Picking a good restaurant can be a challenge, particularly in places full of good places to eat like San Francisco and New York, and Nara is making the process easier for people around the country.
Nara is a personal restaurant recommendation engine. Today the startup announced the expansion of its service into nationwide and unveiled a redesigned website and iOS app.
Nara applies artificial intelligence helping you find the perfect restaurant. The technology analyzes your user behavior to create a personal profile. It combines this information with analysis of millions of restaurant reviews and descriptions to create a “neural network” of restaurants that align with your tastes. You can thumb restaurants up or down to refine you preferences (it’s similar to Pandora in this respect).
“The Internet is chock-full of information and data, but it takes hours of wasted search time to mine through it,” said founder Tom Copeman in a Q&A. “Rather than continue with the mass of confusing web clutter, Nara’s mission is to design and engineer a more personable, actionable and liberating web to achieve a life well found. The Internet has become a big, giant haystack, and Nara helps you find the needle.”
Nara is a brain trust of astrophysicists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs who want to build an Internet search engine that organizes information the way a human brain organizes it. The system gathers your “digital DNA” that represents your unique lifestyle and then tailors recommendations accordingly. Restaurants are the first focus for Nara, but it has plans to expand into other lifestyle categories like hotels, concerts, and wins. Copeman said the goal is to shift the Internet from search-based to “find-based.”
Restaurant recommendations often happen through word-of-mouth, expert sources like Zagat or food blogs, or crowd-sourced forums like Yelp and TripAdvisor. However, none of these systems factor in your personal likes and dislikes. People are picky about food, and rather than relying on other people’s opinions to discover new restaurants, Nara helps you find new spots based on your own.
Copeman said that this latest generation of the Nara engine works at a totally different scale — the startup went from 50 cities to 20,000 in less than 90 days. Now Nara can curate personalized recommendations for people anywhere around the country. You can save locations to a to-do list and connect with third-party platforms like OpenTable, GrubHub, or Uber to make visiting easier. The company also added a social layer so you can follow friends. All these features are useful for locals looking for new spots, as well as travelers who want to discover the best places for them in new cities. Restaurant listings also include directions, phone numbers, menus, Foursqaure tips, and a ‘why’ section that explains why a restaurant was chosen for you.
Nara is based on Cambridge, Mass., and has raised $7 million to date. It was founded in 2010 and currently has 20 employees.