Lifestyle

Nara gathers 'digital DNA' to find you the perfect hotel room

Hotel room

Above: Hotel room

Nara is channeling its “digital DNA” technology to help you find the perfect hotel room.

Nara is a “computational neuroscience company” that analyzes user behavior and uses artificial intelligence to make personalized recommendations. It draws inspiration from how the brain manages information to create a cloud-based “neural network” that can identify and understand your tastes. Founder and CEO Tom Copeman said the goal is to shift the Internet from search-based to find-based.

““The Internet is chock-full of information and data, but it takes hours of wasted search time to mine through it,” Copeman said to VentureBeat. “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.”

A brain trust of MIT astrophysicists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs began building Nara’s technology in 2010. The first application of the system focused on personalized restaurant recommendations. Nara combines analysis of your activity with analysis of millions of restaurant reviews and descriptions to make suggestions about restaurants you are likely to like. You thumb restaurants up or down to refine your presences.

Today Nara is extending this technology to hotel search. Its algorithm can now generate relevant recommendations for hotels in 50 North American cities. Users can turn to Nara to discover hotels in new cites that are similar to those they already like and learn why Nara made that recommendation. Nara partnered with the Expedia Affiliate Network to offer online direct bookings and pulls from TripAdvisor ratings and reviews.

Nara rolled out major updates to its restaurant engine and released in nationwide in June. The engine went from 50 cities to 20,000 in less than 90 days and included new features like the ability to save locations for later, connections with third-party platforms like OpenTable, GrubHub, and Uber, and a social layer for following friends. These features are all useful for locals looking for new spots, as well as travelers who want to discover places in new cities.

Copeman said that once they were able to scale the restaurant product, the intent was to expand into other lifestyle verticals. Travel is a major Internet industry. 148.3 million travel bookings are made on the Internet each year and 39 percent of all online travel sales come from hotel reservations. Travel sites like Expedia and Priceline make most of their money through hotel bookings, and reviews are a critical part of this process. 81 percent of travelers find user reviews important and 49 percent won’t book without reviews. People want to know that the hotel they are spending their money on will provide a pleasant experience.

The shift from search to find is being seen in many Internet industries — travel, e-commerce, app discovery, recruiting etc… The quantity of information on the Internet is so massive that people need various filters or layers to make sense of it. Nara’s goal is to create a more “personal, actionable, and liberating” Web. It has raised $7 million to date and is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.