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Gift shopping was stressful enough when it was confined to big box stores and the local shopping mall. The emergence of online retailers like Amazon.com, however, have taken the project to a whole other level. Rather than sifting through a couple dozen stores and a food court for the perfect, symbolic gift, almost every object -- from out-of-print books to Etsy eccentricities -- is available for delivery.
Rather than aiding the gift-giving process, however, this has only increased shoppers anxiety. As Professor Barry Schwartz pointed out in a 2005 TED talk, "The Paradox of Choice," the overabundance of options often leads to disappointment. Schwartz concludes that, whether it is choosing a retirement plan or a flavor of ice cream, reducing the subset of options will make a consumer more comfortable.
Wantful, a new online startup, might have had these ideas in mind when it launched its site in 2011. The site asks a gift-giver to answer a series of questions about the intended recipient. Next, it generates a list of 10 possible gifts that is bound, printed and sent to the gift recipent as a high quality catalogue. When the catalogue arrives, the recipient simply chooses which of the 10 items she prefers.
Digital pioneers, like NYU professor Clay Shirky, have been lauding the value of smart curation like this for some time. At the Web 2.0 Expo in 2008, Shirky suggested that the problem with current media models isn't the amount of information but the lack of its curation. "It's not information overload," he told the crowd, "it's filter failure."
Sites like Wantful demonstrate that the curation that Schwartz and Shirky advocate doesn't just deliver a good user experience; it's good business. On March 20, Wantful closed $5.5 million in series A funding. If this financial support is any indication, businesses that can succeed in filtering and curating information will be play an integral role in the digital world moving forward.