Urban Spoon maintains a blog leader board, whose formula is unknown and whose influences are unknown. In that respect, it’s a bit like a tissue slice in biochemistry. In enzymology, some enzymes cannot be isolated but are only known by their enzymatic effects. Likewise, to a food blogger, the formula for scoring blogs is only known by making a review, placing it on the Urban Spoon system, and observing the effects.

I learned most of what I know about Urban Spoon scoring in a short span of time in which  John Bickford and I reviewed Fogo de Chao and Gourmandises respectively, and then later, John reviewed Flip Burger Boutique. As a consequence of that second review, John’s blog vaulted from 14th to 8th on Urban Spoon’s blog leader board. After looking at FLIP (#1 on the hotness chart at the time and about #8 or #9 on the popularity chart), Gourmandises (#2 on the popularity chart, with about 650 votes at the time), and Fogo (#3 on the popularity chart, with about 630 votes at the time), I formulated the static model of Urban Spoon scoring.

The static model would say that a blog score (they call them views, but understand, Urban Spoon isn’t measuring blog views in any real sense) is the sum of all the restaurant scores that the blog maps to Urban Spoon. The restaurant score consists of two parts: there is a popularity component, roughly equal to the number of positive votes for the restaurant, and there is a “hotness” component, which is hard to factor but often easy to measure. At the time that John Bickford posted his review of FLIP, he gained about 1,900 points, despite the fact that FLIP had only about 250 votes at the time. In other words, the hotness component was worth 1650 points, or about 7 times more than the voting component. Currently, the hottest restaurant in Atlanta is Livingston Restaurant, according to Urban Spoon. And since Aspirations of a Southern Housewife has only reviewed Livingston, we can know that Livingston’s combined score is, on July 11, 389 points, almost all of it “hotness”, since almost no one seems to like Livingston.

Hotness is affected by blog reviews. I’ve seen this by observing the effects of Kokai Thai’s hotness ranking. It was pretty soon after Jennifer Zyman’s review and the AJC review that I reviewed Kokai Thai. Subsequently, Kokai appeared on the top 10, so it takes about 3-4 media and blog sources combined in a short period to boost the hotness of a restaurant into the top 10.

Even before I puzzled all this out, I had wondered often about the ratio of Urban Spoon views, which varied wildly from one blog to the other. You could have Tongue Sausage, which had 4,000 views on 10 reviews at the time, or someone more like BuHi and Eat Buford Highway, who was averaging about 30 points a review. This disparity begins to make a lot more sense in the static model, and it allowed me to categorize blogs by their Hotness Factor, their ratio of views to reviews, or their Hotness Ratio, which is the Hotness Factor of any blog divided by the Hotness Factor of Blissful Glutton, who as a professional reviewer, is a useful standard in the Atlanta market.

At the time (this was before Urban Spoon divided all scores by 4/3 ), a Hotness Factor of 50 or less suggested either ignorance or indifference to the scoring system. Examples included Eat Buford Highway, and many other regional reviewers. Hotness Factors from 50 to 150 suggested that they either understood what was going on, or made it a habit to review both popular and unpopular restaurants. Chow Down Atlanta, Amy on Food, Atlanta Foodies, From My Table all fell in this category. At the time Jennifer Zyman and Blissful Glutton was averaging a ratio of about 100. Blogs with Hotness Factors over 200, with the exception of Foodie Buddha, I tended to just not pay any attention to. It was obvious these people were focused on popular restaurants, and would not be the kind of place to dig out a hole in the wall. Ratios like 400 were unsustainable. These were hot restaurant chasers of such fervor they would soon run out of restaurants to review that could score so highly.

This model explains a lot of behavior. For example, the model explains losing views over time. Food bloggers, especially those who reviewed FLIP, must have been seeing their points deflate as FLIP came down off that astounding high, and now has fewer hotness points than Livingston. Gaining perhaps 100 voters hasn’t eliminated the deflation effect, and I suspect that Urban Spoon divided “views” by 4/3 just minimize the obvious nature of the upcoming deflation.

There are other changes, however, that I can’t explain with the static model. The day after Amy of Amy on Food reviewed Shoya Izakawa she gained perhaps 500 points. That was not possible if the static model holds. Likewise, the day after Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta reviewed Hop City, he gained 1000 points (more than the entire total of Eat Buford Highway’s reviews). I’ve been puzzling these two gains for some time.

Let me note that Amy was not the first blogger to review Shoya Izakawa; Gene Lee was. But in both cases, within a day or two after their reviews, both restaurants suddenly appeared in the “hotness” top 10. I don’t think that appearance was coincidence. A week later than Amy I posted my review of Shoya and the score I received was a small fraction of these enormous scores. I suspect anyone else that reviews Hop City isn’t going to get 1,000 points either.

Conclusion: the scoring isn’t entirely static. It also has a dynamic, timing component. Get a review of the right up-and-coming restaurant, and get more points than BuHi will get in his lifetime. At one level, I’m very annoyed, as the static model has a nice mathematical feel to it. Your score would be a map of coverage of the restaurant universe, as defined by Urban Spoon, weighted by the value of the restaurants you reviewed. But when 1/6 of a blog’s total score is purely an act of verve, or luck, or for all we know, a bug in the scoring model, then any pretence to objectivity in the model is lost. And, likewise, the predictability of the static model is lost. Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta may be the kind of guy who focuses on openings and grand restaurant theater. Or he may be just savvy and lucky. Who knows? I surely don’t.

Update (7/12/2009 ca 10pm): I’ve made some corrections to point values in this article. I can’t validate 800 points for Amy’s as I really don’t have any data in that period. 500 seems more likely after some review. The original Hotness Factor where I would judge a reviewer as having a major focus on hot restaurants was around 200 back in the day. With Jennifer Zyman’s current hotness factor of 70, 150 would now be a fair guide for either (A) – a major focus on hot restaurants, or (B) some luck with dynamic point gifts. Converting to Hotness Ratios, which survive any multiplication or division of points, the interpretation of blogs would be:

Hotness RatioInterpretation of blogging style

0.5 or lessIndifferent to restaurants that Urban Spoon sees as popular. Perhaps a focus on niche or ethnic restaurants.

0.5-1.5Reviews a variety of restaurants, including popular or unpopular restaurants. May or may not pay attention to new restaurants.

2.0-3.0Focus on restaurant openings, new and popular restaurants,  some luck with “dynamic hits” on ‘up and coming’ restaurants.

above 3.0Unsustainably high focus on new and popular restaurants. If continues, score ratios will deterioriate over time.

Boonies:

I had long moved my heating strip to the row of coke bottle greenhouses, and yet a couple weeks later, another boonie pepper seed from floralys sprouted. This makes a germination rate of 6/12 from floralys and 5/12 from pepper pilot.  I don’t know how statistically significant these germination rates are. I was a raw beginner when I started this boonie pepper project, and I’d say sheer inexperience was a bigger factor than vendor.

Blog focus:

The focus of this blog, from the beginning, has been food *near* Snellville. The range of the restaurants has been creeping outward, usually to spots reasonably close by, such as Zapatas or Mojitos in downtown Norcross, or Quoc Huong on Buford Highway, or to the wonderful French restaurant in Suwanee, Cafe Gourmandises (really, just a slight detour on the way to Mall of Georgia). What I’m discovering is that to be taken seriously by certain rating systems, I’m going to occasionally go out and rate restaurants these particular ratings agencies think are hot, because the ratings of my blog are affected by this. It is disappointing to some extent, but I don’t intend the main focus of the blog to change. Just, I’m wanting readers of this blog to understand that when I review that 4.5 star restaurant south of the airport, two hours from Snellville, I’m doing it to prevent this blog from being treated as a backwater.

For those who wonder about my Snellville commitment, it comes from trying to give Snellville Eats, the original Snellville food blog, their due when they post reviews. It comes from making sure I have Snellville reviews on a regular basis.  I have three reviews already written of restaurants in or very near Snellville. I’m waiting for Urban Spoon to post one of the restaurants on their Snellville page before putting them up on my web page.

Urban Spoon:

To talk a little about Urban Spo0n: the reason I added their links to my reviews is that they are a portal to iPhone and Android users (evidently, the app can be hosted on blogs as well). Urban Spoon is a startup that launched without venture capital, was recently purchased by IAC, and is an ad-driven enterprise (i.e. they make their money by people placing ads with them). Their iPhone app, is, as they describe:

Urbanspoon on the iPhone is part Magic 8 Ball, part slot machine. You shake your phone and it finds a good nearby restaurant for you. Keep shaking it until it comes back with something you want to try. We use the iPhone’s accelerometers to pick up the “shake”, find restaurants near you through GPS, and then skew the results towards restaurants that are highly regarded on Urbanspoon.

To note, there are over 2 million copies of this application downloaded currently. And 2 million potential viewers is too much to ignore.

Best of Snellville

It has been close to four months since I started this blog, and I thought I would speak about the most interesting and best things I’ve found so far in and around Snellville.

Best restaurant in Snellville is Benny’s Bar and Grill, and it’s not close. Benny’s is one of a kind, and the next best sets of restaurants are chains. And though I haven’t reviewed City Slickers (chain) and Provinos (chain), yes, I have eaten at both places. Benny’s is far and above better than the others I’ve been to.

The best four restaurants I’ve eaten at while blogging are covered in the Exceptional category on this blog. To name them, they are Haru Ichiban, Lady and Sons in Savannah, Benny’s and Cafe Gourmandises.

Best casual dining in Snellville, with an emphasis on beer and wine is probably Urban Flats. My family went there recently on a busy Saturday afternoon, and the food was good, and the service was notably good.

Best new shopping has to be Mother Nature’s Market in Snellville. Best place nearby to buy inexpensive meats is probably Lilburn International Farmer’s Market. Best place for fine wines and beers is Niko’s.

This is a period of coupons and bargains, and the best buys in prepared food are probably in the various fast food restaurants around town. For the time being concentrating on restaurants I’ve reviewed, then I’d suggest the best buy in food near Snellville are the tacos at Tacqueria Los Hermanos in Lilburn, and the patties at Tastees and Golden Krust. Otherwise, notable is the inexpensive single at Carvel Ice Cream, perhaps a dollar cheaper than other premium ice cream vendors. Outside the general Snellville area, the various shops that serve banh mi (such as Quoc Huong) on Buford Highway are a good prepared food buy. For $2.50 a sandwich, and discounts starting when you buy three of them,  and a six for 5 price special everywhere, you can feed a family of 6 for $12.50. You might also check out the small shops that abound in the various International Farmer’s Markets in town.

The best food buy, period, are peas, beans, and whole grains. These are inexpensive and available many places. You can get a pound of pearled barley (not really whole, but easy to cook) at Publix for less than a dollar, and steel cut oatmeal many places. The best general purpose source of whole grains in Snellville is Mother Nature’s Market. Other resources are noted in my “Shopping” tab, which focuses on whole grains.

As far as opinions go, I’ll state mine, but I’m not wedded to them. If you wish to add your choices below, feel free.