For years now, we’ve been using a great advice and recommendations Web site/e-mail newsletter called Berkeley Parents Network. Hosted by Cal Berkeley, the service relies on the notion that parents have great advice and tips to share with fellow parents. Child care, schooling, medical questions…it’s all there. But it’s not exclusively about parenting. We found our redwood deck contractor there. And there are dozens of recommendations for everything from dentists and structural engineers to where to buy top soil for your garden.
Now, commercial interest is finally starting to heat up in the online recommendations space. Bill Gross’ Idealab recently launched Insider Pages (“The Yellow Pages written by friends”). And Judy’s Book, founded by serial entrepreneur Andy Sack, launched recently in Seattle with backing from Ignition and Ackerley Partners.
Last week, we caught up with Dominic Ang, one of the founders of an even newer recommendations site, NiftyGuy. Based out of San Francisco, NiftyGuy is focused on recommendations about people. That could be your favorite (or not so favorite) dentist or mechanic. Or — more brutally — a recap of the experience you had on your last date.
“We wanted to take the concept of feedback,” Ang said, referring to eBay’s feedback/ratings system, “and apply it to life in general.”
Ang is eschewing things such as restaurant reviews, so commonplace elsewhere on the Net, in favor of recommendations about small, local businesses, often sole proprietors. When we talked last week, the month-old site was just picking up steam with about 300 to 400 postings.
The dating reviews alone make the site unique. Ang said that so many blind dates these days are arranged over the Internet, without the vetting of close friends, that participants need a way to pre-screen their dates. But some of the few reviews that have gone up are shockingly frank (and somewhat entertaining, we’re ashamed to admit). Ang says they are a work in progress. He’s leaning toward not including last names anymore. “We’re still trying to find the right balance. We won’t let anyone go over the line.”
For now, the site is run by Ang, his brother, his girlfriend and a friend. Ang used to manage mergers and acquisitions for Plumtree Software, an enterprise software company. Later he moved to Advent International, a private equity firm. And now he’s with a VC firm whose name he asked not be named in this blog post.
Should the site grow, there’s something of a business model, starting with contextual advertising. Another idea is charge merchants to have the name of their businesses included whenever someone emails a recommendation to a friend.
The quartet has not taken any VC money and has no immediate plans to seek it out.
“We really see this not so much as a business but as a community service,” Ang says. “We’ll let the community take it where they want.”