For Ness, restaurant discovery is just an appetizer

Sep 16, 2011

While there are a lot of restaurant discovery apps available for iOS devices, few if any are as beautifully crafted and ambitious as Ness. The free iPhone app, which works on devices running on iOS 4 or above, serves up recommendations based on 10 or more restaurants in your area it asks you to rate […]

While there are a lot of restaurant discovery apps available for iOS devices, few if any are as beautifully crafted and ambitious as Ness.

The free iPhone app, which works on devices running on iOS 4 or above, serves up recommendations based on 10 or more restaurants in your area it asks you to rate upon download, as well as from opinions of your friends and others in your social graph (most notably Facebook).

As Appolicious Advisor Phil Hornshaw noted in a recent Fresh Apps column: “The more ratings and friends whose opinions you trust, the easier time you’ll have next time you’re wondering where you should go for dinner.”

In this edition of Meet the Makers, Ness CEO Corey Reese talks about his company’s laser focus commitment to design and user experience, how it will roll out recommendations for other additional leisure and lifestyle activities, and the longer-term impact of today’s “mobile revolution.”

Appolicious: There are a lot of apps that focus on restaurant recommendations. Explain to us how Ness differentiates from the pack?

Corey Reese: Ness is the quickest and best way to find a new restaurant, for a few reasons:

Ness recommends restaurants based on your personal tastes by learning what you like, and what you don’t. If you’re not sure where you want to eat, just open Ness and let your personal Likeness Score (a prediction of how much you will like a restaurant) be your guide. You can also see what your friends recommend in Ness and from their check-ins on Facebook and Foursquare. Ness also understands popularity based on check-ins and reviews from across the web. The goal is to help you make a quick decision, with the help of incredibly sophisticated technology.

Secondly, we have a deep appreciation for design at Ness, and we have aimed to make an emotional connection with our users through a beautiful and intuitive interface that helps you decide where to eat. There is no other app on the market that looks like Ness.

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Lastly, our goal has always been to expand to other categories beyond restaurant recommendations: restaurants are our first of many offerings, and we will extend the Ness app to recommend more lifestyle experiences including nightlife, live music, shopping, and more.

APPO: What can you tell us about your “Likeness Engine” and how it informs the recommendations you serve to users?

CR: The Likeness Engine powers all things Ness, and is the technology under the hood of the app. The Likeness Engine was built by combining a Netflix style recommendation engine with a social search engine that understands content created on Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, and of course, Ness. The results reflect individuals’ unique tastes, interests, appetites, and the recommendations of their friends and those whose opinions they value.

APPO: Earlier this summer, Ness Computing raised $5 million from a well-heeled set of venture capital investors. What are you doing with the funding that users can’t currently see?

CR: We are primarily using the funding to maintain and build our team that includes some of the world’s top engineers in Machine Learning, Backend Engineering, and iOS. Please note that we’re hiring.

APPO: Are there plans to create an Android app? If so, when? If not, why not?

CR: We have plans to release an Android app eventually, but will focus on the iOS platform for the foreseeable future. The iPhone is a one-of-a-kind device, and we can’t wait for some of the new features coming with the release of the iPhone 5!

APPO: In your opinion, is there a science behind generating awareness for an iOS app upon launch (or are developers just at the mercy of Apple)?

CR: We believe the ingredients to a successful launch of an iOS app are the melding of great design with solid engineering. We see this with many of the noteworthy apps. I believe that Apple chose to feature us in the App Store for four weeks in a row based on the level of attention to detail and the quality of the app, which is what we strive for in every product feature we ship.

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We also informed a small handful of media outlets in our industry that we believed would be interested in the launch of Ness.

APPO: What are you doing to drive downloads over time after the great launch publicity?

CR: We think it starts with the best consumer experience. People talk with their friends about using great products. With that in mind, we will be releasing updates to Ness that will allow our users to share their experiences in Ness on the social platforms they’re already using like Facebook and Twitter.

APPO: What future titles are in the works?

CR: Our plan is to add new categories of personal search to the Ness app including nightlife, live music, shopping, and more, rather than releasing a new app each time we add a new type of search. Ness aims to be the ultimate destination for recommending lifestyle and product experiences.

APPO: What are the three biggest challenges and opportunities in the mobile media space currently keeping you up at night?

CR: There’s a lot of noise in the space right now. Almost every day there’s a new company building a product at the intersection of “social, local, and mobile.” Most of the time these products don’t have the same obsession about user experience we have at Ness, and this often results in a lot of noise in the App Store and media.

For the most part, however, we see the adoption of mobile devices and usage of these platforms as a tectonic shift in the way people consume media, and a wide open market for innovative products and services to be delivered directly into the pockets of consumers. The mobile revolution will be one of the most transformative disruptions in history for the ways in which people connect with each other.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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