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Aug 16, 2006 02:52 PM
Discussion & in NYTimes Today

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  1. "Robert Sietsema, the restaurant critic for The Village Voice and a contributor to Gourmet, said he still finds the Chowhound boards helpful, but he said the quality of the discourse over the past few years has declined as more dabblers and dilettantes came onboard. “There’s less interest in the signature find,” he said. Instead of people scouring off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, there are obvious questions, like “Where can I take my parents after a Broadway show?’’"

    Boy - is this the nail on the head or what? In the next paragraph Jim disputes this - but the response is mainly that the porportion is the same as it has always been. Perhaps that's true - but as the overall volume increases, the schlock is clearly overwhelming the finds.

    I'm definitely looking forward to Jim's reports from the road - he's going to make AB look like the poseur he is.

    11 Replies
    1. re: applehome

      "I'm definitely looking forward to Jim's reports from the road - he's going to make AB look like the poseur he is."

      I dunno about that, do you think the chowmobile is going to be more sexy than riding a motorcycle and eating fried cow brains? ;-)

      1. re: ChinoWayne

        I'll bet AB at least eats stinky tofu.

      2. re: applehome

        I think we should expect an onslaught of dabblers and dilettantes (of which I consider myself one). I imagine there are many reading that NYT article, and others the CNet PR folks are probably working hard to place, who will be discovering Chowhound for the first time. If we don't want the essence of Chowhound to get lost, we will have to work hard at preserving our culture... Chowhound is what we make of it.

        EDIT: this reminded me to go back to a recent reply of mine and type out the new mantra I've decided to adopt for when replying to one-off posts from visitors: "Wherever you decide to eat, please do come back to this forum and let us know where you went, what you ate, and what you thought. This community thrives on feedback from folks like you. Enjoy!"


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          A very good mantra, TDQ! One we should all adopt!

          1. re: LindaWhit

            Thank you, Linda. It just occurs to me that when you give advice, you might as well set up the expectation with the requestor right in that moment that you hope they respond later with their feedback. Not everyone will, but I'm hoping at least some will. I know I personally have been guilty of not providing feedback later, either because my feedback was negative and I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings or because there was a long period of time that elapsed between my requesting info and when I actually got around to visiting the place... Still, no excuse, really.


        2. re: applehome

          Yeah, I'm looking forward to the Jim report too. I hope it goes well enough that they send him to different countries to do something similar.

          Chowhound is only what you put into it. If you write about food finds, recipe or restaurant, you'll attract other people like that. If you abandon the boards to the 'five perfect days' people that is what it will attract.

          1. re: rworange

            What's a "five perfect days" person?

            1. re: nanklee

              Vistor request ... visiting SF for the first time and looking for five perfect days ... we eat any kind of food ... what are the top restaruants in SF ... any price ... any ethnicity ... not touristy ...

              Maybe one out of 100 will report back about where they ate. Some of them I suspect just post and never read the replies because when asked for more information about what they like, they never respond.

              It is too bad because when the few do report back, often they will eat somewhere a local wouldn't think of trying.

              Queries get some surprising replies at times. However, if people, locals or visitors, post reports rather than queries, it encourages others to post and builds up the data trove on the site.

              1. re: rworange

                I agree that more followup posts would be useful and also make us feel our efforts in responding in the first place were not wasted.

                However, there are a number of reasons for not responding. The most prominent may be that the visitor was disappointed in a recommendation and didn't want to hurt the respondents feelings. I've always followed my mother's dictum "If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." ("Har de har har," says rworange.) I might snipe at poseurs, or big targets like restaurants with undeserved reputations and a human wave of lemming-like boosters (et tu, Jook Sing?) but in general I like to accentuate the positive, especially in the case of obscure joints where the owners are at least trying hard.

                1. re: rworange

                  The most annoying are the people who ask for recommendations, get a bunch of thoughful replies, and report back either complaining or enthusing about the crappy or mediocre places they picked at random.

            2. re: applehome

              Sietsema's comments are quite a broad brush. While his comments may be true of the NYC boards, that is hardly an indictment of the entire experience.

              My experience from being a resident of the Southwest board in general, and in Phoenix in particular, is that you get a mixture of all types of inquiries and reviews. Just looking at the Southwest board right now at Phoenix metro entries, I see posts about a pita place in Tempe (college town), a local Italian place in north Phoenix, a request for authentic Mexican food in Mesa, a report on a "Lunch & Learn" session with Ming Tsai at a Phoenix resort, a review of a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Tempe, a discussion on Phoenix Ranch Market (a huge market with an amazing food court featuring homemade tortas, tacos and horchata), and several entries regarding some restaurants in Scottsdale (reviews, announcements, etc.).

              Hardly an overwhelming selection that answers the question of where to take the folks after the show.

              I doubt the boards covering other areas are much different.

            3. I agree with a lot of what's been said here, and here's another take on the whole thing:

              A basic tenet of communication theory says that changes in communication technology change not only our ability to communicate, but also how we interpret and understand the larger world that that communication technology exists within.

              So it is with Chowhound. The changes occurring at Chowhound have and will continue to change the way we use it.

              Chowhound is full of advocates for mediocrity. Chowhound abounds in contributors who seem more interested in talking about the large quantity of restaurants they have visited rather than the high quality of one particular restaurant they love. Chowhound brims with people who want to tell you what to eat rather than let you make up your own mind. Chowhound is stuffed with posters who endorse places to eat without giving a reason why (i.e., "I just loved Big Al's Lunchbox because it was great!" Uh, okay, could you give me a little more on that?). And Chowhound is changing in the ways Robert Sietsema observes.

              As a result, I've had to learn how to read Chowhound to filter out those less-than-helpful contributions. In the 1980s I had to learn how to watch music videos and make sense out of them after growing up with more traditional narrative forms. And I had to learn how to use a Mac/Windows interface after I first got used to using DOS prompts. And now we're all having to re-learn how to use Chowhound.

              I can't say that I always like the changes, but I assume that you have to adapt or suffer.

              5 Replies
              1. re: alanstotle

                Thanks for this response. I find that as an online community evolves, it goes through various incarnations. On the Boston board, we've got the same number of standard "where's the Best lobster in Boston" requests, but we've maintained the MVPs (most valuable posters)for now. Also the new thread structure lets me weed out topics I have absolutely no interest in, like "best ice cream". I probably miss some good posts there but I'll never know.... :-)

                1. re: alanstotle

                  "Chowhound abounds in contributors who seem more interested in talking about the large quantity of restaurants they have visited rather than the high quality of one particular restaurant they love."

                  Chowhound is big enough that I've never seen such a post.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    On the one hand, I have to disagree. In my original post I'm reacting to a tendency I see on some of the boards for contributors, especially in response to questions, to list _every_ restaurant in a category rather than to list what they feel are the _best_ or _better_ restaurants. (And for that matter, to even clearly express their criteria for _best_.) Chowhound is not supposed to be a restaurant directory so much as a discussion of deliciousness. Size can be a disadvantage.

                    On the other hand, I think I see your point: one of the beauties of Chowhound is its inclusiveness. Size can be an advantage, too. If someone wants to use Chowhound to list restaurants, there's room for that. If someone wants to use Chowhound to discuss only the best restaurants, there's room for that, too. If someone has lots of restaurant-eating experience and wants to share that, there's room for that, as well.

                    Perhaps I could amend the tone of my original post in this way: Instead of saying "Chowhound is so big that you _have_ to edit out the stuff you don't want," I could say "Chowhound is so big that you _get_ to edit out of the stuff you don't want."

                    1. re: alanstotle

                      Agree re: too many restaurant recs may not be the best rec. Much better to give one thoughtful recommendation.

                      BUT, the longer list requires the original requester do a bit of homework to figure out where to go, which can be a good thing. Chowhound isn't for the lazy; it's for those who love chow so much that they're willing to take the extra effort to find good chow.

                      Also it's often possible to hit three or four restaurants for a meal. So the extra recommendations may not be a bad thing. Just have to optimize - get the best dish from each place rather than settling for what's available at a single place.

                      1. re: limster

                        For me, when a poster is vague, I give them a lot of options. If I say Jack Stack's BBQ is the best in town, they're liable to say they weren't looking for BBQ recs, or whatever.

                2. CNET is all about on-line communities and advertising and less about data/information. That is their modus operandi and I've seen how it's changed one other site that they bought.

                  1. I will be interested to see where the site goes. I was a CHOW subscriber from Day One and stuck with them until the end hoping the magazine would come back to life. My last print issue arrived about 8 months ago and I was sorry to see that the examples used in today's NYT article were from old issues and not new ideas. Even though I consider myself an advanced cook and am slightly older than the target demographic, I got a lot of good ideas from the magazines.

                    1. The original comment has been removed
                      1. Mutt, as I said in my post above, I am a self-professed dabbler and dilettante.

                        Just as I advise those who are annoyed by the rank and file newcomers, I would advise you to just scroll on past the posts that annoy you and focus on modeling the kind of behavior and attitude you'd prefer to see the standard on this forum. As I said before, Chowhound is what we make of it. The longstanding posters are frustrated with the newbies; the newbies are intimidated by the crabby old-timers. Why not just focus on the chow and forget the politics? I have learned so much from the long-standing posters here and I can only think of a rare occasion when someone has been unkind to me. And I like chow at the Dairy Queen dagnabit!