demographic questions regarding, for example, gender and age. But it also goes a few steps further, asking about the person's favorite Olympic sports, political affiliation and even their thoughts on alien abduction.

Those questions might seem odd, but Dixon said they are especially predictive of people's tastes.

Gift Finder Makes Guesses From Facebook Info

"What we do is take that sort of basic information and then, using kind of a large database, make inferences," Dixon said. "We're able to fill in a lot of the gaps."

So let's say your brother has "liked" a "Battlestar Galactica" page on Facebook, the gift finder could generate results that include other science fiction TV shows as well, he said.

Even if a friend has never "liked" anything at all on Facebook, the gift finder will still create a list of gift possibilities based on what friends of that person have "liked" online.

Etsy, Amazon and eBay, together with Facebook, have launched similar tools that help shoppers spot gifts for friends.

"On Facebook, you and your friends, for the past however many months, have been "liking" different things across the Web and building this type of profile on Facebook," said Malorie Lucich, a Facebook spokeswoman. "So in taking that to a site like Etsy, all of a sudden you're given all these recommendations and products are surfaced based on stuff you've already been liking."

Similar to Hunch.com's gift finder, these tools allow online shoppers to import their Facebook information and then browse lists of gift ideas based on what their friends have "liked" online.

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