April 24, 2008, 12:00 AM

Friends help Amazon.com create product recommendations

How can an e-retailer figure out what a customer’s friends and family desire? Amazon.com has created a social networking application that goes straight to the horse’s mouth.

E-retailers that generate product recommendations for customers do so based on customers’ past purchases and web site behavior, such as the types of products they view. But how to predict products that customers’ friends and family would like to receive as gifts since the tastes of others differ from the gift giver, and since it’s not the gift recipients shopping an e-retailer’s site?

Amazon.com Inc. has figured a way around this, finding out precisely what is of interest to a customer’s friends and family by going straight to the horse’s mouth. It checks out the profiles in gift recipients’ Facebook pages and their wish lists on Amazon.com to see what they like.

Amazon.com recently launched Amazon Giver, an application for Facebook users that reminds users when birthdays are coming up and suggests products those celebrating their birthdays might like. A social network application is a small program that enables users and their friends to share content such as photos and videos, play games, list apartment rentals, sell unwanted event tickets, compare movie reviews-the list goes on. Facebook offers thousands of applications designed by users and companies.

Amazon Giver allows Facebook users to share their Amazon.com wish lists. Based on birthdays provided in the demographic information in Facebook profiles, the social networking application lists Facebook friends based on whose birthday is next in line. It also looks to the Interests area of Facebook users’ profiles to generate product recommendations for each friend. So, for a friend who lists Doctor Who as a favorite TV show, Amazon Giver will show DVDs, books and other merchandise related to the British science fiction program, as well as products related to other subjects listed by Facebook users in their Interests area.

All of this activity is conducted within Facebook users’ pages. When a user wants to buy a gift, they click on the product and link to Amazon.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, where they complete the purchase.

“Gift giving is a fundamental activity for us,” says Russell Dicker, senior manager of community content, “so we wanted to make that convenient for all our customers, to give them a simple interface, through Giver, where they are interacting with their friends.”

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