“StyleCaster is not a social network,” says Ari Goldberg, ceo of StyleCaster.com. “This is not Facebook. It’s not MySpace.” Maybe not, but the new Web site is an online network, one in which users connect over fashion. However, Goldberg prefers to bill it as “the Web’s first personal style discovery platform” and “the Web’s first influence network.”
This story first appeared in the October 28, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
What exactly that means will be hard to tell until the site goes into private beta testing next month before it is officially launched in January. But according to Goldberg, a former vice president of strategy and business development for LeBron James’ LRMR Marketing company, who founded StyleCaster with chief financial officer Albert Azout, the site is first and foremost an online personal styling service. It’s also a user network that features blogs, articles and merchandise styled by its own staff.
And it was inspired by the weather. “Every day, everybody we know wakes up and checks weather.com or WeatherBug or AccuWeather to find out what the temperature is,” says Goldberg. “What do I wear? How come nobody gives me an outfit recommendation?” That thought, coupled with another project he and Azout had in the works, Sociocast, a patented technology developed by Azout that measures a user’s clicks to filter content to the individual, resulted in StyleCaster, which is privately funded by Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Quicken Loans and majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. The site is run by about 15 full-time staff members, including several former Elle and Lucky editors, and is the first channel run on Sociocast’s technology, here, utilized in a fashion, beauty and lifestyle context. It also features a local weather forecast.
Here’s how it works: Users start with a registration process, which requires them to disclose their name, sex, age, location and occupation, and make selections from a series of outfits and products. The Sociocast technology takes that information and creates a “memory” for each user, which is continually updated as he or she navigates the site. That information decides what kind of content each user sees, whether it’s merchandise styled and photographed by the StyleCaster staff, news or other members’ information. The latter makes up StyleCaster’s network component. Rather than the profile pages seen on Facebook or MySpace, StyleCaster users have “presence” pages, which contain examples of their personal style. Some of that content consists of photos uploaded by the user, but much of it is generated by the Sociocast technology. If the program thinks that your style matches up with someone else’s, you can “influence,” or in the language of Facebook, “friend” each other, which is what Goldberg claims differentiates StyleCaster from other networking sites. “Social networks as we know them are based on friendship,” he says. “The problem is, when you’re recommending something for someone, your friends aren’t the best basis to go off of.…What matters in this social space is expertise, knowledge, adoption and influence.” Of course, the average user may not want to be influenced by another user. And while he did not disclose names, Goldberg says he will enlist celebrity stylists and personalities to up StyleCaster’s influence quotient.
“Our goal,” says Goldberg, “is to make the StyleCaster experience as intuitive and as passive as possible.” To forecast an outfit each day, a selection of three 3-D looks are displayed on each user’s page, a scenario that recalls a scene from 1995’s “Clueless,” during which Cher (Alicia Silverstone) allows her computer to select what she wears for the day. It could be very useful if the merch StyleCaster offers is already in the user’s closet. If not, that’s part of the plan, too. StyleCaster is an advertising-driven site, and Goldberg hopes to partner with retailers and designer houses. “We don’t sell product,” he says. “We’re what’s called a lead generator. Any product you see on the system, my goal is to lead you as close to that product as possible.” And if the Sociocast technology works, it will bring the product close to its target audience. Goldberg is banking on it. “I don’t believe the future of the Web is shoot-the-monkey ads,” he says. “We’re talking about sponsored recommendations, sponsored outfits, sponsored products, sponsored events, advertorials. An outfit could very easily be Marc Jacobs head-to-toe.
“In a sense, for the brand, that’s advertising,” adds Goldberg. “For the consumer, it’s just new content. That’s the perfect marriage.”