Ness Computing, a startup that has developed a highly personalized, data-driven search engine, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by SingTel Innov8 with American Express Ventures participating in the round. Ness previously raised $5 million from Khosla Ventures, Alsop Louie Partners, TomorrowVentures, Bullpen Capital, a co-founder of Palantir Technologies, and angel investors.
The company, which CEO and co-founder Corey Reese compares to as a “Palantir for fun,” created a robust search engine that parses social data and produces more personalized results. Part of Ness is a recommendation engine that uses machine learning when looking at social data from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, and other places. The other component of Ness’ technology is the actual search engine that serves up useful results based on these signals. The combination results in what Reese calls a “Likeness Engine”.
Ness first implemented the likeness engine in an iOS app, which launched a year ago, that serves personalized recommendations for restaurants. The app uses data from Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram and other sources to find signals about certain restaurants. You also rate restaurants in the app to generate your “Likeness” score, which help determine the percentage likelihood that you’ll like the restaurant being shown. So your likeness score, proximity and social data essentially determine what restaurants are recommended to you in the app.
The app presents this data in a personalized likeness score from 0% to 100% match. Essentially, you get an exact percentage based on its analysis, along with explicit ratings from your friends to highlight what matters.
The beauty of ness is in the quality of results that Ness offers. Thanks to its data-driven technology, the app serves results on restaurants that you would probably like (based on social signals and your input), as well as provides an element of serendipity with personalized results.
Ness has also updated the restaurant recommendations app with a number of new features in the past year, including an interactive mapping feature as well as social sharing options for recommendations. Today, the app is releasing a new update that adds restaurant reservations via OpenTable, as well as over 325,000 menus from SinglePlatform. To date, Ness users have generated over 3 million ratings, and the app includes more than 5 million Instagram images for restaurants.
Now that Ness has tackled restaurant recommendations, the company is ready to expand the core technology to other verticals. Reese tells us that Ness will use the new funding to apply its “Likeness Engine” to personal search and discovery for media, nightlife, events, movies, shopping and more. The company will also is the funding to build out a team of engineers and computer scientists in systems and interface engineering and machine learning.
Reese says that one of the reasons why the company felt that American Express and Singtel were ideal partners was because of their shared vision for the future of mobile commerce—an area where Ness will soon expand to.
“American Express is impressed by Ness’ vision to create great products that better serve consumers,” said Harshul Sanghi, Managing Partner, American Express Ventures. “As Ness evolves and the commerce landscape changes, we believe their preference-based search engine has the potential to deliver differentiated value to merchants and consumers alike.”
“We want to help people find experiences and products they love,” says Reese. And while currently Ness is available on iOS, the company will begin to innovate on Android as well.
It should be interesting to see how Ness chooses to incorporate its likeness engine into products in other areas such as news, movies, or even shopping. There’s no doubt that personalization only enhances the discovery experience for users in these categories, and Ness’s entry into these areas could be a win for the company. Stay tuned.