Right now, I’m looking at a post-industrial Italian table lamp, an enormous grey wall clock, a glass robot necklace, and something called a ping pong calendar. I’m seeing handmade sweaters, bizarre iPod accessories, and t-shirts with slogans like “Most Likely to Secede.” Where am I, you ask? I’m on Wists, a social shopping website where people share links to all the cool stuff they want to buy. Wists combines the social bookmarking aspect of del.icio.us, the photo-hopping attraction of Flickr, and the “wishlist” concept of shopping sites like Amazon to create a viable web 2.0 hybrid known as social shopping.
Users scour the web for interesting things that they ostensibly want to buy (or at least share with the Wists community), and they suggest the appropriate URL for the item to the organically grown clump of social shopping links. On one hand, it’s like any other social bookmarking site where users collect bookmarks and make them public, with the idea being that the collective knowledge and interests of the Wists community will determine what is cool and drive traffic to the best of the best. But compared to conventional social bookmarking websites like del.icio.us, Magnolia, and Furl, Wists does two things to carve its special niche: it uses images and it’s geared toward people who want to buy stuff.
Back in the day, in-store window displays were all the rage. Then came shop-at-home catalogs with pictures followed by TV shopping networks and infomercials. Of course, all those venues have given way to online stores with point-and-click purchasing. But now that we’re in Web 2.0 territory, where interaction among users is key, social shopping sites like Wists seem like the next logical step in the commercial chain. While all the items spotlighted on Wists are all actually sold by other sites, the diversity among those sites is remarkable: some are huge retailers selling a particularly hot product while others are little indie businesses getting exposure because someone’s craft or invention seems kitsch or cool. To that extent, social shopping is pretty democratic and ground-up.
Social shopping lets users poke around to determine what the freshest, most buzzworthy items are. You’ll note that most of the products on Wists are unfamiliar or new, which is why people are interested in spreading the word. It’s not the place to look for the best air conditioner or lint roller on the market. Instead, it’s a place to see what’s hot, innovative, interesting, funny, or just plain neat. Wists can spark your creativity and entertain you. I laughed heartily, for example, when I stumbled across the Ohmibod – perhaps the most self-indulgent music accessory yet.
Wists isn’t a perfect portal, though, and its developers will need to improve it. For example, despite the focus on social shopping, a stream of non-shopping content regularly makes its way onto the site, muddying up the concept. Perhaps they’ll consider a flagging system of some sort so that the shopping-specific orientation of Wists is not lost? Also, the only way to add an item to the fray (for now) is to use their bookmarklet, so I’d like to see Wists develop an alternate path to listing an item. Those criticisms aside, the ability to see photos of spiffy things and to get an ever-shifting sense of what’s popular makes Wists worthwhile.