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business man sharkWikets, a soon-to-be-released iPhone application that recommends places and products to friends, announced a $1.5 million seed round from Andreessen-Horowitz and Battery Ventures today. But will yet another recommendations product survive when reviews and opinions already litter the Internet?

I imagine these recommendation apps to be like little bodies treading water in the Internet ocean. Apps like Where exist in rafts, websites such as Yelp are the ships that float on their own, and companies that provide exit strategies or funding are the lifeboats searching the scene for people to pick up.

Not every treading body drowns. Wickets is hoping a classic approach to recommendations will help it edge out competitors, openly acknowledging that the space is crowded.

“We are doing it the old fashioned way. Our goal was to come up with a way users can put their best recommendations at their friends’ fingertips,” said Wickets chief executive and co-founder Andy Park in an interview with VentureBeat.

Wickets works by allowing you to follow other Wikets members and see their recommendations in a stream. Recommendations are made by searching a particular place or company, finding the product and adding your two cents right on its page. You can save recommendations in wishlists and define a wishlist by topic. Commenting is also enabled on the various reviews.

Based on how many people “re-recommend” what you’ve already recommended or add your review to their wishlist, you get points, which can result in gift cards. The company is not releasing the names of all of its retail partners, but does say the first gift cards awarded could be from Amazon, iTunes or other large scale retailers.

Park says that the app solves two problems: having to find a product and send an email or text regarding the product, as well as time spent waiting for a recommendation when requested from friends. The app solves these issues by attaching a review directly to the product or place page and, in theory, your friends’ recommendations will already be available on the app, so you won’t have to query the person directly.

This requires that people actually use the app, however. The app can’t reach its full functionality until a majority of your own friends are using it. So how will Wikets get people to use the app? The company believes Facebook and Twitter connect, a prompt to find friends, and a natural desire to meet people will bring in the required amount of users.

By “natural desire to meet people,” Park means that because you can see friends-of-friends’ reviews, you will want to get to know those people as well. For example, if you’re with someone who mentions a restaurant your friend reviewed, you can offer to invite that friend along since you know they like the place. It’s a little intangible, however, and hard to measure if downloads will directly correlate to people meeting each other.

User acquisition is a big problem for app companies today, which have turned to gamification, or a rewards system such as Wiket’s as a way to lure people. A number of crowdsourced products such as CrowdTwist, BunchBall and Needle are all doing this. But as any gamer knows, getting rewarded is great, but its entertainment value will die if the means by which you get rewarded is boring.

Parks did, however, say that he is saving specific strategies for the app’s launch.

The growth of a company like this is very much up in the air, especially as funding becomes less and less of an indicator that a company is worthwhile.

Matt McCall of Chicago venture firm New World Ventures told VentureBeat, “There are just way too many companies getting funded.”

For now, however, Wikets has been pulled out of the ocean to develop its app with capital from investors Battery Ventures and Andreessen-Horowitz. It is using the funding to launch the application, which went into full development after the company closed on the round in May.

Prior to the round, Park knew Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz when his former company BladeLogic was a competitor of their Opsware, both optimization focused data centers. BladeLogic went public in 2007 and was sold to BMC Software in 2008. The teams grew mutual respect over the years and are collaborating this time around.

Wikets plans to launch the iPhone app in October, as well as announce its strategy and partners further. For now, the seed round will keep the project afloat.

[Photo courtesy of Andrew Doran/Shutterstock]

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