Linda Poon at CityLab: “Online review sites can tell you a lot about a city’s restaurant scene, and they can reveal a lot about the city itself, too.
Researchers at MIT recently found that information about restaurants gathered from popular review sites can be used to uncover a number of socioeconomic factors of a neighborhood, including its employment rates and demographic profiles of the people who live, work, and travel there.
A report published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains how the researchers used information found on Dianping—a Yelp-like site in China—to find information that might usually be gleaned from an official government census. The model could prove especially useful for gathering information about cities that don’t have that kind of reliable or up-to-date government data, especially in developing countries with limited resources to conduct regular surveys….
Zheng and her colleagues tested out their machine-learning model using restaurant data from nine Chinese cities of various sizes—from crowded ones like Beijing, with a population of more than 10 million, to smaller ones like Baoding, a city of fewer than 3 million people.
They pulled data from 630,000 restaurants listed on Dianping, including each business’s location, menu prices, opening day, and customer ratings. Then they ran it through a machine-learning model with official census data and with anonymous location and spending data gathered from cell phones and bank cards. By comparing the information, they were able to determine where the restaurant data reflected the other data they had about neighborhoods’ characteristics.
They found that the local restaurant scene can predict, with 95 percent accuracy, variations in a neighborhood’s daytime and nighttime populations, which are measured using mobile phone data. They can also predict, with 90 and 93 percent accuracy, respectively, the number of businesses and the volume of consumer consumption. The type of cuisines offered and kind of eateries available (coffeeshop vs. traditional teahouses, for example), can also predict the proportion of immigrants or age and income breakdown of residents. The predictions are more accurate for neighborhoods near urban centers as opposed to those near suburbs, and for smaller cities, where neighborhoods don’t vary as widely as those in bigger metropolises….(More)”.