15 3 / 2013

13 3 / 2013

"Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet."

Read more: Google Blog

10 3 / 2013

08 2 / 2013

Previously we have explored different kinds of information searching behaviour (The Explorer vs The Treasure Hunter) and we have explored different kinds of readers (The Subscriber and The Seeker). Today we are going to turn the table around and look at it from a content producer’s point of view and how our understandings of these patterns shape the development of Fork the Cookbook

Recipe development is definitely hard work. In my previous life, I did it for a living. The countless late nights of testing, measuring and keeping track of my new changes is often tiring but rewarding. I have tried to start a food blog 3 times last year to share my recipes but I have never succeeded. I lack the discipline of a food blogger and often, I don’t have any interesting words to share, no back story behind why I did modifications to a recipe. I lack the wit and charm to make people enjoy my words and sharing the recipe itself is not enough to sustain my audience.  

I definitely do not think that producing food related content on the internet is easy and nor should it be. 

At Fork the Cookbook, this has been our main concern even before we started the project. Let’s be frank: Food blogging is more than just sharing recipes and we understand that.  We understand that for many food blogging is their main source of income. Not many food bloggers are blogging about sharing recipes merely from the kindness of their hearts. More often than not, food bloggers expect monetary return for their hard work.

It’s a perfectly acceptable and legitimate way to earn a living. Most food blogs are highly optimized for search engines as a result of this. We understand this because more than one of us in the team have been publishers in the past and have received incomes based on pageviews. These concerns were chief amongst others when we were building Fork the Cookbook. We wanted to find a way to rightly reward content creators. 

With publisher’s interests in mind, we conducted months of intensive research and discussion on how to design and present Fork the Cookbook in a way that is not damaging to food blogs. We also want to balance this with the idea that recipes should be free for all to fork. 

Here we share the principles upon which Fork the Cookbook was built on: 

Do Not Linger
Fork the Cookbook only has 3 features: Adding a recipe, Editing a recipe, and Forking a recipe. It was intentionally designed to not have comments or reviews, followers or stream or ratings. This was an intentional design to reduce stickiness to our site. The way we see it is as such: people are either Seekers or Subscribers. If they are Seekers, they are not going to be very beneficial for bloggers [1].  Subscribers on the other hand, are a different issue. The “Write Up” link is placed in a prominent above-the-fold location to maximize clickability. We want to encourage people who are interested in the write up to become Subscriber of the blog. There are no making-of pictures either, because we believe that those should be part of a write up and not a recipe. Unlike recipe aggregators which cater to Explorers, Fork the Cookbook caters to Treasure Hunters and Seekers  and we do not expect users to spend a lot of time on our site. 

Do Not Compete Against Bloggers
We are not hungry for search results or Google hits. We are not fighting food bloggers for high ranking. In fact, in more than one way, we have taken steps to ensure that we will not outrank food bloggers. For example, Fork the Cookbook does not have a sitemaps.xml. Anyone who knows about Search Engine Optimization will know that this is a critical component to placing higher on SERPs. We also made sure that validated recipes have no rel=nofollow on the links to the write ups. In the future, we are taking further steps to demote ourselves to make sure that we do not outrank the bloggers. 

Do not Ursurp Revenue
Fork the Cookbook does not have advertising on it nor do we plan to have advertising in the near future. We do this because we believe that the revenues should belong to the people who have taken the time and effort to write write ups. 

There will undoubtedly be questions on whether Fork the Cookbook, by virtue of being an intermediary step between the user and the final write up, is an act of ursurping revenue. The idea is that if the user does not hit the blogger’s page, the blogger does not get any revenue.

We have done extensive research on this issue, and came to the conclusion that it will in fact benefit bloggers[1].

In conclusion
Our idea is simple. If you like a recipe, and you make changes as you cook, use Fork the Cookbook to keep track of the edits and share it with friends and family. That’s all Fork the Cookbook is built to do. No more, no less.


[1] The logic is as such: If seeker-type behaviours hit a publisher’s page, the ads that are being served will be typically of lower eCPM since that traffic is not viewed by the advertiser as high quality. By removing people with these behaviours from ever hitting the page, publishers actually enjoy higher eCPM rates since sticky/subscriber type behaviours are usually seen by advertisers to be of higher quality.

08 2 / 2013

It has been a hectic day at Fork the Cookbook in the public relations front. And this time, it’s not for good publicity.

It has come to our attention that recipes added by a few of our beta users did not obtain special permission from bloggers who produced them. This was a mistake on our part and we are sorry.

We still support and we will still work to extend the concept of open source to the cooking and recipe sharing community, however, we will not force everyone to share the same belief.

As of noon today, we have stopped all technical site development in attempt to notify each blogger about their recipe on Fork the Cookbook. We will continue to do so in the coming days. We are looking to improve our DMCA process and a thorough analysis of our first DMCA claim will be posted in the next few days.

We believe that this change we wish to bring to the cooking and recipe sharing community will not happen overnight and while we urge that you have an open mind, we will never discriminate against you if this idea is too wild for you to accept.

For those who believe in what we do and believe that this is the future of recipe sharing, we thank you for your contribution and keep on forking.

05 2 / 2013

In our last post I introduced the concept of the Explorer vs the Treasure Hunter. Today I’m going to explore the world of food blogs and recipe searching, and the context that Fork the Cookbook exists in.

In the team, we are collectively subscribed to many food blogs in our personal lives. Some of us more than others. I personally bookmark only about three food blogs that I keep going back to because of the content – the little snippets of their lives, the quirky style of writing, and since food is visual, of course, for the food porn.

For these blogs that I bookmarked, I actually don’t mind seeing their step-by-step pictures in order to make the best pizza ever. In fact I crave reading about the tiny dramas behind the scenes of the pretty pictures.

Then there are days when I am craving for Cheesy Vegemite scroll and I trust my favourite search engine, Google to bring me to the best Cheesy Vegemite scroll recipe available on the web. I will skim through the stories, look past the wit or inspiration of the author, dive straight into the recipe, copy it and off I go.

Very rarely am I interested in the author’s stories if I am in the mood for finding recipes.

imagePhoto by Primus Inter Pares

The scenario I mentioned above is actually a very common one. A few years ago, we had done eye tracking tests and habitual tracking of users. Indeed, we found that people have various ‘modes’ of searching. A common mode is the Treasure Hunter mode mentioned in the previous blog post. The other mode I described was the Subscriber mode, which we think is actually a subset of the Explorer.

The Subscriber is a loyal reader, and will devour anything the author writes. The concept of Twitter’s Follow, and Facebook’s Newsfeed rely on the fact that the Subscriber is a common mode for information discovery for many people.

And so we come to the question of what Fork the Cookbook aims to be. In a nutshell, we believe that Fork the Cookbook is a distillation of recipes from the personal stories and style.

In the past year, I have tried for a grand total of 3 times to start and maintain a food blog to share my recipes because I actually like sharing my creations with the world. But for the life of me, I cannot master food styling and I don’t like sharing my personal stories on the world wide web.

This is why we had built Fork the Cookbook to be a simple one-stop recipe site for creators and curators to have a page of their own. It forces recipe writers to distil their thoughts to only the recipe, but at the same time, it affords the authors to extend their thoughts on recipes through embedding their recipes (should they want) on blogs.

The next blog post, we’ll talk about the prickly topic of SEO and advertising. For now, you should continue forking recipes on Fork the Cookbook

31 1 / 2013

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján was an interesting man. He was a man driven by the search for the three Gs - Glory, God and Gold - in the 16th century. He was a conquistador who was ruthless in his belief of and the search of the Seven Cities of Gold, more commonly known as Cibola. There was another Francisco - Francisco de Orellana - who lived at the same time as Coronado, who also chased another mythical city of gold, the El Dorado. In fact these two people form the backbone of modern monomyth of the treasure hunter. Any modern media that portrays the conquistadors looking for the long lost City of Gold were more often than not based on the two Franciscos.

Ernest Shackleton was also an interesting man. He wasn’t born in the Age of Exploration like Francisco Coronado or Francisco Orellana. He was born in Victorian Britain, in a time when it was claimed that the sun would never set on the British Empire. It was a time of curiosity and scientific pursuit (of course, one cannot omit the ugly side of colonization, but that is another story all together). And that was what drove Shackleton to lead not one but two successful expeditions to the Antarctic (one was troubled, but no one died).

Francisco(s) and Ernest are two prime examples of treasure hunters and explorers. In very very simplified terms, the former two (Orellana and Coronado) were motivated by objective goals, while the latter was motivated by discovery as a means to itself. We call the two archetypes of behaviour the Treasure Hunter and the Explorer. Of course there were more things at play that motivated them to do what they did, but that’s another story for another time.

Nonetheless, despite the high disparity in motivations, the explorers mentioned above did something: they explored. In fact Francisco de Orellana explored quite a lot of the Amazon river (to which he called them the Amazons because he believed he had met the female Amazonian warriors of the ancient Grecian tales). Ernest Shackleton explored much of Antarctica too, and did loads of scientific experiments. Coronado of course, gave us these clips:

Imagery copyright of LucasArts, now Disney :( 

Five years ago, when the team sat down to form Pressyo, the company behind Fork the Cookbook, we agreed on a few things: 1) There was such a thing as good information and bad information; 2) Our goal is to deliver good information to people. To do that we had to do some research.  And we did quite a bit of research.

Our research indicated something very interesting, and we’ve not stopped thinking about it ever since. Consider a hypothesis that says the following: with regards to information search, there are two kinds of behaviour that can be observed: the explorer, and the treasure hunter.

Many jokes could be made about women’s shopping habits compared to men. But if you stop to think about it, it does quite make sense. Imagine, if you will, a lady is an explorer. She goes into the a shopping mall, stopping by every clothings shop, trying on everything, exploring all possibilities. Her husband (conforming to heteronormative narrative), on the other hand, is a treasure hunter. He makes minimal exploration to get what he wants. If he wants a jacket, he’ll know quite quickly what he wants and quickly acquires it.

The activity of shopping is in fact a form of information processing - specifically a search for information. We think of shopping as exploration of a search space for a good that maximizes a user’s utility. We could in fact generalize all information search done by human beings to fall into one of those two kinds - the Explorer or the Treasure Hunter.

Why is this important to Fork the Cookbook? We believe that understanding core behaviours are important to the design of products. We need to understand the behaviours of the users when designing a product. While there is much to be said about actual testing with statistics, and we truly believe that too (we have an economist and a mathematician in our team). However, we too believe in heuristics: guidelines and rules of thumbs that can help us shortcut our decision making process. The Treasure Hunter vs Explorer is one such heuristic of behaviour in information search from our team that we use to inform our decision making when designing Fork the Cookbook.

Think about how you use recipes and share with us - Are you an Explorer or a Treasure Hunter most of the time?

27 1 / 2013

We’ve slightly updated Fork the Cookbook’s front page. It now looks like this: 

We have been testing this layout internally for about a week and we’ve finally decided to release it to test. There are variations running thru, so don’t be alarmed if you see a slightly different version of it

There will be a post later in the week about our design decisions. Stay tuned for that

27 1 / 2013

peegaw said: Still held up with Med school I'm afraid, but I I try to get a new post out every weekend, if not then every fortnight. I'm glad you enjoyed them though, and I'm very intrigued with your poached meringue recipe. How did it differ from the standard fare?

It was interesting, to say the least. It was afterall a floating island recipe which is then baked lightly. Maybe you could fork it and make a better version :P

26 1 / 2013

January 26 is Australia Day. The day evokes thoughts of barbeques, beers on the beach and lamb.

Unfortunately this year we’ve had to disappoint Sam Kekovich. I didn’t have lamb. Instead, I made a poached pavlova.

A what what? A pavlova is an Aussie dessert. It is essentially a baked meringue topped with whipped cream and fruits. The meringue is usually slow baked. Traditionally it can take up to 10 hours or more to bake the meringue nest.

Having planned to spend most of the day at the beach, I decided to take a shortcut and not bake the meringue for so long. Instead, I poached it in milk. And to give the pavlova a traditional brownish colour, I baked it in a low heat oven.

I have also omitted the traditional corn flour in a traditional pav nest recipe as I’m not baking it for a long time.

The recipe is as below (feel free to fork this recipe):


21 1 / 2013

We set Fork the Cookbook live one week ago today. There are many stories how how Fork the Cookbook came to be. Here, I shall recount the first story we recall. 

Six months or so ago, we were running Strangers for Dinner, a site where you would invite strangers well, for dinner. The idea was to make friends over food in an intimate setting.

In our first dinner party, a very enterprising young man called Tim (you should follow Tim on Twitter) suggested we have a feature for post-dinner-party socializing. The feature was to have recipes for the dinner party’s dishes be shared amongst the attendees of the dinner party.

That turned out to be a fairly fantastic idea. It sat in our minds, always figuring out ways to incorporate a recipe sharing system into Strangers for Dinner. 

There were few things we had in mind from the get-go: it had to have an API so SfD could consume it. It had to be easy to use, with no gotchas. We had always knew it had to be a service outside Strangers for Dinner, but sometimes we toyed with the idea of having a built-in system instead.

No fewer than 6 attempts to write a recipe-sharing system/platform were made, in different technology stacks. We ended up with a bunch of very fragmented systems.

Of course, then by all measures, Strangers for Dinner failed. We whiled about for a few months, then decided to take the plunge and create a recipe sharing site now known as Fork the Cookbook.

18 1 / 2013

Summary: Search is hard, we’ve been working on it for a while, and we’re releasing a search feature in 2 weeks, thanks to the feedback we’ve received.

Today’s post will be a little technical. Fork the Cookbook has been open to the public for about three days now, and we’ve seen new users forking recipes like never before. It is rather interesting, all in all. We will post more statistics and data in the days to come.

The feedback has been rather interesting too. The number one issue is the lack of a search functionality on the site. Rather, we had presented the users with a rather crude interface of getting 20 random recipes on each refresh of the front page.

This is obviously not an optimal solution to the problem of discovery. In fact we’re well aware of it, which is why forkthecookbook.com/ redirects to forkthecookbook.com/recipes/random/.

We had thought that we’d come up with a Random Recipes feature while we quietly work on the search in the backend for a while before releasing it.  

We clearly forked up in having that line of thought.

The Minimum Viable Experience

We’re big fans of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. We’ve already addressed the leap-of-faith question of “Does the World Need Yet Another Recipe Sharing Site?”. We’ve done and acquired hard  numbers that indicated so. Along with hard numbers, we had also discovered that it was a UX issue that made people think that the world needs another recipe sharing site. In short, most recipe sharing sites out there were unusable. 

And so we set out to create the minimum viable experience for users. Searching for recipes is broken on most sites. After a quick 30 dollar AdWords test for the above leap-of-faith question, we interviewed some of our participants. I guess it would not be a surprise that most people think that recipe search is inherently broken. We’ve ferreted a bit more information, but that’s for another blog post.

The conclusion was that despite Fork the Cookbook being primarily a recipe sharing site, we needed search to be an integral part of the site. But how?

Search is Easy (Or So They Say)

Or is it? Any Tom Dick and Harry with the least bit of technical competency can throw up a Solr and Lucene cluster nowadays. Even the least competent of programmers would be able to do a basic MySQL full text search. Add to that, solutions like AWS’ ElasticSearch exist which makes life much easier. This thought is endemic in the lean startup community. Mention that you need search functionalities, and these would be the common keyphrases that are thrown out, along buzzwords like ‘Big Data’ and ‘NoSQL’. 

So why not do that? Why not just throw up Lucene + Solr instance somewhere on the cloud and declare search done?

It comes back to our decision to make a better recipe search experience for users. One of our key philosophies in the company is “if you want to do something, do it right”. Doing search right meant a lot of research into it and designing an experience for users. I’ll leave that for a future blog post, as to why recipe searching can be difficult.

Where We Went Wrong

It turns out, having no search is a significantly worse experience than having a shitty search. There, we said it. We were wrong. Dead wrong. A cursory analysis of our logs indicate that there were a number of users who tried to access forkthecookbook.com/search/ to no avail. Clearly search is important.

What We Are Going To Change

As such, we’re going to release a rudimentary search feature in the coming two weeks. Why two weeks? For one, 4/5 of our team is down with one form of illness or another. We expect no work to be done for the next week or so, except a deploy of an already developed feature. More to come on this.

Lastly, we’re very sorry that new users to Fork the Cookbook has such a nerf’d experience. Tell us: What feature do you want next?