Fashion By Google?


Written by Siobhan Morrin
22 Monday 22nd November 2010

Google expands its sights in its quest for world domination this week by launching its advance on the fashion industry, Will we all soon be wearing the latest Google-branded fashions? Is taking over our style the next step in the complete globalisation of life?

Not quite, or at least not yet. The site isn’t actually a place where you spend money at all. Instead, you browse ‘boutiques’ supposedly set up by celebrities, designers and bloggers, containing pictures of clothes and accessories they have or like. This is fairly US-centric, with prices in dollars and products from American stores. Many of the celebrities are unknown over here too, though Susie Bubble has a page and Carey Mulligan’s boutique is actually one of the most ‘popular’. So far, so…what? Celeb style watching should already be saturated, with magazines, websites and blogs dedicated to it. So will Google’s worldwide clout mean people from Brazil to Korea are start wearing the same clothes? In all probability not, particularly because you don’t buy the fashion directly from Boutiques, instead click through to sites where you can. Clearly, Google’s aim isn’t to enter the Net-a-Porter type market.
Of course, Google being what it is, the purpose of Boutiques must be search-related. This is certainly a more interesting proposition than a new online shop launch. It’s one step closer to that fancy web 3.0 malarkey, where computers tell you what you want rather than vice versa. It’s right there in the ‘About us’: " learns about your style and preferences and in turn, provides you better results and recommendations over time." This has been happening a lot already – just look at Facebook with its suggested friends. Perhaps that feature isn’t always that helpful (do you really want to connect with that girl you never spoke to from primary school?), but with Google on the case we might starting getting more targeted, useful results.
Boutiques is an exercise in ‘machine learning’ our fashion preferences. There’s something called a ‘Stylyzer’ (really) that classifies your personal style in a rather rigid way, asking you to choose which is more your style between two pictures, resulting in one of five results. You define this by choosing the silhouettes, colours, designers and patterns you love and hate, giving you the choice of garments ideally suited to your taste… and giving Google and co an insight into what and where you’re likely to buy. It’s a similar premise to the Facebook ‘like’ button, only more subtle, and definitely more valuable to fashion businesses.
The site itself is fun, if a little flawed in its pricing and rigidity. It will be interesting to see if they get more celebrities and designers involved, and whether we’ll get a UK version. The key will lie in whether the concept will become popular with users, as well as in what insights these users give Google.
We’re almost trained nowadays not to give out personal information, yet sites like Boutiques often seem different. At most, it seems like glorified market research. The technology involved though could make this something different. Our shopping habits will be know to Google… along with our name, email (Gmail), work (Docs), street (Streetview)… Maybe we should be more wary about what we let Google know. Or perhaps just hope it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands…

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