Gifting 2.0: Letting the Web Pick Presents for Your Friends

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Is Facebook Info the Best Foundation for Gift Recommendations?

On Etsy, for example, if a friend has indicated that she likes Julia Child, a vintage cook book might appear. If a friend likes Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, pins and paraphernalia with his name and picture might pop up as suggested gifts.

But these sites don't ask questions to refine the lists and they don't infer as much about a gift recipient's preferences. If a Facebook friend has never "liked" anything online, the site will simply say that no recommendations are available for that individual.

Erica Swallow, a reporter for the social media blog Mashable, said that while these kinds of recommendation sites are the next step for an increasingly social and smart Internet, they aren't without their drawbacks.

Not only do some of the Web tools seem spotty in extrapolating suggestions from Facebook information, she said, Facebook "likes" may not be the best foundation for gift-giving to begin with.

Recommendation Engines Can Be New Way to Browse

"We all know that a Facebook profile doesn't tell who you are, it tells who you want others to see you as," she said. "Real-life interactions with a person and being close to them is going to be better than any of these systems."

While Hunch.com's system lets users refine lists of gift options with questions about potential recipients, she said, it seems that it still gives a disproportionate amount of weight to different preferences.

For example, Swallow said, once she indicated that a friend was a "foodie," it seemed the list of gift suggestions was overwhelmed with food-, wine- or beer-related items.

On Etsy, she said, while the shopping tool helped make the website's giant array of unique, handmade products more accessible, it also flubbed a few times in interpreting Facebook information.

For a friend who indicated that she likes the TV show "House," Etsy's shopping tool suggested a number of paintings and other handcrafts featuring actual houses.

Still, she said, the sites do help jog users' memories about their friends' interests and they help unearth interesting gift ideas.

She said the eBay tool is particularly innovative because it not only helps suggest gifts, it helps shoppers coordinate joint gifts online.

Hunch.com's Dixon said that as people use the gift finder, which launched about two weeks ago, it will get better at pairing people's preferences with Gift.com's inventory.

"It's about halfway to being fully trained," he said.

He also said that the products on the site, which target a mainstream audience, may not necessarily line up with the early adopters and tech writers first reviewing the site.

"It's also a discovery tool," he said. "It can be used as another way to browse – a serendipitous way to browse."

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