A Rebuttal to Food 52

Dear Amanda, I spent a good bit of time today reading your essay and the subsequent comments regarding Google’s Recipe Search.  Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation.

In general, I agree with most of your essay.  But as a someone who does not have the resources to focus on blogging as my full time career, I take exception to your suggestion that “a very simple place to start is by tracking the number of comments relative to pageviews, the number of Facebook likes a recipe has garnered, or how often a recipe has been shared.”

While Google’s approach doesn’t take quality into account, a structure built around comments, page views, likes, and stars turns a search into a popularity contest destined to be dominated by the power bloggers and mega sites.  How is a small blogger supposed to compete with the likes of Smitten Kitchen, Pioneer Woman, and even Food 52 within those parameters?

Providing quality content is no guarantee that the page views will come.  Sometimes it takes luck, fairy dust, or the right person seeing a post Stumbled to start generating the buzz that initially gets bloggers noticed.  I blog because I want to blog not because I want to play the social media game and get bogged down in the need to be heard on Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, FoodBuzz, and the countless other sites that people look to for validation.  I tried it.  And I didn’t like how it turned something I do because I enjoy it into a competition. It shouldn’t be about me vs. you or us vs. them…but it feels like it is.

I believe the logic that say “a recipe with 74 comments is almost certainly better than one that takes 8 minutes to make” is faulty.  Just today there is a lively discussion going on at Tastes Better With Friends about blog commenting.  If we base the definition of quality on the metric of commenting, does one distinguish between the fluffy “looks yummy” comments and the more substantive ones that spark a discussion about skill or technique?  I’ll be the first to admit that comments are hugely validating.  And while I appreciate getting the fluffy ones because it lets me know that I’m not merely speaking out into the void, I love the ones that show someone took the time to read what I had written and found a way to connect to it.  It might not even have anything to do with the recipe being posted.  Are 70 fluffy comments worth more than 4 that further the conversation?

As a food blogger it is my responsibility to truthfully represent the recipes I post in terms of time and effort.  As a food blog reader, it’s ultimately up to me to determine whether the recipe I’ve found online meets my definition of quality.  Quality = subjective.  For some people, that’s going to be about opening cans and microwaving sides while for others it’s going to be about locally sourced this and organic that.  Who am I to judge?

I’m a home cook.  Five days a week I do look for quick and easy recipes that fit my lifestyle.  And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just because I do use quick and easy recipes to make my weekday life easier, that in no way precludes me from jumping in to a more challenging and time consuming recipe on the weekends.  But we all cook for different reasons.  For some, it’s merely fuel for the body, consumed on the run between a string of part time jobs cobbled together to make ends meet.  For others, it’s a leisurely undertaking that feeds the soul. It’s a big enough internet that there’s room for all of us and the websites that meet our needs.

Ultimately, I choose how my name is associated with my online content.  While I may never enjoy the commercial success achieved by other food bloggers, that doesn’t mean that I am not successful at what I do.  It makes me sad that we have collectively redefined success to mean being ranked on the first page of a Google search.  Saying you’re not successful if you aren’t ranked first in a web search is like saying you’re not a good cook if you don’t have top of the line appliances.  These things are merely tools.  How we use them, and the power we give them to rule our lives, is completely up to us.


Wendi @ BAH

42 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to Food 52

  1. Sing it, sistah!!!

    I agree wholeheartedly. Amanda’s logic of finding a quality recipe online is flawed. And I sure hope that she is wrong in thinking that a Google sort alone is going to bring down food and cooking single-handedly. There is no search engine that can substitute for a person’s individual needs, intelligence and curiosity.

    1. I don’t know that there is any single right answer Jennifer. I just know that from my perspective as a small blogger, the approach suggested in the essay would leave me at an even greater disadvantage.

      I think Amanda raises great topics for further discussion but I am deeply troubled by all of the comments on the piece that don’t seem to think about the implications to the vast world of bloggers that aren’t the mainstream names with thousands of FB followers.

  2. First fluffy comment: Yummy post!
    I love that you love to blog and I enjoy that you share your experiences with the people who check in everyday. I feel that almost any time read about blogging or social media or whatever is hot this week in an article, open letter or whatever else is comparable to those two things, its reflected as competition. There are a bazillion bloggers out there and while a big chunk of them blog to market themselves to pull ahead in a competition where you can win… can win something I assume most people like, there are probably still more that do it for fun, as a hobby. I say hobby on. (My brain hurts.)

    1. Thanks for the fluff Brooke. We all need some in our lives.

      If blogging were how I made my living, I’m sure I wouldn’t be thinking about the implications to the bazillions who do it for fun. So maybe I’m just speaking for the little guy. That’s ok. Somebody has to.

      Hobby on girl.

  3. So glad you shared your opinion here… There are so many sides to the debate, and I think you definitely brought up some important points 🙂

    Keep blogging because you love it… Because that’s why I read your site!

    1. Jen, you said it beautifully…there are so many sides to the issue. There’s definitely not going to be a one size fits all answer. But hopefully if we all contribute to the discussion, we can maximize the effectiveness of the solution.

  4. Wendi–I want to hug you SO MUCH for writing this. I too was irked by the notion that comments/FB likes/stars equates with quality and is somehow “better than” a recipe that takes 8 minutes to make, because it feels like an apples/oranges comparison. And pageviews do not necessarily mean quality in this day and age if you consider what tends to go viral (see: Rebecca Black and “Friday”) because sometimes it’s just as much fun–if not more so–to mock something as it is to genuinely like it.

    I have more thoughts, but I’ll shoot you an email–don’t want to clog your comments!

    1. Elizabeth, it really was a poor comparison to begin with. And I’m relieved that I’m not the only one troubled by the notion that bigger = better. I will gladly take that virtual hug. I know that I run the risk of causing a lot of angry people to unleash some vitriol upon me by voicing this opinion. And when I start seeing hits in my stat counter from Hearst Corp, lawyers, and the Game Show Network on this post, it makes me a little unnerved. But I stand behind every one of those 740 words.

  5. This whole issue has me throwing my hands in the air and sighing or screaming loudly. I began blogging in 2005. Stopped for a while in 2009 and have found it difficult to come back sue to several reasons. One of those reasons you have articulated so well. I blog because it’s a fun hobby. I’m not sure I want to brand myself, or advertise with abandon. However, I do like readers and comments, and therein lies the rub.

    In order to get readers, much less people who will comment, you have to be here there and everywhere it seems. No google and the money trail, have made it near impossible to find any joy in the process at all.

    However, after talking to my much smarter husband, he says to just keep going. Blog using your voice, your recipes and people will still find you. People who, like you, do it for something other than the $$ at the end of each post. We talk about everything pulling back, becoming stodgy, and embracing a farm to table approach to eating. Well, evidently we don’t enjoy the whole commercialization of the food industry or its products. Many food bloggers are their end product too. So, he says, sit back, keep blogging and it will all sort itself out.

    I sure hope he’s right. I guess I really should just blog and see what comes of it.

    Thank you for your post, your voice – tiny as it may seem – and your willingness to voice the frustration many of us feel.

    1. Robynski, I agree with your husband. It’s like Alice from Savory Sweet Life discussed at Big Summer Potluck last year….if you blog in an attempt to duplicate someone else’s success, you’ll never find your own. You have to be authentically yourself. If I do this with the only goal of making myself happy then the monetizing and seo and stats and google nonsense don’t have power over me. I think that’s the best place to be.

      Basically, I say blog on your own terms hon. And thank you for saying that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  6. Valuing page rank devalues the community smaller bloggers build and provide their readers. I’ve got no one at Epicurious who I can ask a question of (or who will play with my action figure), but there’s a comfort level at a place like this.

    1. Oma, I strive to provide the highest level of customer services and satisfaction. So if that means emailing you to see if you need help finding a dessert recipe because I saw you poking around cupcake posts in my stats, then by golly that’s what I’m going to do. Thankfully, you didn’t think it stalkerish.

      And you raise a most excellent, serious point. As a small blogger, I have the ability to respond personally to comments, answer questions, and provide personal interaction. The blogging superstars may have the legions but I like to think that I have actually forged meaningful connections with folks such as yourself through the blog.

      That and I got to host The Jolie. When was the last time someone asked PW to play with an action figure????

  7. The whole popularity contest is what I hate about blogging.
    I blog because I am unhappy with most other aspects of my life (career/school, etc.), but my blog provides me with a happy place where I can express my feelings, have some fun, vent, and, most importantly, a reason to spend more time in the kitchen and have fun/enjoy with food.
    But, if I start to think about the number of clicks and comments, and I start to write about people want to read, and not what I want create, then I’ve lost my happy place! It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the popularity contest, especially when we are being ranked by google/foodbuzz/the world.

    1. Jan, I would be lying if I said that in the three years that I’ve been blogging I haven’t had flashbacks to the moment in high school when I didn’t make the football cheerleading squad. What, I was good enough for basketball but not football? The hurt that we inflict on one another is brutal. We talk about mean girls and bullies as though it’s something that disappears when we turn 18 or 21.

      I say hold on to your happy place and blog as though nobody is reading. That way, the only expectations you have to meet are your own. Wow, who knew that my love of Atlas Shrugged and my obsession with personal accountability would ever weave itself into my food blog?

  8. I guess it shows how NOT into promoting my blog I am that I didn’t know about this debate until I saw it here. I agree with most everything you said, Wendi. I guess I’m just too tired from real life to worry about page views and rankings. It seems like recently, it’s all I can do to just keep my little journal going. And that’s how I think of it–as a journal that I enjoy sharing with my friends. Yes, I like comments, but I think more because it means it’s a personal touch from someone who is actually out there reading more than anything else.

    1. Beth my friend, your are one of the bloggers that I consider a superstar. You blog, when you could be doing other things, because you enjoy it. Not because you’re making money off it. Certainly not for the recognition it brings. The people who lead completely full lives AND blog…those are my superstars.

  9. i wanted to let you know that i read this post and i enjoyed it immensely. i also clicked on the links and read the original essay and its subsequent links.

    i’ll be honest. while interesting reads, it was ALL ANNOYING. i do believe this is part of the reason why i’ve slacked off on blogging. it’s exhausting.

    1. Lan, I agree that it can all get overwhelming. And petty. And that does dampen my enthusiasm as well. But I’m going to take my own advise and blog like nobody’s reading.

  10. I’ve been blogging for over 5 years now. I promote my blog to the extent possible for someone with a day job, but I get few comments. (I’d LOVE some fluff once in a while.) But I blog because I enjoy it, because I want to share my thoughts and recipes with the world, and if only a few people get to read it, well then I just consider myself “exclusive.”


    1. Minx, I may just have to adopt your “exclusive” philosophy. I love it. And you, my friend, more than anyone I can think of are a blogging superstar. I have no idea how you manage to do all that you do.

  11. This is totally a fluffy comment – but I *LOVED* this post. Thanks, Wendi, for being able to say so succinctly something that many others feel to be true.

    1. Nakiya, fluff is absolutely welcome here. I know I only speak for myself but I do appreciate that I’m not alone in the way I feel.

  12. Very well said! A lack of online popularity certainly doesn’t reflect on the quality of a recipe (or a blogger!). The things you have to do to get ‘noticed’ and get ‘popular’ for me don’t seem worth it . . . like others have said, I blog because I want to and because I enjoy it, and putting myself under pressure to become more noticed takes the joy out of it.

    1. Jenna, I could not agree more that popularity does not equal quality. I follow many smaller bloggers who I think have a better “product” than some of the mega bloggers. 

      But as I say, it’s a big enough table that there really is room for all of us.

  13. Wendi, I have yet to read Amanda Hesser’s essay, but I was riveted while reading our take on it. I don’t think comments are the end all be all when it comes to the success of a blog or recipe. In my Google reader, some of the food blogs I follow have a lot of subscribers, but they only get a few comments. Then other blogs who have less subscribers have tons of comments. It doesn’t seem that commenting is always directly proportional to the number of readers or Twitter followers or Facebook fans. So how could it determine the validity of a recipe? On my blog, the posts that have the most comments have nothing to do with the recipe’s popularity. They have comments because those posts were on the WordPress homepage.

    I like the take away from your rebuttal. You know who you are, you know why you blog, and you’re proud of the content you put out there. I think that’s the best mindset a blogger can have.

    And now I’m off to read that essay…

    1. Jen, I appreciate your feedback. And I think you hit on a great point…our individual motivations play a huge role in what we expect to get out of blogging and what we put into it. I don’t disagree with the entirety of Amanda’s essay, I just wanted to express an opinion that is based on a different point of view.

    1. Ali, hope you have taken care of the fluffynutty cravings.  Thanks for your kind words. The blog has connected me with truly fabulous people.

  14. Now that I’ve read the essay, I agree with her thoughts on SEO. Funny thing – I never look at how long it will take to make a recipe. I just forget that information is there. I guess I just get an idea of time by reading the directions.

  15. I was involved in the discussion at Tastes Better with Friends yesterday, and made it a point to visit all the commenters today. Your post is right on, I don’t want to be defined by comments, page views, followers or fans. While it feels nice to have someone drop a token from the internet highways as they whiz by, it certainly can take the wind out of your sails when they don’t. I love that you said there is enough room for everybody, and we all have something slightly different to bring to the table! Keep enjoying what you are doing!

    1. Speckle, that was a great post on Tastes Better and it really struck a chord with people. Thanks so much for visiting and adding your thougts on this. I lovethat we all have our own unique perspective and that we can let that come through on our blogs.

  16. Hear hear! Thanks for clueing me in to the new google search. What’s interesting to me is that alot of my views on my blog come from a google search for mango cupcakes (#6 on a google search). (And there is no way I value myself more because of that one recipe that gets searched!) When I do the same search on the recipe search my post doesn’t come up at all on 7 pages! Weird.

  17. Great discussion here, and I enjoyed reading your take on the Google recipe search piece from Food 52 which I read — comments and all up to a point — right after it was written. I appreciate all of the different perspectives coming out about blogging in general because of it. It’s interesting to me. I’m a hobby blogger, I guess, but it certainly is nice to be able to cover at least some of the cost of my annual hosting and other fees related to blogging. They’re not all that expensive, but I figure every bit helps, so I do run ads and pay close attention to how I categorize and tag my posts. I don’t use special formatting, and probably never will, however. I routinely use Google to search for recipes and have found GREAT new blogs that way — which is nice. I just skip over the first 5-6 pages and dig in for something different. When I find one I like — especially if I’m considering using a recipe — I take the time to comment. I never leave comments like, “Nice,” or “Oooh, yummy,” because it strikes me as ridiculous. It feels like someone is just checking in, and that I, in turn, am supposed to do the same. That’s not what blogging is all about in my opinion. My stats show me who has stopped by. I can see where they check in and where they check out. My feelings aren’t hurt if they don’t comment. And speaking of comments in general — posts that generate more than 25 comments don’t particularly allow for any kind of discussion unless they’re on great topics like this one (thank you very much!), so at some point, it seems more to me like a “wanting to be seen” or connected to someone who is very popular. I feel like I just crashed a party, but hope you don’t feel that way. Someone tweeted this post, and I enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say. Also thanks for the heads up about the post at Tastes Better With Friends. I’m headed over there now. 🙂

    1. Kellypea, I think your approach of delving deeper into the Google results to discover new blogs is quite interesting. If there’s a single thing I hope readers take away from this post, it’s that we all blog for our own reasons and so our needs and the choices we make will all be different….and that’s ok. I hate the popularity contest aspect of the blogosphere. So I try my best not to engage in that side of it. But I will be honest, it is thrilling when I see a huge spike in hits because a post has been Stumbled or featured on Freshly Pressed.

      I’m glad that you moseyed on over from Twitter. Late guests are always welcome at my parties. You may arrive to find me in my pj’s and fuzzy slippers but I don’t mind if you don’t.

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