STechCrunch has great news for anyone hoping to piggyback on an old company's success: the "Pandora for e-commerce" just raised $750,000 in funding (atop a million a year ago). StyleSeek says it can perfectly grok your taste in clothes in 30 seconds, and then sell you more—but it can't, and everyone needs to give up.
There is a grievance shared by many startup creators that life is too hard—not because of heartbreak, war, or inequality, but because laundry is exhausting, it's tricky to find a cab, sometimes, even dressing yourself is just baffling. And so we have websites like StyleSeek, which aim to demystify the process of buying clothes that you like, and then wearing them, presumably. The basic assumption here is that you don't know what you like—or, even more presumptuous, that an algorithm will know you better than you know yourself.
The common dream here is that one day, you'll roll out of your bed onto the floor, start wailing, mashing your iPhone, and a whole day's worth of selections will be determined for you.
If you've ever listened to a Pandora station, you'll know that the "smart" selection system is often imperfect. Do you want the same mechanisms that bunch Elvis Costello with The Shins putting hats and pants on you? I gave StyleSeek a quick try—after all, CEO Tyler Spalding told TechCrunch “We can give you Pinterest-quality recommendations in 30 seconds – you don’t need to follow anyone, you don’t need to interact with anyone." I'll give anything a try if it means less human interaction.
StyleSeek is based mostly on "StyleGame," a portion of the site that presents you with a grid of images. "What do you like?," is the only prompt you'll receive. The site showed me a bunch of cars. I can't drive, but I picked the one that looked coolest, I guess. I also like Outkast, so I clicked the album cover for Stankonia. Then there was this:
Are we supposed to pick which movie is our favorite? I like a few of these a lot! Are we supposed to pick which poster is best-designed? Which actors are the most handsome? It's murky.
I like drinking all of these things—and again, what are the criteria here? I trusted in the algorithm, since it's supposed to be better-dressed than I am. Here's what I got:
Pretty standard issue Young J.Crew White Guy stuff. Stuff I'd wear, actually. But let's not congratulate the omniscient algorithm yet—what if I said I liked a whole bunch of bullshit I really didn't like?
Oh look, it's the exact same kind of clothing.
Now what if I intentionally choose what I consider to be the most absolutely abhorrent aesthetic material in the StyleGame? What if I click Dave Matthews and Hotrod Magazine?
More plaid shirts, with leather thrown in.
StyleSeek is sort of brilliant in this way, in the same manner that psychics and confidence men are brilliant. No matter how schlubby or tasteless you are, it'll shower you in good taste. It'll take your meaningless selections of watches and liquor and spit back mostly expensive, tasteful, inoffensive items—aspirational items. Clothes that most people could at least half pull off. Not the leather jackets.
We want to believe that StyleSeek's "alogrithm," which TechCrunch gushes was developed by someone who is "literally a rocket scientist," because we want to believe that we'd look good in all of these things. But flattery is an old idea—does it warrant three quarters of a million dollars?