Positive Feedback Loops in Local Reviews

While in Paris I made the mistake of using TripAdvisor for finding a good restaurant. The place I picked was ranked #5 in all of Paris but in reality it was just an average place — hardly better than what you could get at a random local cafe. The place was not a typical tourist trap, with neon lights on a busy street. It is a tiny inconspicuous place tucked away in a little side street.

I think what happened is that some American tourists randomly stumbled into this place. Due to an elixir of serendipitous discovery and hunger, and maybe a few glasses of wine, they had a great time and gave it an euphoric review on TripAdvisor. The high rating brought in more clueless tourists who did the same. Just like how a corral reef grows. I am pretty sure this is what happened, because everyone there was a tourist.

This is a symptom of not enough liquidity in TA’s paris restaurant reviews. In places where there is a lot of liquidity, subsequent reviews quickly correct these inaccuracies. Still, TripAdvisor could do a better job in computing rankings. For example, if all the reviews are from tourists vs locals, they should weigh less. Or if a few restaurants in a huge city like Paris are getting the bulk of reviews, it’s a good signal that something has gone loopy.

Unfortunately, Yelp is no better in this case (even though I constantly rely on them in the US). Apparently the best restaurant in Paris is a fallafel place.

It seems local ratings and reviews are still largely an unsolved problem except for a few narrow regions. Next time traveling in Europe, I will use the Michelin guides or ask a local.

Please leave me a comment with a good Paris restaurant recommendation, ideally $$ – $$$ and near Les Halles.


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