Today I had the chance to speak with Nagaraju Bandaru, Cofounder and CTO of “meta reviews” site BooRah. The site has developed some clever algorithms that scrape, aggregate, structure and serve up third-party reviews for local search. It currently focuses on the restaurant category.
You may be thinking, “not another review site,” and you would be right to do so. Bandaru, however, is realistic about the challenges in building a local search destination site and instead is currently positioning it as a platform that pulls in reviews, then pushes them out to distribution partners (the in/out model we’ve discussed in the past).
“Building a destination site is a fairly complicated and expensive proposition,” says Bandaru. “I’d love to become a destination site someday, but you need a viable strategy to gain content and traction to get to that point.” The six-person company instead has spent the past year developing the technology to aggregate reviews and look for newspaper partners.
The company can primarily be seen as a platform for creating local restaurant guides for newspaper Web sites. This essentially arms newspaper sales forces with a tool to sell featured placements to restaurant advertisers and other upsells, according to Bandaru. It also gives them inventory against which to sell various forms of contextually relevant display advertising.
Its first partner is Embarcadero Publishing, which puts out the Palo Alto Weekly and five other Bay Area papers. BooRah currently powers the review engine on Palo Alto Online, as a private label form of its platform that customized to the look and feel of the site. It’s looking for other newspaper partners, including a large regional publisher, says Bandaru.
It also plans to move into other verticals once its platform and economic model has been proved in the restaurant category. Restaurants are a logical first step in reviews because it is the category most trafficked and most reviewed. After roughly a year, it hopes to move into other categories that have monetization potential such as travel and hotels.
“There is only so much money you can make in restaurants. Travel, nightlife and hotels all have monetization opportunities and a great deal of content, so we’ll take the logical course,” says Bandaru. “The infrastructure we have is scalable and once the basic economic model is created with restaurants, then we can replicate it in other areas.” Bandaru hopes to do this by summer, before which he also hopes to raise the company’s next round of funding.
More immediate on the company’s agenda is building more features into its platform and its own destination site. These will include social media widgets that will allow users to link up to friends, share reviews, and gain contextually relevant search results based on social and geographic factors. The abridged nature of the aggregated reviews it structures has also gotten the attention of some undisclosed mobile players, according to Bandaru, which would like to push this content out with mobile local search applications.
We’ll dig deeper in next week’s issue of Local Media Journal.