Formerly known as Round One, Epinions.com is trying to carve out a niche for itself among the companies currently offering product information online. The trick will be positioning the company between editorial sites such as Consumer Reports Online, where products are professionally tested and reviewed, and discussion sites such as Deja.com's Deja Ratings section, where any visitor is welcome to contribute an opinion.
Despite facing already established providers of product information, Epinions insists it isn't competing with the likes of Consumer Reports. Instead, the new site will collect links to other product information resources on the Web, creating highly specific portals from which users can continue their research, the site's founders said.
In an attempt to improve on the discussion site model, where consumers may have to sift through dozens of undifferentiated postings, Epinions will borrow a page from online auction site eBay by having users rate each other's product ratings.
Another borrowed strategy is from Web guide About.com, which contracts individual guides to help manage review categories. The start-up said it might follow About.com's compensation model, which pays guides a percentage of advertising revenues earned at each site, to attract "experts" in the various product categories.
Epinions founders would not elaborate on the company's business model. But they did say advertising dollars would be included among a number of revenue streams, and that the site would not sell any products directly or indirectly.
The site will provide limited quantitative ratings on products, asking only whether or not users would recommend a product. Epinions will highlight the most highly rated products in a particular category and also let users know what percentage of respondents recommended a product, the founders said.
Located in Mountain View, California, Epinions is part of a new class of second-generation Web starts-ups founded and funded by former employees of pioneering Web firms. Epinions boasts tech and business talent from Yahoo, Netscape Communications, and @Home, as well as funding from Benchmark Capital and August Capital.
Founders include some of Netscape's star engineers who have recently left the company, including Epinions chief technology officer Ramanathan Guha. He was principal engineer at Netscape, where he created the Resource Description Framework, now a key World Wide Web Consortium recommendation.
The firm's chief executive is Naval Ravikant, formerly manager of strategic planning at @Home. Other founding members include Nirav Tolia, an early employee at Yahoo and founder of Silicon Valley schmoozefest Round Zero; Dion Lim, formerly director of business development at Quote.com; Mike Speiser from McKinsey; and Lou Montulli, Aleksander Totic, and Garrett Blythe, founding engineers at Netscape.
Formed in April, the company is scheduled to launch a beta version of the site in August.