Hilary Mason: From Tiny Links, Big Insights

From Tiny Links, Big Insights
Photograph by Matthew Williams for Bloomberg Businessweek

When a restaurant opened near her New York City apartment, Hilary Mason found its menu uninspired: salmon, arugula, and all the other culinary keywords without any of the risky dishes that make for great dining. “I thought, ‘This must be the median West Village restaurant; it’s just so boringly average,’” she says. Most people would have written a tepid Yelp review and left it at that. Mason looked to the data for truth. The 33-year-old wrote a program to crawl the Web and download menus from New York eateries. It took her down a rabbit hole of restaurant exploration. She didn’t figure out the perfectly average spot, but she learned that there are 173 different burgers to order in the West Village—but 363 in the East Village, and at lower prices.

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