With its Pandora-for-dinner, Nara Logics building a future where search is less relevant


The current tech giants always seem unstoppable — up until it’s too late. That’s why I find the world of search so fascinating. Even as Google continues to reign more or less undisputed in typing what you want and getting it in a fraction of a second, others, including Cambridge-based Nara Logics, are hoping to cut a step out of that process.

“We think there will always be a need for blue links,” said Nara chief executive Tom Copeman. “Google’s going to have a strong place in the world for people being able to look things up quickly.” Where Nara comes in, he said, is in coming up with a recommendation based on sentiment analysis of existing reviews and other data online, and meshing that against a user’s past preferences.

Currently, that plays out like a mashup between Pandora and Yelp:

Screenshot 2014-07-30 12.59.48

The more you use the site, the better it should get at recommending where you’d like to go, with Nara’s ambitions spreading a little beyond just the corner greasy spoon.

The current goal? Gaining traction in the more lucrative travel market, with a general focus on consumer lifestyle segments.

“We want people to get out and do rather than having to read and understand all the reviews,” Copeman told me.

Nara isn’t the first to tackle building a post-search world, nor will they be the last: Google’s been pushing its Google Now service that predicts when you’ll want to know weather or traffic or flight information before you ask, while Apple’s Siri has been able to respond to more and more queries without relying on its search fallback.

But the company (pictured above, courtesy of Copeman) has been growing to match its ambitions, having raised $7 million in 2012 and recently hiring Mark Ebel from Google and naming Kristin Pados, from Trip Advisor, as senior vice president of product and General Manager.

Ebel will actually be working to open up a new line of business for Nara, licensing out the technology to third parties to better target their own recommendations (think Netflix’s recommendation engine, applied to whatever a website has to offer). Copeman said the company had already landed one big partnership with Singapore Telecommunications, which is using Nara technology to recommend content on its various content sites.

Copeman hopes to build on that success, offering out “personalization as a service platform” in a variety of contexts, all with a little “Powered by Nara” branding attached, just as Google used to help fuel its early growth.

The company also recently moved to a bigger office, out of 1,500 feet in the American Twine Building to 5,000 feet in the Athenaeum Building in Kendall Square. Copeman said the original office was getting cramped as the headcount headed to its current 23 (Copeman sent over the above shot of the current team, pictured in front of the iconic MIT dome).

Michael Morisy is the founder and former editor of BetaBoston. Follow him on Twitter at @Morisy or email him at Michael@BetaBoston.com.
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