MyStrands is an ambitious start-up. It has so far raised $55 Million dollars in its quest to "lead the social recommendation industry" (the words the company used in its last funding announcement in December). We at ReadWriteWeb are following the trend of recommendations closely - it was one of the 5 major trends we outlined in our toolkit for 2008 and was featured in my Media08 presentation Web Tech Trends for 2008 and Beyond. Today MyStrands has announced a $100,000 prize for the best recommender start-up.
The Strands $100,000 Call for Recommender Start-ups is essentially a search for early stage projects in the area of recommendation technologies. The winner will receive a $100,000 investment offer, in the form of a convertible loan. This is a clever move by MyStrands - $100,000 is a drop in the bucket of their $55 M war chest and this competition will likely draw the interest of a number of interesting recommendation start-ups. MyStrands not only gets to sniff out what other start-ups, albeit early stage, are doing with these technologies - but they'll be first in line to invest and possibly acquire the best of them.
It also positions MyStrands well as the leading force in recommendations technologies. While big guns like Amazon, Netflix and last.fm (owned by CBS) are all using recommendations, none has it as their primary focus. MyStrands describes itself, broadly, as a company that "develops technologies to better understand people's taste and help them discover things they like and didn't know about already."
In addition to the competition, MyStrands is also a leading force in a conference called the ACM Conference on Recommender Systems. MyStrands organized the first such Conference in 2006; and now it is organized under the umbrella of the ACM, last year in the US and this year in Europe.
As we noted in our previous coverage of MyStrands, we'd also love to see this company take a leading position in implementing open data standards. Although it seems to have lost the services of Scott Kveton, current Chair of the OpenID Foundation and formally MyStrands' Director of Open Platforms. Kveton is now at open identity start-up Vidoop, but back in December he was quoted as saying that MyStrands is "looking closely at APML, as well as working on some other 'open formats' for describing user taste data. The gist is, the users own this data and we want to give them as much control over it as possible."
Let's hope that the loss of Kveton hasn't deterred MyStrands from utilizing open standards in its goal to be the leading recommendations company.