Second Down, Ten Yards to Go for Matchmine

4/10/08Follow @wroush

When we first wrote about Needham, MA-based Matchmine last September, the Kraft Group spinoff had just introduced its MatchKey “portable preferences” system, which is designed to put an end to the fragmented state of recommendation systems on the Web. Right now, every online retailer, video rental site, or music site you visit—be it Amazon, Netflix, or iTunes—has a separate system for recording what types of products you like and recommending new ones based on your preferences. Matchmine’s concept is to consolidate your preferences into a single mathematical representation, your MatchKey, that would follow you across many sites and many types of products and media, sparing you the hassle of educating each site separately—and sparing smaller online businesses who join the MatchKey network the need to create in-house recommendation systems at all.

The idea sounded great, but in practice, there have been some bumps along the way. Matchmine announced at the Demo conference in San Diego last September that its first two commercial partners would be Fuzz, a guide to the local music scene in San Francisco and Seattle, and movie rating site FilmCrave. But it took another six months to get the MatchKey service working on their sites (it went live on both sites on March 31).

In that time, “We made a bunch of headway and uncovered a bunch of opportunities as well as a bunch of problems with the product side of things,” says Matchmine CEO Mike Troiano. For one thing, the company found that the process it had engineered for creating a MatchKey—which involved going to a central website, answering a long series of questions about one’s media preferences, and then downloading some software—created much too forbidding a barrier for most potential users. Also, it was taking too long for Matchmine to sign up new media-site partners, process their catalogs, and integrate the MatchKey scheme with their existing account-management systems.

This week Matchmine seems to be putting its long winter behind it and taking some big steps toward spreading its technology. Yesterday it named four new media partners—music, podcast, and video aggregation site Odeo, blog search engine Blogdigger (an Odeo subsidiary), blog directory Blogged, and high-definition video site MediaMelon—and promises to have the MatchKey system up and running on those sites “in a matter of weeks, not months,” in Troiano’s words.

MatchKey Network MembersThe company, which emerged from the same part of the Kraft Group responsible for the New England Patriots’ website and multimedia offerings, also detailed the improvements it’s made to its platform to make it easier to use—both for consumers who want to sign up for MatchKeys and for new commercial partners who want to get the system working with their sites. “It’s night and day, in terms of how easy it is now to get started,” says Troiano.

For one thing, Matchmine has done away with the downloadable software. Now users’ MatchKeys live entirely online, and are accessed behind the scenes on each participating website to guide the local recommendation engine. If you go to Fuzz or Filmcrave and you don’t yet have a MatchKey, you can easily create one that applies just to that site by answering just a few questions about your music or movie preferences. Later, you can decide whether to “promote” your local MatchKey so that it can keep track of your preferences across many sites. (The company has set up a new website that explains to potential users how the consumer-facing side of the system works.)

Though MatchKeys don’t yet work with top online brands like Netflix, Amazon, or Last.fm, Troiano says the company will soon roll out a feature that allows users to train their MatchKeys quickly by, in essence, sucking up the information in the preferences and ratings they’ve already expressed at such sites. (Many major consumer sites have public application programming interfaces or APIs that allow outside programmers to extract and re-use this kind of information.) “That would enable me, for example, to make sure that the preferences I’ve expressed at Netflix are … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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