Fashion is a wonderful thing: some people love it, some people hate it. But if you take even the slightest bit of interest in what you put on in the morning, or you want to look your best but aren't sure how to do it, then The Hunt is for you.
The Hunt takes social networking to a whole new level by fusing technology, fashion and a community together. It can help you be more stylish, spot the latest trends, get gifting ideas, or in its purest form, help you find something you've been looking for.
Founded last year in San Francisco, The Hunt has now officially launched in the UK. We sat down with co-founder Tim Weingarten and Rosie Fortescue of Made in Chelsea fame who is UK ambassador, to see what The Hunt is, how it works and if it could be the Facebook of the shopping and fashion worlds.
What is The Hunt?
The Hunt is a service that allows users to post things they like in the hopes that the social community will then help them find what they are looking for. It runs through thehunt.com website and iOS app.
For example, if you have ever walked past someone in the street and liked the shirt they were wearing but didn't want to stop and ask them where it was from, that's where The Hunt can help.
The Hunt is primarily based around fashion, positioned in the US as "The Cure for Outfit Envy". But it can be used for other things too, such as beauty, home décor, cool note pads, as well as general questions.
Tim Weingarten explained that while some users want it to be all about fashion, "the community is evolving so you don't want to ever really police it too much and as long as it remains mainly fashion where fashion people can get the most out of it, then that's ok."
Weingarten also said The Hunt was working on algorithms to customise and personalise the content you see when you visit so you see the "hunts" that are better tailored to you.
How does The Hunt work?
For The Hunt and its community to help, you'll need to join the 3 million users already on board by signing up. You can then start a hunt, help solve hunts, follow individual hunts or follow individual users.
For those who just want to search, you can do this without becoming a user and The Hunt features a similar tag system to Instagram whereby users tag hunts with describing terms so you can click on the tags to find other similar products or styles that relate to it.
To start a hunt, you post a picture of what you want to find and the community helps you find either exactly that item, something similar or something that goes with it, depending on what you specify. There is also the ability to tell The Hunt your budget and size so when the community "finds" it, it is exactly what you want, rather than £100 too expensive or three sizes too small.
You can also ask the community to style you completely by putting up a picture of yourself or describing yourself. So if you want to look good for a specific occasion, but have no idea where to start, then The Hunt community could be your new best friend.
"The Hunt is like having this global community of stylists. You don't know them, you aren't best friends with them but they are helping you out and if you decide you like their taste, then you can start following them and discovering new stuff from them. There is a social network element to it but there is also the pragmatic part of finding products," explains Weingarten.
If you are looking for an immediate response, The Hunt might not be your best bet but Weingarten says if you can wait 24 hours, 50-55 per cent of hunts will get a "good answer" in this time frame.
Why do people help?
The idea of The Hunt is all well and good, but to work, it needs the community to be charming humans who want to help. So why has The Hunt worked so far and why do people keep helping each other?
"There is a strong element of it feels good and satisfying to know that you helped somebody and contributed to their life in some way. It sounds silly but it is rewarding. The web is mostly for yourself, it is rare to do something for someone else as we are all so busy. So when you do it, it feels profound and rewarding," says Weingarten.
He also believes there is an element of karma involved, with the "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" attitude, as well as users helping others because they want to find the item for themselves too.
The Hunt also rewards users with what it calls "Gems", which is the element it plans to build on to develop a reputation system, similar to how eBay has Top Sellers and Yelp has Top Reviewers.
"We want those who are really good at this - those amateur stylists - we want them to be recognised. That is what powers most content generation systems - expertise and reputation."
How will The Hunt appeal to men?
The Hunt is a brilliant idea and it has some big backers including supermodel Tyra Banks and actor Ashton Kutcher. But despite being founded by two men, it has a 95 per cent female user base so it begs the question: how it will appeal to men?
You could be forgiven for taking one look at the site as a man and deciding almost instantaneously that it wasn't for you. Granted, you might not want the dresses or jumpers that appear when you first visit The Hunt for yourself, but Weingarten and Fortesque both suggest gifting as one of The Hunt's top uses for men.
Weingarten also said: "We have the 'Style Me' Hunt too, where you put up a selfie or you describe yourself and say what you want. We think within that there is a hunt type for guys where girls can help them decide what to wear."
A human approach
One of the most obvious technologies that we thought The Hunt might have considered is image recognition, but Weingarten says they have "tested every single one and the results are complete garbage because fashion is so nuanced."
"When you are looking for a similar look, maybe the pattern on the edge of a sleeve for example, that's not what machines can do. Machines can say this is green, this is red, these are both boots but going beyond that to the kind of detail you care about, only humans can do that."
That said, The Hunt is using image recognition to detect spam and counterfeits and it is also using algorithms to detect when another hunt the same has been started to avoid duplication. "We leverage algorithms where we can to make the system better, but at the end of the day we still believe humans are the best judge of what is similar and what fits your look," said Weingarten.
"We are about a community and we are trying to create a sense of involvement in this community, a sense of participation and one of the things that is really fun about The Hunt is that the community is so positive. They are telling you that something will look good on you, they are recommending, suggesting, having a conversation with you, and you can't have a conversation with a machine."
What does the future hold?
The Hunt may have a long way to go to be the Facebook of shopping, but with more than 5 million hunts started since it launched, 20 million tag clicks a month and between 15 and 20 per cent of active users solving Hunts every week, it has got off to a good start.
After officially arriving in the UK last week, The Hunt already has 150,000 UK users that have started over 200,000 hunts, which have resulted in 100,000 products being recommended by UK users, from UK stores. Overall, Weingarten says the conversion rate to purchase is almost as high as Google at 1-2 per cent.
Compared to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, The Hunt is small. But with users claimed to spend between 40 and 50 minutes a week on the site or app and more than two million out clicks a month generated to retail sites, The Hunt is certainly one to watch.