Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I Want in a Recipe Blogging Platform

After spending years subsisting on the food from Google cafes and fast food restaurants, I finally got into cooking my own meals - and I can't believe I didn't discover the joys of cooking before. Right now, I'm mostly following other people's recipes from their personal blogs (which I've aggregated in this portal), but I've started to experiment with my own variations and concoctions as well. Both to share my newfound love of cooking and to document my experiments, I decided I should start my own food-centered blog.

Before I could start my blog though, I had to pick a blogging platform. Given the number of food bloggers out there, I assumed there'd be one platform that stood above the rest and was the go-to for food bloggers - but alas, there wasn't. Of the 100 blogs that I subscribe to, 52 use WordPress (either .com or .org version), 34 use Blogger, 1 uses Tumblr, 1 uses Posterous, and the rest are custom built sites. Of those platforms, the only one that offers any food-related functionality would be a installation with recipe-related plugins, but given that a Wordpress install involves money and technical knowledge, it's unlikely that many of these amateur recipe bloggers would be using that.

Instead, each of these bloggers start with a generic blogging platform and do their best to munge it into a recipe blogging platform. Some get quite far, some not at all, and many end up somewhere in the middle. It's not a good situation for recipe bloggers - they have to spend time re-inventing the wheel when they could be spending that time making delicious food - and it's not a good situation for their readers- they must struggle to make sense of the different user experience on each recipe blog.

This is why I think the web needs a recipe blogging platform. Based on my experience as both a consumer and producer of recipe blogs, here are the features that I would want:

  • Recipe Index: The traditional way to browse a blog is to scroll through the most recent 10 posts, click, scroll through next 10, and so on. This is a bad way to browse recipes. Instead, users want to see a recipe index, typically broken down by meal types, like this one (which includes a legend) or this one (which includes photos). The platform should auto-update the index every time an author posted a new recipe, and the categorization would be based on post tags.
  • Recipe Microformats: Google now shows some recipe results using "rich snippets", based on microformats or microdata that it finds in the HTML when it crawls. Many big sites have adopted these formats, since it's easy to apply across their database-generated recipe pages, but most amateur bloggers don't have the technical know-how or the time to work out the HTML each time. The platform should include a widget (like this Chrome extension) for inserting a recipe with structured information, and make sure it adheres to the SEO best practices.
  • Printable recipes: It seems like a simple thing, but across all the blogs, I see readers constantly asking for an easy way to print just the recipe in a post, so they can sit it next to their stove while they cook. The platform should stick a "print" button on each post that formats it cookbook-style.
  • Recommended Cookbooks/Gear: Some recipe bloggers include a page or link to an Amazon store with their favorite cookbooks or kitchen accessories. It's a great way for them to share what they themselves use, and to make a bit of extra revenue off their hobby. The platform should faciliate that.
  • E-Book Generation: Once a recipe blogger builds up a sizeable collection of recipes and readers, they might want to generate an e-book of their recipes, like the reader-created cookbooks from Mark's Daily Apple and they may want to monetize off that e-book. For whatever reason, people will pay for the same content that's available online for free when it's in an e-book form, presumably because it's easier to consume or appears more professional, and if people will pay, then recipe bloggers should be able to take advantage of that. The platform should have a way of generating e-books (or even real books) and making it easy to purchase them, perhaps through Lulu.
  • Food-related Themes: As we've learnt on the web, everyone likes to theme their web presence. When I searched on both Tumblr and Blogger, I found close to 0 food themes, and had to go for the "nature-y" themes instead. A recipe platform should be filled with themes that make your mouth water and fills you with dreams of bacon fairies.
  • Step-by-step Photos: Many recipe bloggers include photos that show each step of a recipe, in addition to the final result, like in this recipe. The platform should make it easy to include these in the formatted recipe wizard and it could provide a slideshow-like view of the recipe, similar to what's offered on

The platform could also do more in terms of community - making it easy for readers to find other blogs they might like, making it easy for people to comment on recipe posts with links to their own variation, and perhaps bringing in ratings & reviews for the recipes.

This platform could either be a brand new platform, or it could be a bundle of recipe-blogging tools that can complement existing blogging platforms. A brand new platform would have more flexibility in its functionality, but it would also need to re-create the functionality already mastered by existing platforms and it would need to offer migration tools, whereas a set of complementary tools could start being used today by existing and new recipe bloggers. The best thing could be a hybrid of both options.

Since recipe bloggers at least start off as hobbyists (and many remain that way), such a platform or set of tools should start off as free or affordable, and offer premium features (like the e-book generation) for the more invested bloggers.

I'm a web developer myself, so I could go ahead and make this platform tomorrow, but I'm not sure it's what I want to spend all my time on and I think it deserves to be worked on by a fully invested team for a good amount of time. You can't just throw a blogging platform out into the world, abandon it, and expect it to flourish. A blogging platform is all about the users, and when you create a webapp that is user-powered, you need to spend time listening to your users, improving it to better meet their needs, and growing the user base.

So why have I written this post? I'm hoping that either 1) someone is already working on this and will take my feedback into account, 2) someone will be inspired to make this their baby, 3) someone will tell me this already exists. Now, I'm going to sit back and wait for one of those three to happen...and maybe cook some recipes in the meantime. :)

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