PHOENIX -- It's the holiday season, and chances are, pretty much everyone you know has a gift list. Where there are gift occasions, there are opportunities for faux pas, one of the most common being the gift misfire, which makes you wonder if the gift-giver even knows you at all. Tied for first is the duplicate gift.
Heck, it happened in my family just last year. I told my sister what I was getting my mother, and one of two things happened. 1. She forgot. 2. She thought it was a really awesome idea. Either way, she told her boyfriend to get what I had gotten. When my mom opened his gift (first, obviously), I was struck with immediate gift-giver's angst, and, truth be told, I was a little miffed. More than a little. After all, I had told my beloved sibling exactly what I was buying.
I know I'm not the first -- or the last -- person to experience such gift-giving angst.
Rebecca Hyatt, one of the masterminds behind a handy little tool called CheckedTwice.com, received three copies of a collection of poems by Robert Frost one Christmas several years ago. The first she loved. The second she thought was a funny coincidence. The third had her making a promise -- "Never again."
Hyatt and her brother, Andrew Swick, were determined to find a way to avoid such holiday faux pas, but wanted something more than the ubiquitous "reply all" e-mail. They thought a family gift registry -- similar to a wedding or baby registry -- would be an excellent solution. The problem was they couldn't find anything that suited their needs.
"It just gets confusing," Swick said. "It's hard to see who's got what, who's claimed what. It's hard to coordinate surprise gifts."
Swick and his sister -- both of whom are geeks, according to Swick -- came up with their own solution, which they happily used in their ever-growing family for five years. They decided to share it with the Internet and in 2009, CheckedTwice.com was born.
It's designed with two things in mind -- families and occasions.
"It's not just about getting something done," explained Swick (right), who is currently studying at the Yale School of Management. "It's a means of connecting families. As families grow bigger and more spread out, it's hard to know what people like, want and need. That's an important part of our lives."
The site is super easy to use. That's by design.
"It has to be really straightforward," Swick said. "You have to balance simplicity with flexibility for it to work with anyone's holiday. Holidays mean something different to everyone."
Last year, Swick and Hyatt tested CheckedTwice with people they know. This holiday season, they're turning it loose, and have already racked up a few thousand users, including me and my family.
So, here's the quick tutorial. The first step is to sign up, but before you start moaning and groaning, let me tell you that it's free and that you don't have to provide the maiden name of your best friend's sister's boyfriend's mother -- or whatever.
You start by requesting a membership. Just enter your name and e-mail address. You'll receive an e-mail from CheckedTwice. Just click the link or copy and paste it into your browser and you're ready to roll.
Setting up the account takes about 30 seconds. You enter your name, your name as you want everyone to see it, a password and your birthday. From there, you're ready to set up an occasion, invite family members and enter your wish list.
Now the fun begins.
Click the My Occasions link to set up your holiday. Once that's done, it's time to starting inviting people. Each person then sets up his or her own wish list and claims things from others' wish lists. The element of surprise is still very much present. While I know what's on my wish list, I can't see what's been claimed or by whom.
"We designed this with the holiday season in mind," Swick said. "Holiday surprises are fun."
Then there's the surprise gift function. Those who are part of an occasion can add not only gift suggestions, but also surprise gifts. Everybody who is part of the occasion can see a surprise gift -- except the person who will receive it. That allows others to build on the surprise. Everything is a secret until the date of the occasion. After that, all is revealed.
Right now, Swick and Hyatt are funding CheckedTwice themselves. It's not ad supported. They have, however, set up an affiliate account with Amazon.com.
As you add items to your wish list, CheckedTwice searches Amazon to see if it has what you want. If so, you can select the item and a link and picture are automatically included. If not, you have space to include your own description and link. Eventually, you'll be able to add your own photo, too.
Swick and Hyatt have put quite a bit of thought and intention into CheckedTwice, considering most gift-giving scenarios. For example, say you have an item that's on a wish list for two or three occasions. If somebody claims that gift from one occasion, it's marked as claimed for all of them.
Hyatt with daughter Kate in 2007 (left);
Kate in 2009 (right)
They also created dependent accounts, which are perfect for young children, "recalcitrant spouses" and those who just aren't tech savvy. If you have a dependent account, you can control everything from wish lists to claiming gifts. But it doesn't have to fall on one person's shoulders. You can co-manage a dependent's account with another user.
"Most registries are all about the individual. CheckedTwice is about the family," Swick said. "It's defined around the occasion. That's the special sauce. We combine things around the occasion."
While it's still a relatively new tool, Swick and Hyatt have big plans, including expanding the product search beyond Amazon and taking CheckedTwice mobile.
"We love that people are using the site and that they care enough to give us feedback and ask us questions," Swick said.
Personally, I love the concept and implementation of CheckedTwice. In fact, I'm smacking myself for not coming up with the idea first!