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I Made My Shed the Top-Rated Restaurant on TripAdvisor

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This convinced me that TripAdvisor was a false reality—that the meals never took place, that other people like me wrote all the reviews. However, they're not, of course—they're almost all completely genuine. And there was one other factor that seemed impossible to fake: the restaurants themselves. So I moved on.

And then, one day, sitting in the shed I live in, I had a revelation: Within the current climate of misinformation and society's willingness to believe absolute bullshit, maybe a fake restaurant is possible? Maybe it's the kind of place that could be a hit?

In that moment, it became my mission. With the help of fake reviews, mystique, and nonsense, I was going to do it: turn my shed into London's top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.

Setting Up "The Shed at Dulwich"—April, 2017

First of all, let me introduce you to my site: a shed in a south London garden.

To get started, I need to get verified, and to do that I need a phone.

One $13 burner later and "The Shed at Dulwich" officially exists. Now, I need to list an address—but doing so makes easy work for any skeptical fact-checkers. Plus, I don't technically have a door. Instead, I just list the road and call The Shed an "appointment-only restaurant."

Onto my online presence: I buy a domain and build a website. Hot spots are all about quirks, so to cut through the noise, I need a concept silly enough to infuriate your dad—a concept like naming all of our dishes after moods.

Now, some soft-focus images of those delicious dishes.

You'd eat this, wouldn't you?

Probably best not to.

No, OK, how about—

This sponge covered in paint, with quenelles of shaving creaam.

You’re getting it: This isn't what it looks like.

It's an egg resting on my foot.

With the concept, logo (thank you, Tristan Cross), and menu nailed down, it all comes together.

I submit my TripAdvisor forms; the rest is up to God.

On the May 5, 2017, I wake up to an email:

Hello,

We’re excited to tell you that your listing request has been approved and is on our site for everyone to see.

[…]

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to let the TripAdvisor community know about The Shed at Dulwich.

Best Regards,
The TripAdvisor Support Team

No, TripAdvisor, I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to let the community know about The Shed at Dulwich.

Getting The Shed to Number One

I start out ranked at 18,149, the worst restaurant in London, according to TripAdvisor. So I'm going to need a lot of reviews. Reviews written by real people on different computers, so the anti-scammer technology TripAdvisor utilizes doesn't pick up on my hoax.

I need convincing reviews, like this one:

(I've mocked up all the screenshots from TripAdvisor by the way, because our legal department told me to.)

And not like this:

The celebrity endorsement photo Shaun Williamson sends me after I meet him in a pub, thoroughly explain my concept, and ask him for a photo of him eating fancy food in a fancy place, but instead receive one of him eating a roast dinner with a side of chips.

So I contact friends and acquaintances, and put them to work.

Climbing the Ranks

The first couple of weeks are easy: We crack the top 10,000 in no time, but I don't expect much in the way of inquiries quite yet. Then, one morning, something extraordinary happens: The Shed's burner phone goes off. Startled and hungover, I pick up.

"Hello? Is this The Shed?"

"…Yes?" I sound like a radiator that needs bleeding.

"I've heard so much about your restaurant... I know it’s a long shot, as you get booked up so quickly, but I don’t suppose you have a table tonight?"

Panicking, I abruptly respond: "Sorry, but we're fully booked for the next six weeks" and slam down the phone. I'm stunned. A day later, I feel another vibration: a 70 birthday booking, four months in advance for nine people.

Emails? I check my computer: tens of "appointment" requests await. A boyfriend tries to use his girlfriend's job at a children's hospital for leverage. TV executives use their work emails.

Seemingly overnight, we're now rated at #1,456. The Shed at Dulwich has suddenly become appealing. How?

I realize what it is: The appointments, the lack of an address, and general exclusivity of this place are so alluring that people can’t see sense. They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling. Over the coming months, The Shed's phone rings incessantly.

Things Are Getting a Bit Out of Control

By the end of August, we’re at #156.

And things are starting to get a little out of hand.

First, companies start using the estimated location of The Shed on Google Maps to get their free samples to me. Then people who want to work at The Shed get in touch, in significant numbers. Then I get an email from the council, which wants to relocate us to a site in Bromley it's developing. Then an Australian production company gets in touch, saying it wants to exhibit us across the world in an aircraft company's in-flight videos.

The author during his Skype call with the PR agency

And then, finally, I have a Skype meeting with a "results-hungry" PR agency that promises to get The Shed onto the Mail Online with a Batman-themed launch and a $260 Lizzie Cundy appearance. The representative calls me "obviously pretty cool," which is nice, but ultimately I decide to handle promotion myself.

The Final Push

Winter has arrived, and we're at number 30.

But that position won't budge, no matter how many reviews I throw at it.

Otherwise, though, things have taken a turn.

People approach me on my road to ask if I know how to get to The Shed, and the phone rings more than ever before.

And then, one night, I get an email from TripAdvisor. Title: "Information Request." Fuck—the game is up. I've been rumbled. My fingers tremble as I open it: 89,000 views in search results in the past day, dozens of customers asking for information.

Why? Well, on the November 1, 2017, six months after listing The Shed at Dulwich online:

It's London's top-rated restaurant.

A restaurant that doesn't exist is currently the highest ranked in one of the world’s biggest cities, on perhaps the internet's most trusted reviews site.

On TripAdvisor's website, the company says it dedicates "significant time and resources [to] ensuring that the content on TripAdvisor reflects the real experiences of real travelers." So I get in touch when the whole process is finished to ask how it is that I've managed to sidestep the rigorous checks.

"Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us," replies a representative via email. "As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant, it is not a problem we experience with our regular community—therefore this 'test' is not a real-world example."

That statement is fair enough; I can't imagine this happens often.

The representative adds that "most fraudsters are only interested in trying to manipulate the rankings of real businesses," so the "distinction between attempted fraud by a real business, as opposed to attempted fraud for a non-existent business, is important." To catch these people, TripAdvisor uses "state-of-the-art technology to identify suspicious review patterns" and says, "Our community too can report suspicious activity to us." It then quotes a 2015 study that found "93 percent of TripAdvisor users said they find the reviews they read to be accurate of the actual experience."

So there you have it.

Lonely at the Top

Only, it doesn’t stop.

I leave The Shed's phone at a friend's house over a long weekend, and when I get it back, it has 116 missed calls. So I start answering again. "We’re booked up," I lie. "We have a christening." Another lie.

"Hello, The Shed at Dulwich."

"Oh my goodness," a frustrated woman says. "I’ve actually got through. I first contacted you back in August. I’ve heard nothing back."

Now I've created this reality, I think, the only thing left to do is make it a reality. In just four days, London’s best restaurant will come alive. I'm going to open The Shed at Dulwich.

The Big Night

But how? I've never even had more than three people over at once, let alone provided dinner and drinks for 20. There's only one way to do it: recreating the exact location people have been describing in reviews for the past six months.

The food reminds people of home? Well, I'll serve them what I grew up eating: frozen dinners.

People like the rural yet classy vibe? Well, see that playhouse? It's going to be filled with chickens, like lobsters at an expensive restaurant, so people can pick their chick.

Our success is down to the gaming of TripAdvisor? I'll fill half the tables with people I know, talking loudly about how delicious everything is.

How are we going to achieve the unmistakable ambience of a real restaurant? By getting a DJ to play the sounds of a real restaurant on CDs.

To work I go. Playhouse?

Chicken House. Lawn?

Tidy. Subzero temperatures?

Thawed. Extra seating?

Done.

Soon, Joe—my friend and the chef for tonight—shows up. He's spent the past decade traveling the world, working in fine restaurants. A man worthy of The Shed, even if it's fake. Now, we’ve got produce to source.

Done, all for the price of $40.

Back at The Shed, Phoebe has arrived. She's an intuitive waitress who can really get across the nuances of our menu, like how—by serving pudding in mugs—we're aiming to replicate the experience of what it's like to eat pudding out of a mug.

For the starter, it's Minestrone di Verdure. For the main course, a choice of Truffle Macaroni and Cheese or Once-in-a-Lifetime Vegetable Lasagne. For dessert, The Shed Chocolate Sundae. One last thing I ask of Phoebe is for her to ask the opinions of every guest, privately, so they’re honest.

And with that, my vision has come to life.

Guests sit on the roof, sipping mugs of wine.

Chickens cluck happily in the playhouse, ready to be slaughtered.

Actors chomp away on spruced-up $1 frozen dinners.

A DJ pumps out the sound of a restaurant.

It looks, sounds, and smells beautiful, and we're ready for our first two guests. I head to the meeting point up the road and, on time, are:

Joel and Maria, all the way from sunny California, vacationing in Europe for the first time. Last night they were in Paris, and tonight is their first night in London. A Pokémon convention tomorrow brings them to the city, but they want to spend their first evening at The Shed.

I ask them to put on blindfolds, and they look terrified, but after the two actresses who’ve arrived at the same time agree, they nod.

I lead the four, hand in hand, into the garden. As we approach the house, Maria says, "I can hear the sound of a kitchen!" No, Maria, you cannot. The blindfolds come off. The Americans are silent.

"We serve moods here. I’ll interpret yours and bring a dish that suits. Maria, I get a homely energy from you. Joel? I’m feeling "cool," right?"

I rush into the kitchen and grab two main dishes off Joe. As per my request, the DJ triggers "ding" sounds frequently to disguise the noise of our microwave.

I place the pair's dishes down, move away, and, observing from a distance, watch them stare at their macaroni and cheese. Maria takes out her phone for a photo, looks at the meal through her camera, pauses, then puts her phone away without taking a picture.

The evening crawls by. Joel spots the two on the roof above him and can’t stop looking. After 40 very quiet minutes, the couple leaves. Joel looks furious.

In the meantime, two locals arrive, full of questions about the place. I let Phoebe take the lead with them, as I've got a table of four to deal with.

After seating them and disappearing to grab drinks, I hear a scream from the kitchen. Outside, a lady runs across the restaurant, squealing. Trevor—oh, good time to introduce Trevor, the man I hired the chickens from—is following her, clutching a chicken flapping its wings.

I snatch the chicken off Trevor and stuff it in the playhouse. As things calm down, the woman's friends begin to laugh. "Why do you have chickens?" they ask. "It’s pick your chicken! We cook the one you like the look of." Their expressions sour. "But I thought you were a vegetarian restaurant? I found you because you’re the top-rated veggie restaurant in London."

My heart skips a beat—I hadn’t thought of this. "Top in all of London, you mean!" I smile. We’re fucked.

People seem to be enjoying the food, but I can’t stop thinking flapping chicken. We need to make a good impression on the table of four.

I feel a tap on my shoulder; it’s one of them, a man, who informs me it’s his friend's birthday. An opportunity to impress arises.

I have a quiet word with my friend and comedian, Lolly Adefope, who's going to privately sing "Happy Birthday" to the birthday-haver. Lolly begins, shushing people who join in until it’s just her. It’s truly beautiful.

But probably not enough. The other real table of two leave, and I see out our foursome. I apologize as we go, bumbling about new menus and difficult circumstances. In the midst of my wittering, I'm stopped. "Yeah, so about availability," the lady says. "Now that we’ve been once, is that easier?"

"What?"

"Yeah, is it easier for us to book a table now?" her husband jumps in.

"Yeah, it would be nice to come again."

I’m absolutely speechless.

"Uh, that’s certainly something we can look at."

They wave goodbye and disappear into the night.

By this point, the restaurant has slipped considerably in the rankings (the page has now been deleted, but an archived version is available here), but we were in the top spot for almost two weeks, and that's obviously had an effect.

I barrel down the garden and scream the news: "They want to book again!" Joe, Trevor—all the crew—look at me. We erupt into laughter. "I’m not surprised," says Phoebe, showing me the customers' feedback, which is roundly excellent—possibly because I didn't charge any of them for anything (the whole evening was free because "we were documenting it for a TV show"), but also possibly because they really did have an excellent time.

So there we go: I invited people into a hastily-assembled collection of chairs outside of my shed, and they left thinking it really could be the best restaurant in London—just on the basis of a TripAdvisor rating. You could look at this cynically—argue that the odor of the internet is so strong nowadays that people can no longer use their senses properly. But I like to be positive. If I can transform my garden into London’s best restaurant, literally anything is possible.

UPDATE 12/6/17: After an eagle-eyed reader spotted that each mocked-up TripAdvisor screenshot contained the same number of reviews, we have edited the images so that the number of reviews match those in the actual screen shots and also replaced two of the images.

Follow Oobah Butler on Twitter.

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christophersw
32 days ago
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4 public comments
zippy72
40 days ago
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I feel like Bojack Horseman is leaking and I've just been reading about one of Todd's schemes...
FourSquare, qv
DexX
40 days ago
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Click through for the pics...
Melbourne, Australia
jepler
41 days ago
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double, triple, 100x checks this is not theonion or something
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
acdha
39 days ago
We live in the era of desperately hoping you’re reading The Onion, knowing it never works
jepler
39 days ago
truth
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43 days ago
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Via metafilter
Washington, DC

How Artists on Twitter Tricked Spammy T-Shirt Stores Into Admitting Their Automated Art Theft

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Yesterday, an artist on Twitter named Nana ran an experiment to test a theory.

Their suspicion was that bots were actively looking on Twitter for phrases like “I want this on a shirt” or “This needs to be a t-shirt,” automatically scraping the quoted images, and instantly selling them without permission as print-on-demand t-shirts.

Dozens of Nana’s followers replied, and a few hours later, a Twitter bot replied with a link to the newly-created t-shirt listing on Moteefe, a print-on-demand t-shirt service.

Several other t-shirt listings followed shortly after, with listings on questionable sites like Toucan Style, CopThis, and many more.

Spinning up a print-on-demand stores is dead simple with platforms like GearBubble, Printly, Printful, GearLaunch (who power Toucan Style), and many more — creating a storefront with thousands of theoretical product listings, but with merchandise only manufactured on demand through third-party printers who handles shipping and fulfillment with no inventory.

Many of them integrate with other providers, allowing these non-existent products to immediately appear on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and other stores, but only manufactured when someone actually buys them.

The ease of listing products without manufacturing them is how we end up with bizarre algorithmic t-shirts and entire stock photo libraries on phone cases. Even if they only generate one sale daily per 1,000 listings, that can still be a profitable business if you’re listing hundreds of thousands of items.

But whoever’s running these art theft bots found a much more profitable way of generating leads: by scanning Twitter for people specifically telling artists they’d buy a shirt with an illustration on it. The t-shirt scammers don’t have the rights to sell other people’s artwork, but they clearly don’t care.

Once Nana proved that this was the methodology these t-shirt sellers were using, others jumped in to subvert them.

Of course, it worked. Bots will be bots.

For me, this all raises two questions:

  1. Who’s responsible for this infringement?
  2. What responsibility do print-on-demand providers have to prevent infringement on their platforms?

The first question is the hardest: we don’t know. These scammers are happy to continue printing shirts because their identities are well-protected, shielded by the platforms they’re working with.

I reached out to Moteefe, who seems to be the worst offender for this particular strain of art theft. Countless Twitter bots are continually spamming users with newly-created Moteefe listings, as you can see in this search.

Unlike most print-on-demand platforms like RedBubble, Moteefe doesn’t reveal any information about the user who created the shirt listings. They’re a well-funded startup in London, and have an obligation not to allow their platform to be exploited in this way. I’ll update if I hear back from them.

Until then, be careful telling artists that you want to see their work on a shirt, unless you want dozens of scammers to use it without permission.

Or feel free to use this image, courtesy of Nakanoart.

Update

Nearly every reply to the official @Disney account on Twitter right now is someone asking for a shirt. I wonder if their social media team has figured out what’s going on yet.

I know I shouldn’t buy them, but some of these copyright troll bait shirts are just amazing.

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christophersw
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uvayankee
48 days ago
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You know that scene in Home Alone 2 where Kevin gets the offended woman to deck Harry & Marv - this story reminds me of that.
Colorado

‘Meth. We’re on It’: South Dakota’s Anti-Meth Campaign Raises Eyebrows

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Many saw the slogan as tone-deaf or a failed attempt at cleverness. State officials said it was provocative by design.

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Arweave’s Permaweb cheaply hosts sites and apps forever – TechCrunch

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Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows

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Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.

The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury.

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

Southern Vietnam could all but disappear.

The first map shows earlier expectations of submerged land by 2050. But the new outlook, the second map, indicates that the bottom part of the country will be underwater at high tide.

More than 20 million people in Vietnam, almost one-quarter of the population, live on land that will be inundated.

Much of Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s economic center, would disappear with it, according to the research, which was produced by Climate Central, a science organization based in New Jersey, and published in the journal Nature Communications. The projections don’t account for future population growth or land lost to coastal erosion.

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

Standard elevation measurements using satellites struggle to differentiate the true ground level from the tops of trees or buildings, said Scott A. Kulp, a researcher at Climate Central and one of the paper’s authors. So he and Benjamin Strauss, Climate Central’s chief executive, used artificial intelligence to determine the error rate and correct for it.

In Thailand, more than 10 percent of citizens now live on land that is likely to be inundated by 2050, compared with just 1 percent according to the earlier technique. The political and commercial capital, Bangkok, is particularly imperiled.

Climate change will put pressure on cities in multiple ways, said Loretta Hieber Girardet, a Bangkok resident and United Nations disaster risk-reduction official. Even as global warming floods more places, it will also push poor farmers off the land to seek work in cities.

“It is a dire formula,” she said.

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

In Shanghai, one of Asia’s most important economic engines, water threatens to consume the heart of the city and many other cities around it.

The findings don’t have to spell the end of those areas. The new data shows that 110 million people already live in places that are below the high tide line, which Mr. Strauss attributes to protective measures like seawalls and other barriers. Cities must invest vastly greater sums in such defenses, Mr. Strauss said, and they must do it quickly.

But even if that investment happens, defensive measures can go only so far. Mr. Strauss offered the example of New Orleans, a city below sea level that was devastated in 2005 when its extensive levees and other protections failed during Hurricane Katrina. “How deep a bowl do we want to live in”? he asked.

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

The new projections suggest that much of Mumbai, India’s financial capital and one of the largest cities in the world, is at risk of being wiped out. Built on what was once a series of islands, the city’s historic downtown core is particularly vulnerable.

Over all, the research shows that countries should start preparing now for more citizens to relocate internally, according to Dina Ionesco of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group that coordinates action on migrants and development.

“We’ve been trying to ring the alarm bells,” Ms. Ionesco said. “We know that it’s coming.” There is little modern precedent for this scale of population movement, she added.

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

The disappearance of cultural heritage could bring its own kind of devastation. Alexandria, Egypt, founded by Alexander the Great around 330 B.C., could be lost to rising waters.

In other places, the migration caused by rising seas could trigger or exacerbate regional conflicts.

Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, could be mostly underwater by 2050. If that happens, the effects could be felt well beyond Iraq’s borders, according to John Castellaw, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general who was chief of staff for United States Central Command during the Iraq War.

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

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Land underwater at high tide

Further loss of land to rising waters there “threatens to drive further social and political instability in the region, which could reignite armed conflict and increase the likelihood of terrorism,” said General Castellaw, who is now on the advisory board of the Center for Climate and Security, a research and advocacy group in Washington.

“So this is far more than an environmental problem,” he said. “It’s a humanitarian, security and possibly military problem too.”

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Microsoft Japan’s 3-Day Weekend Boosts Worker Productivity by 40%

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