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Author Archives: Alexandra

Can you influence NBC’s Feast Rank, and do restaurants care about their ranking?

So, I have registered on nbcnewyork.com/feast in hopes of influencing the rating of a restaurant in my neighborhood, but Feast doesn’t actually allow you do to that on their site.  Since their “exact formula as well as our full source list are state secrets” I will have to find other ways to try and game the system.  I would like to ask the class for help with my little experiment.  Right now, The Hungarian Pastry Shop has no ranking on Feast.  It is a little neighborhood hole in the wall type place that is across from the cathedral of St. John the Divine.  It’s filled with Columbia students studying or writing papers, mostly.  The pastry is delicious and they let you stay all day if you want.  I’d like to try and positively influence their ranking.  Here are the stats on the most common sites as of now:

NY Mag: 8/10 “recommended”

Yelp: 3.5/5 stars, 107 reviews

CitySearch: 5/5 stars, 16 reviews

Zagat: “When this restaurant receives enough member reviews, our editors will consider it for a Zagat Rating & Review” (8 reviews)

I’d like to propose we all write a positive review and rank it either 4 or 5 stars over the next week.  (If you feel that you need to visit to make your review authentic, maybe we could have a class trip for some delicious pastries!) If you feel like ranking it positively on another of the sites I mentioned above, so much the better.  I will also chat with the owners and wait staff to get their opinion on whether they want to be rated or if they think it will influence their customer-base.  Let’s see if we can get a ranking up for the Hungarian Pastry Shop!

Update: Assumptions and Norms

Woops, I realized that I didn’t write about my assumptions or norms as Mushon included in his note for this week’s post.


  1. Originally, I thought that I would be able to influence in some way the ranking of a restaurant directly on the Feast site.  But I discovered that I can’t do that.  The ranking aggregates from a number of different, unnamed sources.  So I can only influence indirectly by posting a review on Yelp or another similar site.
  2. Feast claims that the site updates rankings in real time.
  3. “Foodies” (people who are interested in cooking, eating, eating out, restaurant reviews and culture, etc) will be all over the new site but it may take awhile for it to catch on with the general population.


  1. There are those eaters who live and die by restaurant reviews and rankings and will only eat at places that are well-reviewed.  These people also tend to leave reviews and comments more frequently.  For this group, I’m guessing that they will actively check Feast Rank before they go out to eat, if nothing else than to see if they agree with the rankings.  Unfortunately, it is kind of a one-way street.  There isn’t a great way that I’ve found to say you disagree with a ranking.
  2. Other food blogs like Eater, Grub Street and Diner’s Journal will probably start integrating Feast into their coverage since the food blogs tend to have a sort of incestuous relationship.
  3. Some chefs have been known to vent on twitter when they are unhappy about a particular provider or have other restaurant-related grievances.  I wouldn’t be surprised if those who are already using twitter as their megaphone will complain (or celebrate) their Feast rank as it becomes more well-known.

Feast Rank update

I found a little bit more evidence on what goes into the Feast Rank algorithm. According to BlackBookMag.com, “Feast Rank [is] a 1-100 score generated by a wholly automated algorithm and in New York comprising 75 sources — everything from the New York Times restaurant stars to Grub Street stories to Zagat listings to Yelp and Citysearch reviews to local blog and social media chatter, all apparently updating in real-time (a handy “+” or “-” indicating recent point shifts in opinion runs across the top of the page like numbers on a stock ticker, so it seems real official-like).”

Moreover, some people in the foodie community are not convinced that the algorithm is enough to get people interested and using the site: “The problem is,” says [Tom Ajello, creative director of Poke,] “The Feast Rank feature is buried, impossible to decipher once you find it, and not iconically or creatively represented in a way that will engage people.”

And then there’s Jonathan Gold, the former New York critic for Gourmet magazine:  “Real-time samplings of a thousand half-formed opinions are useful to political pollsters, but not necessarily to somebody trying to figure out whether it’s going to be Motorino or Maialino after the show. It’s hard to see why it would be any more reliable than Yelp or Citysearch, which to me are most useful when it, because you can follow specific commenters, functions most like a regular review.”

FEASTing on restaurant reviews

As I wrote in my previous post, I will be pursuing NBC’s new restaurant review aggregator/blog, Feast.  In future posts, I will conduct my research on how the site works by using places in the neighborhood where I live (Morningside Heights) as a test.  I plan to talk with restaurant-goers as well as restaurant management and servers to see if they’re aware of the site, whether it’s relevant to them, if they try to influence the ratings, etc.  For now, here’s an overview of what the site is and how it works:

Elements of the site

The site was founded by Ben Leventhal, the same guy who started Eater, a popular and renowned food blog.  Feast includes blog, maps, videos, photos, and a searchable database of restaurants.  Social media is also incorporated, allowing you to make your own list of preferred restaurants and see others’ lists as well.

Read More http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2010/02/a-first-look-at-nbcs-feast.html#ixzz0gDQ7DgUD

Feast Rank

According to Broadcasting and Cable, “Feast features a scoring system that brings together a wide range of reviews, ratings and opinions and produces what it calls a definitive score known as the Feast Rank.”  The Epicurious post does note that Feast has not disclosed either the sources it aggregates from OR how the sources are rated.  Supposedly heavy-hitter critics like the NY Times’ Sam Sifton and New York Magazine’s Adam Platt have the ability to “move the needle” more than a Yelp review, but it is not clear by how much.

NBC is getting into restaurant reviews?

I’ve come across an option that I think look interesting, and I’d like to see what the class thinks:

It’s called Feast.  This restaurant review aggregator from NBC New York has just launched today.  According to Eater, it  ”has two main components— a restaurant news and video blog in the Eater/Grub Street/Fork in the Road/The Feed vein and a meta critic platform. The first part is straightforward; the second is where the bells and whistles come in. Kind of like a Rotten Tomatoes for the food world, the site’s algorithm takes in reviews from all over the web—from the Times reviews to blogger buzz—and spits out a number, ranking every restaurant in the city anywhere from Dicey to Epic.  Rankings change daily based on new reviews or buzz, and the heavy hitters like Sifton and Platt have a greater ability to move the needle than the little guys.”

As we’ve been discussing in class, algorithms are not the same as real social interaction.  Can a restaurant-reviewer-algorithm-number-cruncher actually reflect people’s opinions on restaurants?  Also, what is NBC doing getting into restaurant reviews, anyway?

Gawker Stalker map conclusion

So.   I have been digging and I will share with the class what I’ve found.  Thanks to archive.org, a site that basically archives the entire internet and lets you search in the “wayback” machine, I now know that the map was online from April 11, 2006 through July 31, 2008.

The Wayback Machine shows you archives of web pages.

Harris also told me that he asked someone he knows who works at Gawker about the map, and they flatly denied any existence of the map at all.  Hah!  I was also able to see what gawker.com/stalker USED to look like.  (These days it redirects to gawker.com/tag/stalker):

Please note that this image is from archive.org and the small image of the map and the red text was added by me in Photoshop.

As I mentioned in a previous post, George Clooney had a well publicized campaign against Gawker by encouraging people to post fake sightings and flooding their system.  Although I can’t find anything that specifically states where the map went, I would bet that legal action was taken against Gawker.  Clooney and other celebs clearly felt that it was an invasion of their privacy to have their locations broadcast against their own will.

Stalker map no more?

So, no matter where I look, I can only find archived images of the stalker map (see above).  The link that is in archived articles is gawker.com/stalker – but when I go there, it redirects to gawker.com/tag/stalker, which is just a  list of  people’s tips.

I’ve searched archives of news, the Gawker site, everywhere I can think of basically, and I can’t find the map!  This leads me to several questions, of course.  Have they taken it down?  If so, why wasn’t there any press about it at all?  If it’s somewhere and I just can’t find it, then it is really, really well hidden.  George Clooney’s very public fight with Gawker is well publicized, so maybe enough celebrities complained it was a violation of privacy and they nixed the map?  I will continue hunting…  As Mushon mentioned in his comment on my “ask a question” post, the thing about the stalker map is that when celebrities (or anyone, really) are walking down the street they COULD tweet about where they are, or play foursquare, or otherwise disclose their location – but they don’t always choose to.  If someone else reveals their location, that’s another story.

How others see your Facebook Profile

Hi class,

This is not a required post, but a public service announcement! I know Mushon said in class this week that he was looking for how to see how your profile looks to others. I was just adjusting my settings and thought I would share in case you want to do this, too:

At the top right of the page, click Settings > Privacy Settings
Click Profile Information
Click the button on the upper right side called “Preview My Profile”
Then you can type in a friend’s name to see how your profile appears to them. This is useful if you have some people on a limited profile and you want to see what your page looks like for them.

Is Gawker Stalker irrelevant?

When the Gawker Stalker map came out, it made a pretty big splash. (See the Jimmy Kimmel YouTube video from my previous post to see how some celebrities were very angered about this.) These days with Twitter and now FourSquare, Forbes.com asks, “Who needs prying gossip magazines when pop stars twitter away their own privacy?”

The website CelebrityTweet! has a great tagline: “Stalk celebrities on Twitter!”  It has a long list of celebrity user names aggregated on the site.  So I ask my question, is Gawker Stalker now irrelevant if celebrities are giving away their own locations anyway?  Or does Gawker still provide some value because of the editorial commentary on the site?


Many of you may have heard of a website called Gawker.  Gawker is an NYC-based blog that is focused primarily on media and celebrity news/gossip.  Gawker has a feature called Gawker Stalker – which as you might guess from the title, is a map (of course, it’s a Google map) showing a combination of all the celebrity sightings that people have seen and tipped off the Gawker people.

Obviously there have been a lot of privacy issues as a result of this site, especially with the large amount of people out there with smartphones that can email Gawker from wherever they are.

I know that YouTube is not allowed but since I have seen others break the rule I guess I will too, but only for the class’ benefit.  This is a great clip of late night host Jimmy Kimmel taking on Emily Gould, the former editor of the site on how dangerous the Stalker feature can be.

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And here is a fascinating New York Times article that Emily herself wrote talking about the impact working at Gawker had on her personal and professional life.

So, I am interested in pursuing the Gawker Stalker to see how/if any of the other local social media tools that others have mentioned (FourSquare, Twitter local) are interrelated.  Lots of celebrities are on twitter and may be disclosing their location anyway.  Class, do any of you read/tip off the Gawker Stalker?  Do you think this is a good idea for the next travelogue?

Week 1 Travelogue

To be honest, I found The Trap to be a very strange film to watch.  Maybe it’s that I’m not familiar with BBC-style documentaries, but there were several things that I thought were… just plain weird.  The documentary came out in 2007, but to watch it you would think it was made in the 70s or 80s.  As far as I can tell, all the footage is from an archive and nothing was shot specifically for this piece.  Everything is sort of grainy and antiquated.  The music clips are, I think, the same ones over and over throughout the three parts – and often the tone or type of music doesn’t match what’s being said in the voiceover or what you see on screen at all.  I’m not sure whether we are meant to comment on the production values of the piece, but I was definitely wondering about them as I watched.  I was curious as to why we would watch something that looks so… old in a class about brand new types of media.

As for the ideas presented in the film, well, I must say that a lot of it sounded like conspiracy theory to me.  The idea that anyone with a shred of common sense would apply an abstract and vast generalization like game theory to an entire country or civilization is just crazy!  John Nash was suffering from a mental illness when he came up with his paranoid ideas about everyone betraying each other.  (By the way Ryan, I loved that Dilbert cartoon!)  I felt like much of the film’s discussion was devoted to complaining, in one way or another, about governments and how they continually interfere with their own people and other countries.  I don’t think there is anyone who would debate that.  I agree with agmichael’s comment to The Trap post: “I found ‘The Trap’ as a whole disconcertingly negative; it was very good at showing me the bars to my cage, but was unable to supply me an escape route.”

Coincidentally, I watched on Friday night a film which many of you may have heard of or watched, Good Night, and Good Luck. The film is about the journalist Edward R. Murrow and his conflict with Senator Joe McCarthy, of 1950′s anti-communist witch hunt fame.  It reminded me of the discussion about Russia in Part 3 and the topic of how America went to great lengths to stamp out communism abroad.  Good Night, and Good Luck does a nice job of pointing out that not everyone in the US was so gullible and so blindly accepting of the government’s ruthless tactics.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer:

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Overall, my thoughts on The Trap are similar to my feelings about Kamiya’s The Death of the News.  Great job complaining about all the things wrong in the world – but that’s really only half of the job.