Interview With the Creators of Foodstream [DevDialogue]

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Foodstream provides local results on food prices, bargains, pictures, new products, dining deals, happy hours, etc. With an amazing set of pictures of all kinds of foods, brilliantly designed application, complete integration with major services, and remarkable user experience, Foodstream is a service that would make an impact on the type of food you eat next. In an interview with TheAppleGoogle, Paul Lo – CEO and founder of Foodstream explains how he got the idea, the future of the application, and experience with Apple.

1. Foodstream allows users to share local news about food: bargain price, new products, dining deals, happy hours, etc. How did you conceive the idea of developing the service?

Originally I was pretty disappointed about the fact that most of the location-based services out there were largely just built around business listings. It was hard to find items that are really interesting whether inside or around places. Initially, we have considered something that involves a user-generated catalog of dishes with photos, reviews, and other augmented content (the motivation was similar in some way to Foodspotting), and we built a prototype for it with a self-improving taxonomy that allows you to find interesting dishes by similarity and relationships. We later also did some experiments with local deals. After having been in this space for a while, we realized what’s missing is actually a content optimization engine that helps consumers with certain day-to-day decision. In the case of Foodstream, it’s the decision about where and what to eat. The more we drilled into this, the more we realized that this is not just a matter of building an application around dishes or photos or reviews or deals or check-in or other types of data, nor is it simply about aggregating or pulling everything together.

Simply filtering content by context or intent is also not enough. For frequent usability, a key part of the solution is in identifying new, interesting items really well (“new” from the user’s perspective, not necessarily in the chronological sense) and having the necessary information ready to make a decision on the spot. We also found some patterns on what information tends to appeal more in general, such as restaurant grand openings, chef’s specials, limited/privileged offerings, products that have earned special recognitions, a great bargain, etc. (there is a lot more to it than this, but you get the idea), not random chunks of photos, reviews, or deals. So why not put some effort into mining such information (whether from the user, from the web, or from other 3rd parties)? The user should be able to just open an application and see a feed of recommendations of such items presented to them, from which they can then refine the condition or drill into a few items that they like to explore further or take an action on. We do partner with many companies like Allmenus.com, Groupon, Restaurant.com, etc. to make some of those action-taking as easy as possible. However, what’s even more important is that we focus on shortening the decision process to get to those actions. For example, if some people have found out something great about a particular dish or other things, we would tend to report those findings but that may also result in us showing a deal or other featured content for that place more than others in the feed. If somebody found a great dish but doesn’t have a photo for it, we put up an action icon that encourages users who have spotted that dish to post a photo — in this particular scenario it’s similar to Foodspotting, but that photo taking is very auxiliary to the primary function of carrying other users through their decision making. If certain findings reported by users or 3rd parties do not articulate the necessary values that would help others in their decision making, we would tend not to feature them. We found that the factors that drive the user to a decision even just on where or what to eat can still be pretty complex. It’s often time neither purely the photo or review or restaurant menus or deal or other things, but a carefully curated feed of actionable items (especially when it is in a personalized form). We employ a combination of algorithmic techniques and editorials to achieve that goal. There are nevertheless lots of services out there focusing on getting only a particular type of data, but people just couldn’t afford to do a research project on this everyday, so most of the time a lot of the great stuff out there would simply be ignored. Hence we want to build a content optimization engine that sits on top of these various services and content sources and focus on simplifying the decision making of a prospective customer without compromising value.

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2. While Foodstream offers a completely unique experience and service, a few other companies offer a somewhat similar service. How do you compare Foodstream with the competition?

There are lots of services out there that focus on getting only a particular type of data, but we are a content optimization engine that sit on top of these various services and content sources and focus on simplifying the decision making of a prospective customer around a particular problem. In the case of Foodstream, it is the decision around where and what to eat.

3. What is your vision with Foodstream? What are your long term goals?

We will be leveraging more and more content sources, and improving our recommendations as we grow. Our underlying services are fundamentally a web platform. Hence we expect to expand our web presence not only across mobile devices, but across the web and social media. There will also be API that allows publishers and service providers to integrate with us more easily. The food & dining space is only a starting point. We found companies that are interested in licensing our technology even on a completely different domain. Long-term, we expect to be a content optimization platform that can be tailored to specific customer problems around verticals and across the globe.

4. The service is currently only available in the US. Do you plan to expand it to other countries as well?

Yes. We expect to expand internationally ultimately. In fact, we already have access to a variety of content sources for a number of other countries. We will be rolling out our services to other countries when we are ready.

foodstream iphone

5. Foodstream offers an amazing set of pictures and information about a place or food. Can you give us a brief overview of how it manages to do so?

We license content from a variety of content providers. We also obtain some of the information directly from our users and the web.

6. How was your experience with Apple?

The review process sometimes takes longer than desired, but generally we enjoy the convenience the App Store provides to consumers for downloading our application on iOS devices. We do wish the App Store has better features for promoting apps across social media. If they can also provide a means to directly integrate with other app review and recommendation sites within the App Store, it would be even better. I suppose they could white label those 3rd party sources.