Mobile

Ness, the iPhone app that tells you where to eat, hooks up with Facebook

What’s for dessert? Turn to three month-old Ness for the answer, and its lovely-looking iPhone app will find you the best nearby spots, suited to your exact tastes. Today the application received its first update, and it now further personalizes and socializes the food discovery process.

“The launch of the product … was all about understanding what the person’s preferences are and making sure, as a company, that we provided high quality results and recommendations to people,” Ness co-founder Corey Reese told VentureBeat. “We’re now focusing on the social aspect, getting people to have a conversation with their friends about the places that they’re discovering.”

To bring you up to speed, Ness encourages users to rate and review restaurants. The iPhone app uses these bite-sized reviews, in addition to a user’s previous social activities (like checkins on Foursquare), to develop a “likeness score” and works to understand the types of foods and dishes a person enjoys. The app also considers recommendations from a user’s social network connections.

Ness uses all this data to make recommendations, with a strong level of confidence, about places serving various cuisine types — say pizza, coffee or dessert — that the user might like.

The new version of the application serves up a personalized home screen so that each user sees her favorite cuisines, as determine by Ness, when they fire up the application. But the bulk of the update is centered around getting users to share the Ness experience with their Facebook friends.

To that end, the application invites users to share their reviews on Facebook and encourages them to create thank you notes to acknowledge friends’ excellent recommendations (and these are automatically posted to recipients’ Facebook walls). Ness for iPhone also now features push notifications and an intelligent invitation screen designed to get users excited about inviting their friends to try the app.

“We found that it’s a really fantastic experience when there’s lots of content from a person’s social graph. We’re pretty good at predicting how much somebody will like a place, but we want to show why somebody’s going to like it,” Reese said. “With these features, our goal is to increase the amount of back and forth conversation that people have on their mobile devices about the places that they’re going out to.”

Ness Computing was founded in 2009 — at the time, Reese was an associate at venture capital firm Alsop Louis Partners — to build a better way for people to discover places and products by understanding the preferences of a person and her friends.

“We want to couple an amazing algorithmic understanding of who a person is and what they want, with the world’s slickest interface on the iOS platform — and eventually other platforms — to help people find places to go and products to buy,” Reese explained.

And while we won’t go so far as to say that Ness has the “world’s slickest interface,” we do have to give the company kudos for delivering a colorful and delightfully rich app experience. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the startup has a secret weapon in Scott Goodson, an original member of Apple’s iOS team who now heads up mobile engineering at Ness.

Plus, for an iPhone application attempting to stand out in the increasingly competitive arena of food- and taste-related recommendations (Forkly and Alfred are new entrants, but Yelp and Foursquare are strong incumbents), Ness is doing rather well. The application has been downloaded and used by more than 100,000 folks, with users contributing 1.5 million ratings since the app launched on the App Store in August, Reese said.

The Ness team consists of 15 full-timers and several part-timers. The company is based in Silicon Valley and has raised more than $5 million in funding to date.


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