Bottletalk.com creates social network around wine

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BottleTalk

Although its timing is entirely coincidental given all the chatter about the Threshers scam/viral/genius/etc, Bottletalk.com, a site based around the idea that people want to network socially around wine, launched its beta site this week.

The site has been founded by husband and wife team Emma and Mark Goddard, along with co-founder David Percival. (By day Emma is a web publishing consultant working with media companies, Mark is a web developer and David is in banking. The site and branding were designed by This Side Up (Interest declared: ThisSideUp has worked on the TechCrunch UK design, although to be honest that’s not how we heard about BottleTalk).

Currently the site is privately funded and the founders all have day-jobs. Emma describes them as “a group of friends who enjoy wine together but could never remember what we have drunk when we’ve visited each other’s houses” – clearly the germ of the idea behind BottleTalk.

Bottletalk‘s pitch is that it will make it easy for users to store details of the wines they like (and perhaps dislike), share opinions, share wine experiences with friends, family and other wine lovers. Crucially for any site of this type users can rate and tag wines, discover new wines via these tags and other user profiles, and store wines they’d like to try. Once someone is added to your Friends list, you’ll always know what they’ve been drinking and what they thought of it. You can also get email and RSS alerts when friends have added new wine experiences. FYI the site was built on Ruby on Rails.

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Emma and Mark Goddard, Bottletalk co-founders (Click above for video interview)

As Emma told TechCrunch via email: “The foundation of the idea is to enable people to make more of a considered judgement on what wine to buy through what their friends are drinking and enjoying, in addition to more offline methods such as reading reviews, buying books and attending wine tastings. Anyone can add a wine to the BottleTalk database and we are continuously adding wines ourselves to make it easier for members to find wines they have tried or would like to try. There is no criteria for what wines can appear in the list. Though we are starting in the UK so we are mainly adding wines that are available for sale in the UK, however, depending on where a member is based – i.e. the US – they can add wines they can buy there and add the price in dollars.”

The business model is, in part, acting as an aggregator/conduit for wine retailers (some retailers links are already in place but this is in the proof of concept stage) and having sponsored areas for retailers allowing small specialist web based wine retailers to have a showcase.

Eventually users will be able to buy wines easily from online retailers linked to via the site. (Right now the site is displaying the, now infamous, Threshers coupon, but since this is a beta, we’ll let them off that particular hook).

Bottletalk hasn’t yet checked the “Web 2.0″ box marked “Share your BottleTalk Widget on your blog,” but I dare say it is in the pipeline, given that it’s easy enought to pull RSS feeds out.
If you find the site a bit thin right now, that’s because so far the only marketing they’ve done is to send out a link or two to a select group of friends and family for some user testing. However, to all intents and purposes anyone can sign up right now – this is not a closed beta.

One thing that occurred to me as I went through the site is that I’d like more information about the users themselves, since wine is a very social subject. In fact, there is almost a hint that Bottletalk could become a quasi-dating site as users start to share what they have in common. Could this be an extra revenue stream? Perhaps, but the mere prospect of meeting a wine soul-mate is more likely to just act as extra insentive to join.

Overall Bottletalk looks to have a lot of potential. By positioning themselves at the non-expert, consumer-driven end of the market rather than the sniffy, expert end, they seem well positioned to take advantage of the new wave of mainstream interest in wine.

As you can see from the video we also interviewed them at the TechCrunch UK & Ireland launch party a few weeks ago, so check that out.

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