Today Los Angeles-based startup Xen announced the launch of its interest platform, which aims to map users’ interests in everything from food to media to entertainment, and ultimately create an interest profile that users can access around the web. So far users have chosen over 50,000 interests on Xen.com, with a total of 24 million interests mapped in the platform’s backend.
“What we’re really trying to do is build a universal interest exchange, and use interests as currency really,” co-founder Brooks Martin said in an interview. The idea for Xen came from Martin’s experience while working as an executive producer and social media and digital agency Schematic (now part of agency Possible). “We noticed that users’ interests…are scattered all over the place, and in the places that they are scattered, they’re also siloed,” he said, giving the example of a user’s music preferences being stored in Pandora, or their restaurant tastes in Urbanspoon.
The platform lets users map their interests by indicating whether they like, love, dislike, or are ambivalent about something. Users sign in with Facebook, and then have the option to add interests from their Facebook likes and profile info, or import interests from GetGlue (with more networks planned in future). As users add interests, they can view them by category, whether business, fashion, or food, and create collections of their interests, for example adding their favorite movies to one collection. Users can browse other users’ interests on Xen.com, view their collections, and see how all users feel about a given topic (how many like, love, dislike, etc).
Ultimately Martin said the goal is that developers and companies could then leverage Xen’s API to add a user’s interests to their apps and platforms, so a user’s Xen profile would essentially become an interest calling card around the web, saving users from taking style quizzes or other steps to personalize content on third-party websites. Martin said Xen.com is just an example of the technology, and the third-party integrations is where users will be able to make better connections and get more personalized content.
“If on a site I say I’m interested in the Philadelphia Eagles, our database of interests is able to understand that if I’m on ESPN and I’m talking about the Philadelphia Eagles and then I take that and go over to the Washington Post or CNN, I’m able to take those interests and import that as the Philadelphia Eagles,” Martin said. “It’s a universal way for me to collect those interests, and take them with me so all the sites I go to that are Xen-enabled understand that.”
Along with the launch of the platform, the company is also showcasing three Xen-powered apps: Interesting, Meedar, and TalkTopic. Meedar is like Highlight but based on interests, so it surfaces people nearby who share the same likes and dislikes; TalkTopic showcases the Xen community’s thoughts on any given topic; and Interesting helps Xen users discover recent or trending topics. Those three apps are featured in Xen’s Showcase, which will ultimately act as an app store-like hub for people who want to see where they can use their Xen account. The company said they’ll also be creating widgets so developers can embed Xen’s functionality without having to develop a custom app.
Though they’re not disclosing who they’re working with right off the bat, Martin said partners include content publishers, consumer brands looking to personalize their ecommerce experience, mobile apps, publishers, and bloggers, and their target is “anywhere that the experience could be enhanced by understanding your users better.” In terms of monetization, they’re launching with a plan for developers, who can get metered tiered access to the API. They’ll also be launching an option for people who want to use Xen to power their ad engine, which will operate on a revenue-sharing model based on click-throughs, and a per-seat subscription to access the back-end analytics, which Martin said would be ideal for marketers.
While Xen is claiming to be the first interest exchange in the world, there are others who have tried to tap into a user’s interest graph, most notably Hunch, which developed a Taste Graph and was acquired by eBay in 2011. Martin said that they’re different in that they have a recommendation engine, but more than anything they’re a set of interests that users can curate, and that is portable around the web.
“Our philosophy is really that the most accurate, addressable interest graph is one that the user has acute control over,” Martin said, and added that they will be adding features to help users have control over their interest graph so they are engaged with their interests. The company will be opening its API next month, and will also be announcing a suite of developer and brand partners. They’re not the first to try to tap into a user’s interest graph, so they’ll need to build up a large base of partners before they become the de facto standard for users looking to build up their personalization around the web.