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Infinite Analytics provides e‑retailers with social media profiles to target products

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.”

Pri­va­cy concerns

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.”

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