Why Doesn’t Yelp Use (More) Open Data?

Spending as much time as I do on both the New York Open Data portal and on Yelp, I often wonder that there isn’t more overlap between the two. Yelp is a good test case of the difficulties companies face in integrating municipal open data into their product.

What kind of open data? The most obvious would be health inspection results. While browsing potential snack spots you might want to know that the 5-for-a-dollar dumpling place has a four and a half star rating but received a C in its last inspection while this other place is similar but got an A.

Yelp has taken steps towards using health inspection data. In 2012 Yelp launched LIVES, Local Inspector Value Entry Specification, a health inspection open data standard. According to the page for LIVES, any city can participate in the standard but the original launch included just San Francisco and New York. A 2013 article from Slate says that health inspection scores would soon be available in Yelp for Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago as well.

Health scores definitely exist in San Francisco Yelp but I couldn’t find a single New York restaurant with one, nor could I find any listed for restaurants in Philadelphia, Boston or Chicago. The LIVES standard seems to have stalled. What would be the difficulties?

Yelp needs LIVES in order to use health inspection data because each city has its own, slightly different, format. For example, San Francisco scores food establishments on a 1-100 scale while New York health inspectors assign letter grades. The LIVES formatting requires 1-100 scores and so cities like New York would have to decide to which numbers their letter grades correspond. Having different scoring systems across Yelp for health inspections would be confusing to users and so the translation from open data to Yelp is the stumbling block.

What other kinds of New York open data could yelp use? The sidewalk café dataset. Yelp already lists whether or not restaurants or bars have outdoor seating and using that dataset would improve that. The WiFi hotspot data could guide freelancers to which is the best WiFi equipped café nearby.

Additionally using open data requires Yelp to determine matches in the government database for their user-added businesses. This is likely a headache for Yelp as government databases generally list businesses by their legal name while users will add a business under its trade name.

If cities want to encourage companies to use the open data then a standard across cities is very helpful. However, a city might not intend for that to be the purpose of its open data program.  Local civic app developers will find it just as easy to use non-standard open data as long as the definitions for each column are clear. That is though, unfortunately, a big if and one that shared municipal open data standards could fix.

TL;DR? OK, I got you below.

Why doesn’t Yelp use (more) open data?

  • Each city has its open data in its own format. Yelp would need to standardize all of these to keep their product looking consistent across markets.
  • Yelp is a database of user-generated info. Reconciling the conflicts between what Yelp has for a certain place and what a government database lists would be difficult.

What kind of New York open data could Yelp use?