The Spoke wants to build a human-powered recommendations network

The Spoke wants to build a human-powered recommendations network

There’s this great XKCD cartoon about the proliferation of standards, which over time has become a bit of a meme about the fragmented nature of most things in tech.

In it, a person compains that there are 14 competing standards for a single thing and decides to create one all-encompasing universal standard. The end result? There are now 15 standards, all competing in the same space.

Recommendations are a bit like that. With the advent of social media, there were a plethora of places where people could put their oar in and make their opinion known, but they were all fragmeted and noisy.

Then, a bit like sticking plaster, we ended up with services like TripAdvisor and Swarm, and niche speciality apps like Untappd. It’s a bit strange, but in 2018, there isn’t one single universally accepted way to recommend something.

Why do I bring this up? Because, yes, another recommendations platform has recently been released. It’s called The Spoke, and it’s actually really interesting.

Most recommendation sites aren’t especially sophisticated. Many just rank establishments based upon an aggregate of scores, which isn’t helpful if you have niche interests. The Spoke, which is currently available solely in the United States, works by factoring in the opinions of your friends on the network, as well as your previously stated preferences.

The logic follows that your friends share most of your interests. Like attracts like, and if you’re a fan of metal music, most of your mates will be too. Adulthood really isn’t too dissimilar from a high school cafeteria.

If your friends are all big fans of, say, French arthouse cinema, The Spoke will in theory prioritize that in its recommendations. Likewise, if your tastes prefer more populist fare, like the latest Marvel blockbuster, you’ll see more stuff like that.

So far, The Spoke only recommends bars, restaurants, and movies. You can expect a broader variety of categories as the service, which is still very much in its nascent stage.

Obviously, there’s a big weakness here, as for anyone to get the most mileage out of the service, they’ll have to get their friends to join. The Spoke is a service that lives and dies by the network effect. Attracting individual users will be easy. Building a critical mass won’t.

But if it can pull it off, there’s big money to be made, not just from affiliate sales (speaking with TNW, company CEO Tom Stern gave the example of selling cinema tickets through Fandango, and taking a cut of the proceeds), but also from the tremendous amounts of data it’ll gather on purchasing habits and personal preferences. Now, all it needs to do is convince us to need it enough to hand over that data.

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