Swaptree - review

Swaptree beta logo

Remember last year when I talked about Swaptree? I bet you don't. It was way too long from then till now: in July they were in private beta and they still are, yet they are expanding slowly Swaptree's userbase by inviting more people into the private beta, and last week I was a lucky one. Anyway, you probably don't recall what Swaptree is, so let me quote myself:

So, what's this "swaptree" thing? Swaptree is a free service that allows you to swap things you have and don't want with things you want to have. It just works like this:

You manage a list of books, CD's, DVD's or games you want to trade, and a wishlist with stuff you want to have. To simplify it, you can easily do stuff like import your Amazon wishlist to swaptree. Then, the site does it's own magic by itself and you don't have to worry about anything. When there's something you want available to swap with something you have, you'll be asked if you want to do that trade. If you want to, swaptree manages even the packaging issues so you don't have to bother with nothing:

And when you realize, the swap is done! Easy, isn't it? Well... This is the part when you start wondering about the implications of such a system: it can't be just as easy as that... Well, as you can see through the blogosphere, it really is as simple as that.

So, I've tested the application and I was really surprised about how neat it is. Yet, there were two things that gave me some frustration.

The first thing is that you need to give the ISBN or the UPC of the product you have for swapping. You can't just surf, think "oh, and I also have this and don't want it" amd click on it, as you can do for your "want list". When you click on the "I have this" button in an item, you must provide its UPC or ISBN. That makes things not as easy as they could be, but on the other hand it is understandable if you think that they want some warranty that (a) that product exists (as a tradeable product), (b) you have an original product, and (c) you really have it. But the frustration really comes when you pick a big pile of CD's, books and DVD's you don't want anymore and start inserting their ISBN/UPC's, just to recieve as reply an error message saying "Please enter a valid ISBN number (for books) or UPC code (for CDs, DVDs & games) below.". And, damn, some of those items I'm 100% sure have a valid ISBN/UPC code! First I thought that only "issued in USA" items were on their database, but not even that. Sucks, in a big pile of items I only managed to insert (by now) four.

The other thing is that I added four items and no one had them in their wishlists. OK, less then 24 hours later I could already swap one of those by one of these:

66 | 100 | 3 | 0

but none of those things were in my own wishlist. So, is the model not working? Not really, that's not the issue here. This is a "relational value network", where the service value grows with the number of users and marked items (both as "I have" or "I want"). The growth is exponential, since a trade can be done in several layers: Imagine that I have something you want and you don't have nothing I want: that can be fixed if you have something a 3rd person wants in exchange of something I want. Now add up to 5 layers of complexity. Right! :-) The issue is that, for now, and being this a private beta it's no surprise that this is like that, Swaptree is lacking users.

What leads me to yet another issue, this time about something that could greatly enhance this service "social networking". I'm not a fan of social networks, and I really feel like social networks like Hi5 and Orkut are completely useless, but sometimes they are well-explored: take Flickr as an obvious example. In Swaptree you can see items you want, but you can't see "who has this item" and "what do those people also have". See, if I start browsing over SciFi books, for instance, I might want to see who has some books I liked, and, if they do, what other SciFi stuff are they into.

Finaly, in the previous post I asked this: "is this going to work overseas or only on USA?" Now that I'm in, the answer is... I don't know. Now, you can only choose, on the countries list, United States, but there is a Country list, so I guess they'll soon add more countries. At least I hope so, because until Portugal is in their orchard my swaptree can't give good apples.