Likester Looks to Ride its “Popularity Engine” from Reality TV to Political Campaigns—Maybe Even the Next Big Thing in Online Shopping

Could a startup best known for predicting the winner of “American Idol” be poised to capitalize on the next wave of e-commerce? When you’re talking about the ever-expanding world of Facebook—and the mountains of data it churns out—that kind of evolution starts to sound a lot less crazy.

At least, that’s the impression you might get after talking with Kevin McCarthy, founder of Likester, a Seattle-based social-data startup. Likester is among a wave of consumer web companies that use Facebook data-mining to power their own standalone websites, rather than staying inside the social network’s walls as an application.

Likester’s tagline, “the Global Popularity Engine,” gets to the point of what the service offers now: A big dashboard that lets users see how popular various places, businesses, people, and pop culture tidbits are among their friends and the wider world. Likester does that by accessing data about what its users, and their friends, have flagged in Facebook by clicking the Like button—the friendly little thumbs-up icon that Facebook introduced about a year ago.

If that sounds somewhat like a glorified Facebook application, it is. Likester actually started out as an app called “What do My Friends Like?” before McCarthy spun it out into a standalone service. The site went live in April, and quickly tied its marketing strategy to “Idol” by predicting the eventual winner, Scotty McCreery, who wouldn’t be crowned for more than a month.

Likester already has more than 10,000 users, McCarthy says, with a surprising level of international adoption that seems to be building off of press coverage—“We’re big in Iran,” he says with a laugh. Revenue comes through advertising right now, with the possibility of a tiered-membership model later that lets consumers in for free and charges marketers, researchers and other professionals to access more powerful number-crunching.

But McCarthy sees the potential for even bigger things in the untapped rivers of information that Facebook generates, and the disruption it could cause in sectors like retail by tapping into the power of high-quality recommendations.

McCarthy, who sold the SEO startup to ChannelAdvisor in 2005, actually started working with the data Facebook provides to outside developers for a previous startup called OtherPage, which focused on comparison shopping. OtherPage didn’t make the cut, but the experience gave McCarthy a much deeper understanding of what could be possible by working with Facebook’s data, he says.

“There’s a lot of kind of silly, single-function applications that are incredibly successful on the Facebook platform, but there’s not a lot of examples of data-intensive, potentially high-reward … Next Page »

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