The promise of social recommendation sites has been alluring for years. What’s not to like? Friends share neat products and services with each other, and online retailers sell more stuff in the process. But despite this appeal, there still aren’t any recommendation services that have hit critical mass. Today, a young startup called Hollrr is releasing some features that it hopes will help it crack the social product recommendation nut.
Founder and CEO David Hegarty, who was previously working on Corporate Strategy for Microsoft’s cloud services, says that most social recommendation sites don’t really consider why people are motivated to share a product or a service with their friends. Hollrr’s theory is that there’s a certain kind of person that really likes to recommend things to their friends — they’d be interested in leaving Yelp and Amazon reviews, were it not for the fact that their thoughts would probably be buried under a few dozen other reviews (where none of their friends would see them). Hollrr’s initial goal is to attract these users, allowing them to share their recommendations directly with friends through services like Facebook. And to help keep them interested, they’re focusing on building out a badge system that’s similar to Foursquare’s.
Hegarty says that unlike some sites, Hollrr’s badges aren’t just based on simple tasks like sharing a lot of items. Instead, the site rewards users for sharing items that people actually found useful. And there’s also a set of ‘trailblazer’ badges, which rewards users who recommend a product that later goes on to become popular. These aren’t things anyone can do — the idea is that these users will be able to look back at these badges and feel some pride in their accomplishments.
The badge strategy may be a good idea, but Hollrr isn’t the only site using them to entice users — GetGlue is a recommendation site that also prominently includes a similar badge feature, and they also integrate the ‘Mayor’ concept in the form of product Gurus.
But badges are only one piece of the puzzle. Another problem recommendation sites often face is actually getting people to visit their sites — unless a service is actually integrated with an online retailer or product review site, it’s hard to get user to find an item, copy its URL, and then share it back through the service. Hegarty agrees that most people probably aren’t going to go through this workflow, but he does think there is some value to a destination site. He thinks that the core group of users mentioned above are always on the hunt for something new to share with their friends. That’s what Hollrr’s destination site is for — it features a real-time stream of recent item recommendations, which these users can then take and share back to Facebook and Twitter (and look smart in the process). And finally, for more casual users, the site has a widget for sharing items through Hollrr (and in turn, to your Facebook friends), which it is working on getting integrated with online retail stores and review sites.
Badges may help make Hollrr more sticky, but I still think its long term success will lie in how many review sites and retailers it can get to integrate this sharing widget. One of these services is going to become synonymous with recommendations, and getting a widget featured in as many places as possible seems like the best way to do that. With that in mind Hollrr still has a long road ahead of it — the site is still quite small, and they’ll need some serious traction before they’ll be able to distribute their widget widely.