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