Archive for the ‘xkcd’ Category

On “Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of”

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I, perhaps famously, introduced my parents to Yelp this summer on the way back from our annual North Carolina beach trip by suggesting we have lunch at The Ten Top in Norfolk, VA before heading to the airport to return home. The review instructing me to get the Turkey Apple Club on cinnamon bread and suggesting that the pasta salad was especially good sold me enough to sell my parents. It worked out wonderfully, and is actually my favorite part of the whole trip. That may be because I was raised on going out to eat, and it was one of two restaurants featured on the trip, and certainly it was the better one. A fond memory thanks to strangers on the internet, organized by Yelp.

I use Yelp frequently. In my Wednesday Night Dinner group, where we try a new restaurant most every week, picking a restaurant and sending it out to the group often is done via a one line email with a yelp URL and a time. I don’t know why we still include the time, its always 7:30; the only important information in the email is the Yelp URL. Every member has their own method of picking places, some uses sources other than yelp, as do I. I often use local reviews like this one for last week’s delicious pick, L’Impasto, but I always check the Yelp reviews as well. In fact, the reviews for L’Impasto were so good, and so few in number that I considered the possibility that they were fake. If they were fake, they were at least correct in this case.

Yelp might review Hotels, they do review places that are not restaurants, but I certainly have never looked at those reviews other than as indication that I didn’t hit the restaurants filter button yet. Although, certainly restaurant menu prices are a lot more sticky than nightly hotel rates, there is no reason this tactic could not be attempted with restaurants. The real question raised by this comic, however, is if the erroneous signal sent by enough people operating in dick mode could be enough to cause the place to close, negating the benefit received by the dicks. There isn’t an answer to that yet, but I came across an academic paper today where “in ongoing work, [the author is] estimating the relationship between Yelp and exit decisions” of restaurants. Such information is crucial to answer the question of if the dicks are going to end up screwing themselves.

“Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of” by Michael Luca of Harvard Bushiness School, actually finds that there is a correlation between the average Yelp review and restaurant revenue from 2003 to 2009 in Seattle. Actually, “A one-star increase [on Yelp] is associated with a 5.4% increase in revenue.” Yelp was introduced in 2005, so his data set can provide details about the impact of Yelp as it grew to become the dominant resource that it is today. He uses a couple randomization techniques allowed by the way the data is collected and presented to control for correlations between average Yelp review and other factors that may increase restaurant revenues, like having better food, to bolster his argument to the level of causation. The statistics are over my head, but it the theory seems solid, and certainly a lot of his assumptions ring true to my use of Yelp.

The paper brings up another interesting point that rings especially true. It finds that while overall, Yelp reviews correlate with revenues, that “chains already have relatively little uncertainty about quality, their demand does not respond to consumer reviews.” That is, reviews don’t matter for chains, maybe people don’t even read them. I said I was raised going out to eat. I was a picky eater and only child so going somewhere I would not fight about was probably my parent’s primary concern. That means that I was raised eating at chain restaurants, most notably Olive Garden. I believe that from when I turned five until I went to college I was at an Olive Garden at least once a month. If you include college, it might have to grow to once every three months. I still love Olive Garden thanks to all that conditioning, and when I go home to Ohio, I think I eat there within the first 36 hours, without fail. I have not once read a yelp review about the Olive Garden.

My dinner group essentially bans chain restaurants, with a couple of minor exceptions. That is likely one of a number of cultural reasons why, since moving to Boston, I’ve broken my Olive Garden streak. However, apart of my pilgrimage to Olive Garden upon setting foot in the state of Ohio, I seek out independent restaurants there as well. The paper also finds this is a trend much larger than my group. Specifically “chains experienced a decline in revenue relative to independent restaurants in the post-Yelp period.” Since ratings don’t matter for chain restaurants, but they do provide useful information on independent restaurants, there is a pretty good rational “that increased information about independent restaurants leads to a higher expected utility conditional on going to an independent, restaurant. Hence Yelp should … increase the value of going to an independent restaurant relative to a chain.”

With the power that Yelp has amassed of the past 6 years, comes skepticism, the specter of fake reviews, which I feared, and also the specter of intentionally false reviews as evidenced by xkcd. There is still another aspect of power that people take issue with, corruption or extortion of independent restaurants. Clearly, with the power to increase revenues drastically with a small shift in rating, there is an opportunity for yelp to offer to artificially increase rating at a cost to the restaurant, or extort from them with a threat of a lower rating. Enter this Davis Square Livejournal post:

I went to Paddock Pizza in Somerville on Sunday (not usually open Sundays, but there was an event) and I loved the pizza (plain). When I told one of the owners, she said she enjoyed it, too, but the first pizza chef, no longer there, got some bad reviews on Yelp and asked if I might be willing to put in a good one. I would in theory, but I’m not always much with the food review writing. Since I like their pizza and want them to stick around and keep serving it, I am willing to take someone who likes writing such things. (Their pizza is also pretty inexpensive, more so from 4 to 6pm (early bird specials), though they are only open Wed-Sat, 4-10pm). Message me if you are interested and are flexible-ish time-wise.

The text presented has been edited since my original reading. It originally included a line about “detesting” yelp, which was responded to in the comments, and caused a thread about Yelp’s abuse of its power, or at least perceptions of abuse, as no actual abuse has been proven. Here we have a restaurant which is aware of the power of Yelp to affect their bottom line, asking a patron who has expressed a positive experience to help them increase their rating. It seems the restaurant is acting fair in this transaction, they aren’t faking a review, they are merely attempting to turn a positive dining experience they provided into a positive review. Unfortunately for them, their pizza loving patron is not a writer it seems and is unwilling to jump through the hoops to become one because of perceived, unnamed abuses by Yelp. However, the crux of the post is that he is looking to hire someone to write a good review for this place for the price of dinner, presumably half a pizza. That must be some damn good pizza, maybe I should go check the Yelp reviews though. Every review since 2008, when the first review appeared has been >= 3 stars, arriving at a current rating of 3.5/5 stars. True, recent rating seem higher, but haven’t caused a upward trend in the overall rating yet. Verdict? Well no one has picked anywhere for Wednesday yet.

Swine Flu and Derby Day

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Let me tell you, right now is a awful time to have allergies. The pollen has really been building up around here and getting to me. We really need a nice rain to wash it all out of the air, and off of my car. But that’s normal, the bad part is that every time someone sneezes everyone thinks swine flu. One of my coworkers has taken to saying it instead gesundheit, thanks Erik :-P. It was doubly bad at the Kentucky Derby party I co-hosted at Mary’s place this weekend. Mary’s two cats also really get me to sneezing as well.

So right, Derby party! Mary (mostly and her roommates, some) hosted the party and I managed the wagering at my first Derby party since leaving home. We didn’t have a whole lot of people there before race time, so I had to make the executive decision to reduce the number of possible bets to something where I could reasonably cover all the bets that people didn’t want to make. This kind of sucked cause it reduced the number of winners to 3, and one of them was me, because I just bought up all the leftovers. But actually, I didn’t have to buy the winner in the parimutuel betting, someone else did that. My win was in the random pool. I raffled off the two remaining official 135 mint julep glasses to make there be two more “winners.” All in all the party was a success. Oh, the mint juleps were also a success. I couldn’t find a recipe I trusted so I went with simple syrup using equal amounts by volume, about 1 cup per glass, 2 shots of bourbon, and ice to taste.

I did have one closing thought on the swine flu. This is pure speculation, and based on the possibly sensationalistic reporting that was running around early in the news cycle. Although, it is not based on any bad news gleaned from twitter, it could well be just as bad as that. I’m curious if the difference in the mortality rate of the flu between Mexico and the US is possibly, in some part, due to a higher occurrence on unreported Aids (or other immune system deficiency disease) cases in Mexico.

Star Trek (11)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009


I just got back from seeing the new Star Trek movie! How do you ask, well Celeste, told the xkcd forums, who told me. It seemes the Internet and the theater knew nothing about it otherwise. I still don’t know how she found out about it, but not many people did. It was not packed. I don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t promote a sneak preview enough to pack one showing. Anyways. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so the rest will be quite generic.

The movie started out strong, and quickly established a great action drama balance. I was drawn in well before the opening credits. The opening credits lacked a certain familiar tune. I mean, what they had, it’s similar, but it did not fulfill my desire to hear the music. The closing credits did so that was good.

So the movies going along just great and then there is a major plot point, something bad happens, and after that the movies just not the same. However, due to the continuities involved, there was a choice the writers could have made; that I would have made, but they did not. This takes them down a road towards a disappointing conclusion.

There is one gripe I can be specific about, because it was in the trailer. In the trailer they show a starship being constructed on the ground, on pylons. This utterly ridiculous. First, it is not consistent; all other star trek ships have been built in space. Second, if NASA didn’t even want to launch all of the international space station at once cause it weighted too much, imagine a star ship. Finally, star ships are not made to fly in the atmosphere, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna be rocketed up there, and they don’t have that kind of transporter capability at that point in the timeline; so how the hell does it get off the damn planet! I’m sorry there’s just no way that is realistic at all.

So this movie, being an odd one (11) was bound to suck (as all the odd numbered ones do), and so it did, although I will continue to applaud the strong start it had. And if you claim that this was really a different movie sequence then the other one then it is number 1, also odd, also bound to suck. This movie will not reboot the franchise. I’m not even sure the tag line “The future begins” is appropriate.

I do want to end on a high note. I really liked all of the new actors for the major characters, and they really did a good job of working in everyone’s lines from the show. They also hit all the classic elements but they did some of them in different ways. This is very similar to how Get Smart did things, and is applaudable. I would see a squeal involving them, but not in the time-line that extends from this film, which is the real problem with it.

My Third Geohash

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Last Saturday, October 11, 2008 I went on my third geohash expedition. Geohashing has been dead in Boston for about two months now, but we decided to go anyways. The hash was in Canton, MA near where my friend Sparky, whom I met at the first geohash meetup in Hopedale, grew up. It was also near the Blue Hills reservation, which has an abundance of hiking trails and a great view of Boston from the top. The plan was to go to the hash around 2pm, go hiking, and then get some dinner. Sparky and I joined our usual Thursday Night Social Gaming compatriots Mary and Whitney for the expedition. At the hash we met a xkcd forum user, Greg, who was also at the hash where I met Sparky. The hash was in front of a suburban home, and the residents of that home were there, outside, so were not able to get closer than about 120 feet to the hash, which was well into their yard.

The hiking was more successful. It was a popular activity in the nice weather, so much so; that the parking lots were full. But the trails were not. The hike up the hill was very rocky, as in walking on large slabs of rock making up the hillside. Whitney pointed out that it was decidedly different from hiking in Michigan, where the rocks live under the ground and there aren’t any hills. The hike up didn’t seem to cover all that much elevation, but the view from the tower at the top was worth the hike. The hike down took much longer, but took a more circuitous, less rocky route. All and all it was a great use of a beautiful October day. For more info on the trip, check the meetup page.

My Second Geohash

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Today, July 7th, 2008 the geohash was in Concord, MA. The actual spot was less than 10 miles from work, so I figured I would leave early and check it out. On the way there I rolled my car past 9900 miles. I’ll hit 10,000 this week, probably on the way to Wed. Night Dinner, which is way out in the boonies this week, but offers the chance at real Texas barbque. See the link for more story and more pictures. Here’s a map:

View Larger Map

Fourth of July 2008

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

I had a rather unplanned Fourth of July, but all in all it went pretty well [map]. I woke up and saw that my friend Sparky’s away messages was a map to where he and some of the other xkcd Cambervile Meetup Thread forum users were going to spend the day. After having lunch I gave him a call and got invited to come down. I’d also been invited by Erik to watch the fireworks from his roof deck at the foot of Beacon Hill, so a plan to do both quickly emerged.

The xkcd fourm users had a nice spot staked out in the median of memorial drive. I arrive around 3pm and found them just wrapping up a game of some sort. They had plenty of games including Scrabble, Boggle, Flux and Carcassone. Being as bad a speller and I am I played a lot of the latter two, and none of the former two. I generally dislike flux, as there is essentially no strategy when it is not your turn. On the first game I lucked into the take another turn card on my second turn and managed to use scramble keepers to end up with two keeps for which I had a goal.I felt kind of bad for ending it so quickly with newbies playing, but I guess you have to learn that can happen sometime. I won another game of flux, I think we played 5 games, but all of them were short. In one game one of my opponents got the The Rocket and Chocolate, which should totally be a goal. I’m thinking it’s like a chocolate easter bunny but sold in a NASA gift shop.

Around 7:30 I made my way over to Erik’s roof deck. He had some other friends of his, mostly from community boating, over. We took dinner up to the deck and were surprised to find that we were the first people up there. Usually the roof deck is packed with various friends of everyone who lives in the building, but at this point there was no one else up there. Later on there was a small group of kids my age as well, and during the show there were one or two other tenants up there, but it was by no means crowded at any time. To avoid walking up and down the stairs to let people in, Erik devised a plan by which he would throw the keys, attached to bright yellow string, down from the roof.

The Fireworks

The fireworks were perhaps the least impressive I have ever seen. This was because there was not any wind to be found in the area. The smoke just sat heavy right over the barge eventually obscuring the entire show. Now, as an auditory experience it was still exciting. Someone described the show as more of a “Oooooh” show and less of an “Awwwwe” show, emphasizing the lack of pretty things to awe over. I took the T home after the crowds dissipated, after learning my lesson last year. All in all it was a much better day that it could have been.

The First Geohash Meetup

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

On Wednesday of last week, a full week ago, the geohashing algorithm xkcd comic was posted. It purposes an algorithm for randomly determining latitude and longitude coordinates scattered evenly throughout the world. There is a random location within roughly 85 miles of your present location generated every day. The algorithm works like this:

Meetups are held Saturdays at 4pm, and since the comic was posted last week, this Saturday was the first meetup, so I skipped the zombie walk, earth fest, and Zuneral to attend. The location was in the front yard of suburban house in Hopedale, MA.

Everyone was very good about not disturbing the house or entering the yard. We even actually met up around the corner from the location at first so as to minimize the hubbub directly in front of the house. Someone did actually bring some beer which had be promptly re-hidden in his backpack. There were about 40 people there in total, which Randall thinks is a “triumph.”

Arriving at the Crowd The Line of Cars Walking to the Actual Coordinates

I brought the following supplies:

  • Cooler with Coke, Sunkist, and Strawberries
  • Puerto Rico
  • Go
  • Kite
  • Laptop with GPS
  • Water Gun

I didn’t make use of most of that. What I did do was throw around the frisbee, chat and take lots of pictures. Here are some of the pictures that come with back story.

Incoming Frisbee Resuce #3

I managed to both take that picture and catch that frisbee on the left side. I’m proud not, but I did manage to sail one shot directly over this guy’s head and into the lake, but he was good sport and went to get it anyways.

ROFLCon VIP After Party

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

After the panel there I spent some more time hawking shwag, followed by some cleaning. Exciting stuff I know. I did get a chance to apologize to Randall for being a complete creep the previous night. He said he would let Ryan North, who was also there, know, and that was that. I feel much about the whole thing now. We, the ROFLCon team and volunteers did polish a whole cold pizza left from lunch while cleaning. I am normally very opposed to cold pizza, citing prevalence of microwaves in avoiding the normally breakfast food. I can say, with confidence, that a cold slice of pizza has never tasted so good to me. During cleanup we also had some fun, captured in this video that I uploaded from the MIT Media lab while waiting for the shuttle bus to the VIP after party.

The VIP after part was awesome. Definitely the best part of the whole thing for me. It was held in the office space of Barbarian Group, a web advertising company and included an open bar. Everyone I talked to there was either:

  1. A Barbarian Employee
  2. A ROFLCon team member or volunteer
  3. Famous on the Internet

The first group I joined after acquiring a rum and coke were some people, including team members and the Mozilla guy talking to moot about what kind of opportunities he can parlay his current skill set into. This way he doesn’t end up 37 and breaking even on 4chan, a fear he discussed in the panel on “Internet Cult Leaders.”

After grabbing some of the tasty food I came across Diana Kimble and Rachel Popkin who were being told that they had “Won the Internet” with the con by Joe Peacock of Mentally Incontinent. This seemed to be the general consensus, at least among the memes. I also saw Tron Guy telling Diana roughly the same thing earlier in the day. More on how people felt about the con later on.

Diana and Tron Guy Cheez

I sat down at the party with Cheez of icanhascheezburger. Finally a meme I’m familiar with! As many of you know I dislike the predominant name for what he has created and fostered, LOLCats, compared with Cat Macros. Given the chance I decided to get his first hand opinion on why one name is more popular. He feels that “Cat Macros” is more technical than “LOLCats,” citing that the term macro is not widely understood outside tech circles. He also discussed the familiarity even normal people have with the term LOL, and how including that term in the name draws in a wider audience because it makes them more accessible. Given the obvious technical superiority of the Cat Macro’s name I had not considered these arguments. And in the end it was totally sweet to get some kind of resolution of this undercurrent straight from Cheez. I think you won’t be hearing much about this anymore.

Between that VIP after party and the late night after party, while I was again waiting for the shuttle bus, I walked off with some people searching for warmth and coffee in a Starbucks. There was one just a few storefronts away, but someone’s iphone said that it was closing in 10 minutes. Apparently that was unacceptable so we trekked four blocks to the next closest one. Of course that someone turned out to be Justine Ezarik of iJustine and the 300 page iphone bill. On the way there I ended up talking to Joe Mathlete of Marmaduke Explained. Inside none of us could get this cute blond meme to tell us what she’s famous for. Of course, with a picture and a list on the internet nothing stays secret for long, she turned out to be Brookers. On the bus to Great Scott I talked to some more cool people, whom’s names I forget. One of them was a web developer for 4chan, another a marketer for Super Deluxe, and her significant other who “makes things”.

Starbucks Run

ROFLCon Internet Cult Leaders Panel

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Internet Cult Leaders Pannel 1 Internet Cult Leaders Pannel 2

I took a reprieve from hawking shwag at 4:30 for the most anticipated panel of the convention, “Internet Cult Leaders,” featuring Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, Randall Munroe of xkcd, and moot of 4chan. I’m of course an xkcd fan, I’ve head of Dinosaur Comics through that, and I had no idea what 4chan was before the talk. I have some videos on you tube from the panel that should provide good flavor [1] [2] [3].

The problem with this panel was that most of it was just fanboyism gone wild. I’ve heard all the questions asked of Randall there before, and I know the answers, and the history of the answers over time. I really found moot’s contributions to be the most interesting. Probably because I was unfamiliar with him and what he does beforehand.

ROFLCon Friday Night

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

I eventually worked out a plan with my room mates to go out for drinks in Davis Square. Something we all rarely do. Sriram and a friend of his were on their way back from downtown on the T, and I managed to leave at the perfect time to catch the same train as them, in the same car, without waiting. I am quite impressed with that, maybe too much. But it took a lot of timing and coordination that I actually didn’t even know that I knew.

When we got to Davis they were hungry so we went to crepe place there. I am not a fan of crepes, although the place did smell good. I ran into one of my coworkers there and had to yet again explain what ROFLCon is. That is rather hard, because people don’t seem to be familiar with the term “Internet Meme” and its hard to tell what, if any memes an individual has heard of. We were soon joined by a friend of Srirams friend, who, is doing a PHD on television and video game culture, but hadn’t heard of ROFLCon in time to register. I took some time to steal some free internet from the Boston IFF that was going on in the theater next door to upload some more pictures to flickr. We also checked out a flash game called Magic Pen.

After crepes and Andreas and Claudia joining us we went to Sagra for drinks. This place was great. It was quiet and fancy. Which is may more my thing than a loud noisy bar where we’ll struggle to hear each other and have to stand all night. I was already pretty tired and as countless discussions upon which I could provide no comment went on I longed to go home.

On the way home I finally ran into Randall Munroe on the street! He lives like within a few blocks of me, but I’ve never seen him in the grocery store or walking to the T, or on his electric skateboard. But tonight, with ROFLCon in town I saw him, and a large posse, including Ryan North on my walk home. Literally crossing my street. I clearly recognized them, and asked were they were heading. To which they replied, “This way.” Which, given the obviousness of the answer, I took as “You’re a creep don’t follow us.” I wasn’t really together enough to follow them anyways having already had a 17 hour day. So I didn’t. But it was clear that he didn’t recognize me — damn it. My ROFLCon staff shirt was by now covered by a coat, so that clue wasn’t visible to tip me off as not just some sketchy dude. But it’s not like I haven’t met Randal like for or five times by now, and even shared a dinner plate. But oh well. In retrospect I felt somewhat bad about how the whole exchange went down.

That was pretty much the day day. I went to bed around 1am.