A report by Valleywag's new party correspondent, Megan McCarthy
Last night, Become.com took over Varnish, an exposed-brick flavored art gallery in downtown SF currently showcasing artsy, can't-find-this-on-Flickr fancy photography. The main draw was centered on the ground floor - what looked to be a very expensive pinhole camera fashioned out of a human skull on a pike-like stand. Rumor has it that one PR person likened the skull to what Become.com would do to Google and OH MY GOD, how I wish I was cognizant enough to verify that quote, because, wow. Empty promises of decapitating the industry leader? Blog gold.
Become.com wants to position itself as the Zappos of all shopping searches. To prove their tagline of being "The Best Place to Shop Online", they decided to commission a study comparing their results to Google... yes, plain vanilla Google, not Froogle, or Shop.com, or PriceGrabber, or Shopping.com, or MSN Shopping, or Yahoo! Shopping, or whatever other search results you ignore on your way to buy that geek t-shirt. They held a three-month study comparing their results to the plain ole Google search engine, a contest Become.com won 55%-45%. Let me repeat that. 55%-45%. Their study, their shopping-focused search engine vs. the most general all-encompassing search engine on the internet ever, and they won by a meager 10%. Um....
On top of the lackluster numbers, this study was presented in the most tedious way possible - a pointless PowerPoint presentation lead by the CEO and some consultant whose hair was a perfect mishmash of A Flock of Seagulls and Gilderoy Lockhart. Thank God for Mimi Sells (what a name!), the PR point person at Become, who made sure I had a drink almost as soon as I walked in the room. One thing was certain - NO ONE who wasn't associated with the company got the point of their branding. The name is far too easy to turn into a double entendre and the goatse-esque logo doesn't help any. When asked about it, Michael Yang, the CEO, stated that they were looking for a short name that was easy to remember, spell, and say, and, well, Become was available. Perhaps there was a reason for that?
Not to slag on the site too much. The content seems actually useful. According to the CEO, the search results are refreshed every 10 minutes, so no dead links to expired eBay auctions or sites that were last active during the Clinton administration. After the presentation, we "journalists" were set free to test out their vertical shopping capabilities. Search suggestions included "Digital Cameras", "Refrigerators", and "HD TVs". Podcaster Robert Scoble wanted to find the price of that skull camera, and the actual searches devolved from "skulls" to "black market kidneys", "leather bondage", "marijuana", and
"personal massagers". Become.com did an adequate job of showcasing the editorial results that those terms brought about, though it did lack the specifics of where we could purchase some of those items (specifically, Robert Scoble's pot).
As for the party itself... well, the wine was good. The ratio of PR/non-PR was a scary 1:1 - almost all of the guests had someone who was assigned to keep them in check. (Or, at least, it felt that way). Every. Single. Guy. (save Robert Scoble) was dressed in khakis and a button-down, and it all felt very corporate internet circa 1998, as if the founders still thought they were working with their first success, the creepily animated MySimon. Bonus points for the open bar and cute waiter, but next time, lay off the presentations and you may have a winner.