Shopcasting can flaunt your style, but the wardrobes need help

These sites let you buzz about your material world desires, but the medium keeps from bringing you close to the materials.

Social shopping Web sites let you track things you'd like to buy and display them on a social networking profile or blog. The style snapshot can serve as a portable gift registry or just a conversation-starter with people who share your style sensibilities. Most of these services provide a browser button so you can easily tag goods you find while Web surfing, in addition to integrating with MySpace, Facebook, or Friendster.

The makers of ThisNext coined the term "shopcasting" to describe its banners that let you display your favorite stuff on a blog or MySpace page. ThisNext is strong for tracking a niche interest; many of its users flag eco-friendly goods, for instance.

Kaboodle's cute site design kept me clicking longer than its competition. Its groups let me humor a passion for vintage sterling jewelry and search for custom tags to find Veronica Lake-era fashion. The community is diverse and creative at Kaboodle, similar to the Etsy crafts marketplace. Plus, tagging is faster than at rival sites. I recommend it.

Wists also let you track a wide range of dry goods, like flip-flops, a guillotine pendant necklace, or a pinball machine. But small usability details irked me, such as needing to type the underscore symbol when adding multiple tags to an item. Although offering less flexibility, as well as an awkward set-up process, MyPickLists will send you a small kickback if someone buys an item on your wish list.

The interface of Glimpse looks nice with earth tones, but I'd like to make fewer mouse clicks there; even a dropdown search bar would help. Glimpse's makers might be wise to capitalize more on its celebrity profiles, say, by letting you add a star's outfit to your personal StyleFile. (I'd have to travel to another decade to use this kind of feature, but others might like it.)

ShopStyle ( also here ) is free of advertising. It offers staple women's magazine suggestions, like dressing for your body "type," and it irritatingly takes you straight to a store's shopping cart once you click on something. It just launched in February, however, so maybe more interesting features will come later.

Stylehive lets users lead or follow each other's style selections, but merchants may be lurking in disguise, as the Wall Street Journal noted recently. StyleHive is less intuitive than Kaboodle, but it kept me entertained. Yahoo's Shoposphere lets you create pick lists, but I found it boring.

These startup shopping sites, particularly Kaboodle and ThisNext, make it fun to discover cool stuff, but I want them to do so much more, especially when it comes to clothes. The print Lucky Magazine does a better job of laying out outfits than these Web pages do. If you're built like a brick house, wouldn't you appreciate a service that takes your measurements to help account for each brand's variations in size? Mass customization is popular for T-shirts, but the trend still has a long way to go.

I find only a few benefits to shopping for apparel online. In stores, there's no defense from cruel dressing-room lighting, but you can try on anything bought on the Internet in your own boudoir. Plus, weeding out deals on the Web can be easier than scrounging through retail basement bargain bins. More social shopping sites should ping you when items go on sale, as Glimpse, What's Buzzing, and Deal Bundle do.

Other than those conveniences, however, no interface can match the tactile pleasures of shopping in a real world emporium. I'll take thumbing through piles of cashmere any day over clicking through uncozy clouds of text tags online. And who can guess accurately from a flat thumbnail image that some jeans will fit well? Too often you'll find the pair to be too snug, but only after you've already paid and had them shipped home.

I'd like to play with a digital paper doll approach to Web shopping that would let you mix, match, and assemble outfits on an avatar (See also FashMatch). It's odd that IM apps don't already let you shop that way (Second Life is limited, too.).

UPDATE: Retailers at ShopStyle do not masquerade as users, as I cited originally from a Wall Street Journal report, which that paper later corrected.

Maybe this feeds the stereotype that the lack of a Y chromosome engenders the urge to gather and splurge, but I wonder if we'd already see more virtual tailors if more women started Web 2.0 apps. Internet companies seeking to attract spenders of any gender should invest in advanced personalization tools.

Kaboodle's design and variety of groups give it an edge over rival sites.
Kaboodle's design and variety of groups give it an edge over rival sites.
 

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