Clever Sense is an app called Alfred (iTunes link) that provides personalized recommendations for restaurants, coffee shops, nightlife, bars and clubs, and soon, hotels, salons, spas, shops, attractions and more. The interesting thing about how the app does so is the technology it is uses behind the scenes. Instead of relying primarily on collaborative filtering, a technique found at sites like Netflix and Amazon ("people who like this also like that"), Alfred uses model-based learning, a type of artificial intelligence.New from a company called
In Alfred's case, the app uses its smarts to understand the way that people talk about places, and then creates personalized interest graphs that grow and change with each action a user takes and each decision they make.
Originally, Alfred was supposed to be called "Seymour" at launch, but the company made a mistake. It published a test version of the app to the iTunes store under a different name, and it immediately became popular. Sometime on Friday of last week, the app took off and there have now been over 20,000 downloads in the past days, and already 1 million recommendations served.
It seems that the app works, and people like it.
How Did Alfred Get So Smart?
One of the biggest technical challenges the company had to overcome to release Alfred was building its own Web crawlers for the Internet. These bots look for information about places, harvest that data and index it, including recommendations and reviews sites like Yelp, Citysearch and others.
Alfred also learns the language people use when they talk about places, for example, "bad-***" (replace those stars with a word beginning with "a") actually means "good." It's a smart little bot, that Alfred.
When you launch the app for the first time, it walks you through a quick quiz to establish some of your favorites as a starting point. You can exit the quiz at any time, but it's a good way to quickly train the app, we found. It can also learn more about you from your check-in data, but only Facebook Places is supported at present.
The app provides access to restaurant menus, links to the user reviews it found, photos of the business and offers you the ability to call, save, share (email, SMS or Facebook) a place with friends.
As you continue to use Alfred, it takes into account things like the time of day, the day of the week, your location and other signals in order to provide you with the best recommendations for you. You can also thumbs up/thumbs down the recommendations it provides to further train the app.
Future: Deals Integration and More Platforms
In the future, Alfred plans to integrate deals within the application too, but deals would only be one of the signals it takes into account when providing recommendations. What's most important, is that it finds the right place for you.
Although the app is only available on the iPhone for now, the iPad version will be out soon, and then an Android and Windows Phone version will follow in just a few months. There will also be a Web experience to accompany the app by year-end or early next year which, will offer a more extensive feature set that what you see now on mobile.
We found that Alfred was pretty smart with its recommendations, and it even surprised us by suggesting restaurants we had never heard of and now want to try. You can give Alfred a whirl too, if you like: the app is free on iTunes here.