Mountain View Voice

- November 12, 2010

Crowd sourcing for best recommendations

by Angela Hey

Amazon.com gives customers great recommendations based on their buying behavior and interests. Recently, I downloaded some free Kindle classics. Now Amazon wants me to choose more — the Count of Monte Cristo, War & Peace and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In September 2009, Netflix awarded a prize of $1 million to the team that wrote the best software for recommending movies. The competition lasted nearly three years with competitors sharing results online. The winning solution is described in three technical papers on www.netflixprize.com. This has stimulated development of software to help people make optimal choices — recommendation engines.

Where do you look to choose local businesses, like restaurants, shops and theaters? Websites like Yelp, Google and Trip Advisor rank establishments using star ratings. Five stars is good, one star is bad. A coffee shop that gets five stars from teenagers texting on cell phones may get low ratings from professionals working on laptops.

Bizzy (www.bizzy.com) thinks it has a better way to help consumers choose businesses. I met with Bizzy's founder and president, Gadi Shamia, and Ryan Kuder, its vice president of marketing, at Red Rock Coffee. Gadi sold a company to SAP, where he focused on small businesses, and Ryan has worked at Yahoo! and eBay.

More than a coffee house, Red Rock offers concerts, a book club, technical meetings and open mic nights. So Bizzy also hopes to help local businesses like Red Rock get news out about happenings, gatherings and events.

Bizzy gives consumers recommendations by finding others with similar tastes. So if I like Red Rock and Books Inc. and someone else likes Red Rock, Books Inc. and Shoreline Park, then Bizzy might recommend I visit Shoreline Park. Bizzy relies on crowd sourcing. In the first 72 hours of operation, Bizzy users shared over 40,000 businesses in 46 states. With over half a million businesses supplying food and drink in the United States, it wants millions of users to enter quality recommendations.

Bizzy's system, which is currently in beta test, will ask you twenty questions. You decide whether to answer them. For example, if you don't run, skip the question that asks you for the best running gear shop. I tried Bizzy and after answering questions, it recommended Chinese restaurant Chef Chu's, kitchen store Williams-Sonoma and department store Neiman-Marcus (I prefer Nordstrom).

Bizzy is entering a very crowded space. Urbanspoon, Open Table and Foodspotting are just some of the iPhone apps that I use to find restaurants. Bizzy will soon have a mobile application. Like Twitter, Bizzy is quite open — it reveals those with similar interests and their recommendations. It could evolve to compete with dating websites Match.com and eHarmony, but Bizzy officials doesn't see that in their plans.

Bizzy has 15 employees and is wholly-owned by ReachLocal, a southern Californian company. Gadi says this allows him to concentrate on building the business, rather than raising startup capital. So why did he decide to locate in Mountain View? Good transportation, easy parking and a vibrant downtown that attracts talent from both San Francisco and San Jose, he said.

Every vendor needs a good recommendation engine, and many big companies, like Amazon and Netflix, have them already. Bizzy hopes to help the little guys.

Gadi and Ryan have set Mountain View Voice readers a challenge. Can we get 1,000 people in Mountain View to provide recommendations to Bizzy in a week?

Angela Hey can be contacted at amhey@techviser.com and followed on Twitter at amhey.

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