Ramblings on ThisNext

A handful of startups are groping around in the “social shopping” area, talking about making money from the 80% of online shopping time that is spent researching products rather than buying them.

The king of this space is CNET reviews, which combines editor reviews with lots of pictures and structured data with direct user reviews as well. In May Yahoo launched Yahoo Tech, directly targeting CNET Reviews as well. When I research products, I usually don’t go much further than these two sites (although I spend a lot of time on the gadget blogs trying to find out exactly what new stuff I intend to research). Of course, CNET and Yahoo Tech focus solely on technology gadgets.

Other services have launched in this space as well, generally focusing on wish lists, recommendation lists or both, and often giving users tools to put widgets with recommended or desired products up on their blogs or websites. See our posts on Kaboodle, Stylehive, Yahoo Shoposphere and MyPickList. Wists is another site in this category, although we have not written about it yet. These sites expand well beyond technology in their product reviews.

These sites generate revenue from affiliate fees (via links to ecommerce sites) and/or via contextual advertising placed on the site, usually Google.

And now comes ThisNext, a Los Angeled based company with a NYT writeup as well as a thumbs up from Jason Calacanis (Jason used to work with the CEO, which may explain his mention of the product).

The site is the best I’ve seen so far, with clearly structured items and very easy ways for users to add their own opinion via comments, tagging, comment ratings and adding things to a wishlist. There are easy to find “buy” links if you want to purchase the item. Users can also create a website widget to show off the stuff they really like. Good stuff, well executed.

But I have never gotten that excited about sites like ThisNext and the others mentioned above. I don’t believe they will ever succeed in drawing customers away from big Internet brands like CNET and Yahoo, who are already doing a very good job of integrating user reviews with editorial reviews and content.

Neither the NYT or Jason mention that CNET is already out there and dominates this space for tech products. The NYT should have…writer Bob Tedeschi clearly intended to give ThisNext a positive review (complete with a picture of the CEO walking with a surfboard) but he never seems to be able to put his finger on why it’s so great.

Jason, however, nails it. He thinks ThisNext can be successful because it will show emerging trends in what consumers like.

It’s sort of like taking “The Tipping Point” concepts and making them into a product you can actually use. For example, as the community grows you’ll be able to see who recommended a product first. After some period of time you might be able to find the people who are good at finding–or creating–trends.

CNET doesn’t do this, they simply review products and put their reviews up on the site. They do not show how certain products become hot over time, and what people are good at picking winners.

This type of thing might find a niche – it won’t displace blogs that are dedicated to talking about the newest and greatest products in a given space, and they won’t displace the big review sites like CNET for people who want to find reviews on a product they already know about. But perhaps they can serve people who want to be a part of a community that decides what products are hot and which are not.

Am I excited? No. But I’m intruiged enough to write about this at 3:30 in the morning. Or maybe I’m not excited because it’s 3:30 in the morning. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.