Early Adopter: Think That Restaurant Looks Shady? Donteat.at Lets You Know for Sure

It’s happened to everyone–the terrible fallout from eating at that unfamiliar restaurant with the spoons that were a little too greasy, or the chicken that was served a little too rare.

My worst was bad dim sum.

Max Stoller obviously knows the feeling.

So, this computer science junior at New York University has developed donteat.at, a Web service that saves New Yorkers the pain caused by an unclean restaurant, one Foursquare check-in at a time.

To understand how the app works, one needs a little background.

In New York City, the health inspector grades restaurants on a golf-style points scale, where less is better.

More than 28 points will land the restaurant on a flagged list that triggers frequent inspections, or even a shut-down, if the score does not go down.

Stoller’s app, donteat.at, parses the weekly-updated public data set for those flagged establishments and keeps an updated list of violators.

From then on, if a donteat.at user ever checks in via Foursquare to a restaurant that has been flagged, they receive a text message alerting them to that fact.

“In under a minute–I worked very hard on that,” said Stoller.

To activate the service, users visit www.donteat.at, authorize the link with a Foursquare account, then continue to use Foursquare normally.

There is no additional user interface.

“It’s just there.” Stoller said, “Most users just come to the Web site once.”

Stoller’s application of the data and the always watching over you user experience turned a relatively simple data mashup to something more like a public service.

Stoller developed donteat.at for the NYC Big Apps competition, a contest sponsored by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication.

NYC Big Apps challenges developers to build new use cases for New York City’s massive public data mine, which includes almost 400 separate structured data sets, ranging from bike rack locations to the city’s full financial data.

“The idea is just to make all that data more accessible,” Stoller said.

Stoller was looking for something productive to do over his winter break while home in Long Island, and heard about the contest.

“I don’t have any real hobbies other than food, so this is what I went with,” he explained.

In some ways, Stoller has poked a hole in a problem that media organizations and advertisers have been picking at for years now–how to deliver highly relevant information to the right people at the most opportune moment.

The key seems to be tapping into the user, not the data.

Stoller’s application, rather than putting a map mashup of geographically-coded data at the heart of the app, focuses on the user’s activity as the trigger.

People get the data when they need it, because they are asking for it, albeit passively.

Stoller said the next upgrade would include coverage of San Francisco, although he expected implementing a comprehensive data set for the city would be a major barrier.

He also discussed other features that could be added to donteat.at, like texting users when a place they’ve been notified about has made it off of the naughty list.

“The data is there,” he said. “But it’s not always clean, well formatted, or even clear.”

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