Tucson diners can now tap into their digital DNA to find their ideal restaurant.
With the new mobile app Nara, diners fill out a survey of their dining tastes - questions include their preferences on cuisine, setting, location and price point - and the app recommends restaurants. Once you've tried the restaurant, you go back and rate it and the app further refines your digital DNA, then stores your information in a cloud-based network.
The app is the brainchild of California entrepreneur Tom Copeman, who turned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientists and Nathan Wilson, a neuroscientist at MIT, to develop the program.
"Our technology ... thinks the way our human brain thinks, sort of emulating the architecture of our brain," explains Copeman, whose past business ventures included developing Body Glide, a petroleum-free skin-care product. He also had a partnership in the Australian and New Zealand distribution of Lululemon yoga fitness apparel.
"I just wanted to simplify search and we wanted to turn search into finding," Copeman said. "I found myself spending way too much time on the Internet, and there was so much data out there. We wanted to put the Web back to working for you instead of you working for the Web."
Nara skips fast-food outlets - "We think that a lot of people know about fast-food chains already, so it's more the local merchant and the higher-end ones as well that we are hoping to help get discovered," he explained.
Tucson Originals Executive Director Colette Landeen said she is curious how the app will portray local restaurants.
"If their information isn't complete or accurate, your restaurant won't be selected," she said. "I'm a little skeptical how they can match up a diner's preferences with a series of questions without knowing the restaurants and really knowing the best attributes of the restaurant. It's one of those things that will have to run its course and we'll see how it works."
Landeen said restaurateurs have no way of tracking how effective mobile apps are in driving business.
Nara, headquartered in Massachusetts, is integrated with OpenTable, the restaurant reservations network, and GrubHub, the food delivery site.
Copeman said restaurants also will be able to advertise with Nara, although advertising will not give the restaurant any leg up on the competition.
"There is no pay to play or sponsored search in our algorithm. We're working on making a close match between a restaurant and a consumer without the added hormones or anything like that," he explained. "It's an all-natural well-intended match between a merchant and a consumer. It's not as though a restaurant is paying more to get higher in the ranks to get recommended."
Tucson is one of 25 cities going online with Nara today. The company rolled out in 25 cities, including Phoenix, New York and San Francisco, last November. Copeman said he hopes to eventually have the app available throughout the country.
Where to get it
Nara is available for free through the Google Play store for Android phones and through the iPhone App Store for iPhone. Details: nara.me
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4642.