If I want to find out what movie-goers think about Fifty Shades of Grey, I can take the time to read reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic and other sites. I’ll find widely varying opinions that may leave me as clueless as when I began the search.
Instead, I can type in “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Shadow.com for an instant synopsis of reviews from various sites. At one glance, I can see that 67 percent disliked the film generally, most often using the terms “creepy,” “not-romantic” and “unsexy.” I can see that 56.5% of about 5,000 people gave it two out of five stars.
Shadow, officially launched in March with a fresh infusion of $3 million, crowdsources public opinions from 45,000 websites in 30 categories so far. This includes hotels, restaurants, movies, celebrities, sports teams, medical aids, cars and airlines.
Founded in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan two years ago,Shadow is coming out of beta mode with 700,000 active monthly users (as of mid-March) and a growth rate of 40% per month, according to founder Eli Mashiah.
A mobile version is launching first for Android and then iOS, and an April merger with another Israeli company is expected to double traffic, Mashiah tells ISRAEL21c in an exclusive interview.
“I think Shadow is something that could change the world,” says Mashiah.
“Social networks start from the person. If I want to collect what everyone said about this restaurant or that camera, I have to go to a lot of different places. Shadow starts from the object and not the person. Type in whatever you’re researching, and Shadow gathers all the information for you.”
One-stop review shop
Websites such as FindTheBest, Vurb and BrightReviews also cater to the growing number of consumers checking online reviews before deciding where to spend their money or how to vote.
However, Shadow is unique as a one-stop review shop. “What distinguishes us most is that we are a combination of three things: a review platform for anything, a search engine of other review sites, and a social network where the community gives appreciation to reviews,” Mashiah explains.“If a reviewer gets very appreciated by the crowd, his or her weight becomes more significant. It’s like a weighted democracy.”
Crowdsourcing and technology help Shadow identify fake reviews, he adds. “We use a lot of algorithms to try to eliminate biased and fake reviews. And we do a lot of natural language processing to analyze text on sites such as Twitter, Tumbler and Facebook.”
He notes that Shadow does not steal content from other websites. “We give a short summary sentence and show the average scores and the most frequently used words from both bad and good reviews. Then we add a link to the original review for those who want to read the entire entry,” he says.
Shadow also provides a poll platform for people to review celebrities and political candidates.
In fact, Mashiah says Shadow users successfully predicted winners in the recent Israeli elections, while traditional polls proved inaccurate.
“Everybody is amazed about the election results in Israel, but we had a poll running for two weeks before the election and almost 10,000 people took part,” says Mashiah. “We were the only one where Likud was projected to win at 2% above Zionist Union. I thought we were doing something wrong because the other polls didn’t agree, but apparently we were doing something right.”
Impressive track record
Mashiah and cofounder Israel Mazin have a good track record, to say the least. Their previous joint venture, MEMCO Software, merged with Platinum Technologies in 1998 and was sold to Computer Associates in New York for $3.5 billion in 1999. Mazin went on to become CEO of big-data analytics company OpTier, acquired by SAP in 2014 for $10 billion.
Until starting Shadow, Mashiah earned a master’s degree in computer science and started another master’s in Jewish philosophy. The founders put their own cash into Shadow and have several ideas for generating revenue via advertising and premium services.
“First you have to build up a lot of traffic; around 10 million surfers per month for revenue models to work,” says Mashiah.
The 15-employee company expects that as users increase so will the database of searchable categories. Right now, if you type in a search term not related to the existing categories – say, baby strollers – you won’t get impressive results, but you can start your own ShadowPage on the topic.
“The challenge is that you want to be everywhere and you can’t because it’s too expensive – it’s like trying to boil the ocean,” says Mashiah. “So we have to find certain vertical markets where we can penetrate and be the leader.”
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