08:19 AM

Top of my 2008 Watch: Berlin Based Plista . . . and Online Dopplegangers

I've often wondered if I have an online doppleganger somewhere out there, someone that shares most of my interests and personality traits. I'm fairly unique in my attributes but I don't think I'm that unique.

If I had an online doppleganger that would be cool. I certainly wouldn't want to marry them or even spend much time with them (or let them join any of my clubs) but I might kick back a bit and rely on them to sort out a few recommendations for me, maybe even write a story for me occasionally :-)

I might be able to find my online doppleganger if Plista, a startup based in Berlin, Germany is successful. I recently got a demonstration of its technology from its charismatic CEO Dominik Matyka.

Berlin's Plista.com . . .

DominikMatyka.jpgIt's not often that I come across startups that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I meet with a lot of companies and most have one or two nuggets of interest but Plista is different. It looks to be one of those exceptional companies that has figured out how to capitalize on the social network trend in a way that will likely lead to a plethora of fascinating web services across all types of desktop or mobile digital devices.

The simple description: Plista has a technology that provides users with recommendations around what they are doing online and across all types of web sites. In some ways it is similar to Amazon or NetFlix recommendation systems but goes much further. If you liked that TechCrunch article you'll probably like this one too. If you liked this type of product you'll probably like this one too. That kind of thing but across any web site.

What is interesting about Plista is how it publishes its recommendations to users and how it models user behavior and preferences.

Overlaying any web page . . .

Users simply download a plugin to their Firefox browser and the recommendations are presented seamlessly within the web page they are looking at. It overlays onto the actual web page and copies that page's colors and typefaces to blend in as if it were meant to be there all along. It doesn't require the web site owner to integrate its technology.

The Firefox Plista plugin will push out of the way any content to show a couple of lines of recommendations, or a larger number of recommendations within a side column. If there's an advert in that side column, it will be pushed down the page.

Publishers will probably not like the fact that Plista users are overlaying their web sites but they can participate and make money if they integrate the technology into their sites through a simple widget (see further).

The recommendation engine is really good despite the service currently still in testing and having only about 50 users. Its quality of service will improve tremendously once more people are using it.

Moody mornings . . .

Behind the scenes Plista's technology creates models of user behavior -- it even has a mood filter. "We can tell if you are in a grumpy mood in the mornings and we can factor that into your ratings," says Mr Matyka.

Plista also has a social network component so that you can share your recommendations and find and follow people with similar tastes.

Its initial revenue model is to have web site publishers pay Plista to integrate the technology into their sites. Those publishers can then take part in revenue sharing from cross-site recommendations.

Using Plista, web site publishers would also gain a deep understanding of their readers because they could see their recommendations and other social behavioral data.

I can see plenty more business opportunities for Plista. Creating an ad network is one of them, and much, much more.

That's not all . . .

Plista also showed me a lot other stuff that is in the works, and wisely, the company is not going to roll out everything at once because it could be confusing.

Foremski's Take:

If you can integrate your social graph into that kind of system--which Plista does enable--you have the makings for some very interesting businesses. There's a chance to create a platform that would become a unique social commerce engine.

Facebook is trying to build its social commerce engine but it is spluttering, and MySpace has similar challenges.

Plista doesn't need to spend $18bn to buy Facebook, nor the bargain priced MySpace that cost Rupert Murdoch's News Corp $580m. Plista can overlay a recommendation based social commerce engine over any web site whithout having to own the content. Plista's recommendation technology could be combined with services, such as ad serving, lead generation, and traffic flow, and boost revenues for online publishers. Plista's approach could raise the value of some web sites.

I didn't make it to the recent TechCrunch50 conference due to a sudden massive attack of boredom with anything related to TechCrunch or DEMO in that week. However, if I had gone, I'm sure that Plista would have been my pick of the show (rather than Yammer ).

I'm very impressed with the company, its team, its ideas, and its technology. It's also a young team and one that I predict will be going places.

The service goes into private beta on 10-10-2008. You can sign up here: http://plista.com/?pageID=1&