Web Wares: Shopseen on the scene

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In her new weekly feature, writer Mayka Mei profiles Bay Area-based fashion Web sites.

Social network newcomer Shopseen only went live publicly this winter, but it already has big plans to revive physical traffic in local boutiques.

A product of Oakland-based Proletarian Design, the concept of Shopseen came to CEO/Founder Adeel Ahmad in late 2007. Although it doesn’t seem likely that a hardware engineer would dream up the idea of a site devoted to shopping, Ahmad’s passion for photography and fashion designer wife (fellow Canada native Sarah Zins) probably had something to do with his move into social media.

Even before he got his iPhone 3G, the upswing of cameraphones and geotagging technology appealed to Ahmad for what they could potentially do for the appreciation (if not accumulation) of materialistic goods.

“Why don’t we use our phones to be a kind of citizen fashion reporter?” he asked. The capability was there, Ahmad just had to build it.

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Customer crowdsourcing: Users vote on new product and event finds that they share amongst themselves.

And along came Shopseen. Part photo blog, part stylist’s tool, Shopseen aggregates a live timeline of what is currently offered in stores and indie shopping events. (The network started focused on Bay Area retailers, but is just now starting to expand to other shopping -loving cities including Los Angeles and New York.)

Shopseen’s (almost) 400 registered users have been snapping photos of products they like, uploading them to Shopseen’s database, and connecting with like-minded community members to figure out where to find “the new black.” New visitors can browse through more than 500 products currently posted on the site, as well as plan out their next shopping adventures based on the 200 events filling up Shopseen’s calendar.

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Shopseen’s list of events, found and posted by its users, publicize sales, shows, and parties.

Though numbers are small compared to fellow Bay Area startups Chictopia and Lookbook, considering that it’s barely half a year old, Shopseen appears to be showing a lot of promise in bridging Web content with in-person store visits. The concept has drawn the attention of Mashable and SFist, who, in Mashable’s words, herald the site as “Best for: Local shopping discovery.”

In Shopseen, Ahmad hopes to promote Bay Area independent retailers and increase foot traffic of visitors to brick-and-mortar stores. The cost to entice new users is zero cents, but at what cost can store owners get involved? Just free-99, surprisingly. Ahmad has even discussed collaborating in promotions with owners and possibly delivering statistical analyses for stores’ benefit.

In authentic startup fashion, Shopseen is powered by a bevy of part-time volunteers. Out-of-pocket costs for domain basics are personally covered by Ahmad, “[Everything] is self-funded out of my dwindling personal savings.” Though the company’s lack of funds benefits by not needing to support an actual office (Everybody telecommutes.) Ahmad has been contracting and working on side projects to help with overhead.

For now, the Shopseen team is focused on building a strong user base and rolling out easy-to-use mobile applications. An iPhone application won’t be ready to debut for the next couple of months, but currently users can e-mail photos on the fly to their Shopseen account in a fashion similar to TwitPic.

Full disclosure: Mayka Mei, a social media professional, advises Shopseen on product development.

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