The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spawned an innovative new startup that could well give Amazon a bit of competition, courtesy of social media.
For content managers, community managers and social media managers who like a good David and Goliath contest, the little guy with the slingshot in this duel comes in the form of Infinite Analytics, which allows retailers in e‑commerce to use the interests mentioned by customers on social networks to make product recommendations with.
The company provides retailers with an individualized product-recognition engine capable of crafting a “social genome” based on customers’ profiles on social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Live interests, not yesterday’s news
CTO Purushotsam Botla explains the approach like this, “Amazon uses your past buying history to recommend products to you, but I think our recommendation engine is more powerful because it’s looking at the current needs of customers based on what they’re saying they like on Facebook and Twitter.”
Retailers have been losing market share to Amazon for some time, partly because of the leviathan’s enticing recommendation engine. But Infinite Analytics has the potential to “level the playing field” for competitor retailers, says one its advisors, Erik Brynjolfsson, who is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Digital Business.
He went on, “It’s good for the retailer because they sell more things and it’s good for the customer because they’re not bombarded by ads they’re not interested in.”
However, the social media mining approach used by Infinite Analytics isn’t without its critics. David Jacobs, who works as a consumer protection advocate at Washington C.C.’s Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that it wouldn’t appeal to consumers who don’t like the idea of their personal information being collected by an unknown third party. He said, “You could imagine people saying, ‘When I allow my Facebook page to be public, I don’t necessarily expect a company to monetize that and create a profile of me.”
But another adviser to the firm, Leon Sandler (Director of MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation), maintains that privacy concerns depend on how securely the information is controlled and who is able to see it. He said that data is “very secure” with Infinite Analytic, adding, “A recommendation gets made, but your actual information is never shared with anyone.”