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Buy the right ceramic dolphin using Buddy Shopping

Buddy Shopping attempts to remedy the often tricky combination of collaboration and shopping.

Collaboration and shopping are two things that often go very wrong during the holidays. With families spread across the country, joint gifting gets that much harder. For example, this morning, my brother sent me a concerned e-mail about what to get our parents for the holidays. Historically, this is an event that almost always ends in a frantic rush with too much money spent on a gift that ends up sitting in a closet the minute we leave the house. Buddy Shopping is a new collaborative tool that combines screen sharing and instant messaging with a dash of social networking. Buddy Shopping isn't the first service of its kind, as ThisNext and StyleHive have already created a way for people to share shopping items they're interested in. Buddy Shopping takes it to the next level by letting you share live Web browsing with another shopper, so each of you see what the other person is looking at in real-time. The service is technically free but there are small (yet very distracting) video ads with audio that pop up on the left side every minute or so. The built-in IM client lets you shop and talk with the other person in complete silence--good for shopping at work, if you work in a cubicle.

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Buddy Shopping has user-created communities that make it easier to befriend others who shop for similar items. One weak point is that there's no live master list of people who are using the service, which makes hopping on without a planned rendezvous a solo affair. The good news is that you don't need communities to figure out what to shop for, as the site has a preloaded set of online stores by genre, and you can bookmark your own sites in a custom folder.

Another area where Buddy Shopping falls short is its ease of use. For a system designed to make buying simpler, it requires users to delve through several info panes to get what they want. In most cases, visiting Web sites becomes an arduous process when you're using less than half the space you're used to because Buddy Shopping shows your browser at the top of the screen and your buddy's beneath it. And as long as they're offering collaborative shopping, why not offer a service like HomeSlyce or Buxfer that let users share the cost of purchase?

Is Buddy Shopping better than sending URLs by e-mail? In most cases (like mine) a simple 5-minute telephone conversation sorted out the joint-gift issue, which is a lot easier than having both parties download, install, and register a 20MB, Windows-only application. We do not recommend BuddyShopping.