Loku Wants to Beat Yelp and Google at Local Search With Some Help From Big Data

When a start-up pitches itself as “kind of like the Google for local,” ears perk up — mostly because everyone uses the search giant for the inevitable comparison.

But that’s not a terrible description of what local info start-up Loku is after.

The consumer-focused Web application, which recently closed a seed round of funding from Dave McClure’s 500 Startups fund, aims to take local info search to the next level by “bringing in the power of big data,” said CEO and co-founder Dan Street.

Saying your start-up uses “big data” today is kind of like saying two years ago that it was “social.” The term that used to mean employing statistical methods to understand macro-trends in huge data sets is rapidly becoming just another tech buzzword.

For Loku, though, it seems to mean something concrete.

Street explained: “Bringing big data to local info is really about using tools to add another level of analysis to how information is served. We don’t want to deliver you things just based on geo-location — it should be based on more.”

As it stands, a Loku user can search using natural language, like any Google search, and Loku spits out info either as pins and cards on a map, or in a “tiles” interface, where hyper-linked images fit together like a photomosaic on the screen. Some are wide and some tall, some big and some small.

Clicking on either the map pins or the tiles will display more info about the selected link and where it exists on the Web. This interstitial view is Flipboard-like in that it lets users see what they will get by clicking on a link, before leaving the page.

In practice, at least in the current beta product, that means Loku does a combo of natural language analysis of articles, listings from other services, and places.

The hope is to deliver not just the dog parks you searched for, but only the good dog parks, and maybe some local postings about a new dog park being added in your neighborhood.

Loku is in private beta today, and Street was very cautious about not giving a timetable for public release — although the Loku I saw was a lot closer to a functioning consumer application than other products I’ve written about here.

Much ado has been made about hyper-local and location-based services, but location is “just one part of the equation,” Street said.

Street hopes Loku will deliver results that are hyper-contextual, not just hyper-local.

Street sat down for a quick video interview about the future of Loku, and what it means to challenge Google and Yelp in the same sentence. Enjoy.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik