Imagini shows novel way to finding like-minded friends

Imagini Research is offering a highly visual way to find new friends with similar interests or the same outlook on life

Imagini Research is offering a novel way to find new friends that see things the same way you do.

The company gauges Web site visitors' reactions to a series of images in response to prompts like "My biggest vice is..." or "My idea of love is...." It then uses this information to determine their personality profile -- their "Visual DNA," as the company calls it.

On Thursday the company added a new service to its site, Imagini Friends, that it describes as "a new kind of social network that finds what people have in common."

Visitors who take the online personality test are shown a list of other visitors with similar profiles, and offered the chance to get in touch via e-mail. The service has already profiled "a few thousand" visitors despite being so new that "there was still some code being loaded yesterday," company founder Alex Willcock said Friday.

Last August, Imagini used its Visual DNA service to identify new market segments for Nectar, a multibrand loyalty card operated by Loyalty Management UK Ltd.

In a test on Nectar's Web site, Imagini measured customers' reactions to a series of images. From their reactions, it was able to identify a group of customers passionate about reading, something not revealed by the transactional data Nectar already held, Willcock said.

Another challenge for Imagini was to identify what makes MSN customers happy.

It developed a survey that ran on the MSN home page on Oct. 24. You can still take the test on the site of Blue Orange Technologies, the company that hosted it.

The test attracted 10,000 respondents in the first 9 minutes, said Jack Kreindler, managing partner of Blue Orange.

"It had the highest uptake of any survey they've run. People were recommending the survey to friends because they enjoyed it," Kreindler said.

A typical survey contains around 5M bytes of images. The company uses Akamai Technologies' network-edge caching service to deliver them, because it's the first reaction that counts: "We can't wait for three or four seconds for the images to download," Kreindler said.

The data returned from the Visual DNA test is also processed by Blue Orange. For the Imagini Friends service, "All the matching algorithms that match you with people with the closest DNA are in optimized C++," Kreindler said.

Imagini GiftFinder, a service launched in November, uses similar techniques to suggest a selection of presents it considers suitable for the visitor or someone they know well. The service allows the visitor to accept or reject the suggestions, and in future it will learn from that feedback over the next six months, said Kreindler. "We are developing an adaptive sampling algorithm" for Imagini that will learn from what people think are good gift suggestions, he said.

As more people use the services to pick gifts, find friends or offer feedback about their loyalty card preferences, Imagini plans to build "a vast database of thoughts and feelings" based on the responses the images evoke.

Imagini's will be able to apply its expertise to help businesses adapt their Web sites to visitors' hidden motivations, Willcock said.

"In a surprisingly small amount of statements, we can identify the travel preferences of an individual." That would allow an online travel agency to modify the content it showed the visitor on the fly, he said.

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