VERSUS IO, a Berlin-based startup, has raised 700,000€ ($840,000) from HTGF and JMES Investments to build a comparison platform that takes complex objects, such as mobile phones, cities, and people, and breaks them down into quantifiable factors.
VERSUS looks at a number of those factors and simplifies them into understandable, natural language dualisms that can be skimmed at a glance. As an example, a user comparing the Samsung Galaxy S III and the iPhone 4S – the most popular comparison, according to the site – is shown an image of both phones, how many people have “Liked” each phone on Facebook, and a list of factors that makes one phone objectively “better” than the other.
With almost 1 million unique visitors each month and 17 supported languages, VERSUS has expanded quickly since its founding in 2011. The company is planning on rolling out a new category “Cities” next month and ultimately aims to enter some 640 “comparison verticals” by the end of 2013.
Despite what inflammatory comments on some reviews may make you think, objectively comparing two objects is fairly safe territory. There will always be some diehard fans that get angry when one phone is recommended over another, but for the most part sticking with the facts and helping users make a balanced decision will probably end well. But VERSUS isn’t going to do that, and plans on taking the idea of an objective comparison and applying it to an incredibly subjective category: people.
There’s no firm timeline for the feature, but eventually the VERSUS team wants to be able to compare any two people against each other. The feature will start small, comparing soccer players, actors, and entrepreneurs based on objective scales like how many goals they scored, for example, or how many Grammys they’ve won. VERSUS will look at two different tiers of information, general and specific, to compare two people.
Say, for example, that someone were to attempt to objectively compare Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. VERSUS is hoping that by comparing the two entrepreneurs’ age, how much money their companies have raised, what sort of exit they’ve made (assuming Twitter or Square make an exit by the time the feature is rolled out), etc. such that an objective “best” can be reached. All of this sounds fine from a rational, objective angle, but VERSUS will almost definitely run into trouble with this feature.
First, humans are naturally irrational beings. Back when Zuckerberg started Facebook, most people probably would have looked at the 19-year old and his social network and dismissed what he was trying to build. Fortunately, as Sarah pointed out earlier this week, Silicon Valley – and the world as a whole – isn’t rational. Because investors were willing to take a risk on Zuckerberg, Facebook has become a technological and sociological juggernaut.
Second, it’s hard to objectively compare two people. What qualifies as “better”? With public data or those that are striving towards a goal – such as a Grammy, for example – the answer is simple: see who has reached that goal. But, is the typical person objectively better than another? Is there a list of “features” that could compare two mothers and determine whether or not one is better than the other?
Perhaps no company knows the kind of hell that can come from trying to objectively compare people than Klout. Klout CEO and founder Joe Fernandez’s statement about Klout getting “a lot of direct rage at [it]” is putting it mildly. That’s the space VERSUS wants to enter? You’ve got to give them points for bravery, because it takes some serious faith in your product’s technical ability to knowingly enter that market.