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Making the UK/Ireland board more relevent to residents throughout the two countries [from UK/Ireland board]

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Folks

Underneath is an email to me from the Moderating Team which I'm sure they won't mind me reproducing and allowing the thread to stay on the board

I've recently made a couple of posts on the topical boards suggesting changes that, I'd hoped, would encourage more UK/Ireland residents to find CH and contribute (effectively I was suggesting some "autonomy" for this Board to discuss all subjects rather than having, say, media issues booked off to the very US-centric media board).

"We wanted to follow up briefly on your comment on the Food Media & News board about the move thread, since we've also seen your comments on the Site Talk board about moves from the U.K/Ireland board to the topical boards .

We understand your frustration, however, and wanted to explain the rationale a bit further for you. The regional boards on Chowhound are the useful resources that they are precisely because there is little, if any, discussion of food media, home cooking, general discussions that are appropriate for the General Topics or Not About Food boards. Over the years, those boards were created to ensure that 'hounds had boards where they could discuss such areas of interest, without diluting the wonderful resources of our regional boards. At the end of the day, we strive to be a community of Chowhounds, and we hope that UK posters will participate in the topical boards, and offer their perspective on discussions of a more general nature. To that end, we have been making more of an effort recently to post pointers to moved threads on the UK board. Though, it certainly would help us out if UK posters would post on the appropriate board, and then post a pointer on the UK board!

All best,"

Hope folk don't mind this thread. It's just that, as I've mentioned before, there's great scope for the discussion board format of CH to become a major player in UK and Ireland as, frankly, nothing similar seems to exist home-grown.

John Hartley

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  1. I got the same email. :-) I felt as if I was back in school, but I do feel that a bit more humanity on a website often makes for a better atmosphere. That said, I do realize this website is supposed to be about food.

    1. It is a dilemma and I don't think it is confined to the UK board. I find the same in the French and Australian boards i.e. there seems to be quite a low participation rate from residents. The result is a fairly narrow, self reinforcing, set of recommendations.

      I say self reinforcing because what seems to happen is that the visitor will go to a few restaurants, often based on Chowhound recommendations. They will then recommend based on their own recent experience. Thus the majority of the reports will be for a narrow set of restaurants, and logically people follow the majority, so the circle continues. As a result of this narrowness the board actually fails in its mission. My assumption is that if you get a greater proportion of residents you will get a wider set of recommendations and more new places.

      But I wonder if residents who participate get bored?

      The same old places over and over again, and whenever a good discussion gets going it is moved to another board which destroys the quality of the debate/discussion because many of the participants lack insight or interest. Take the "Delia" discussion in two days the Guardian site attracts 270 comments, whilst Chowhound has 16 in the same timeframe. If Chowhound could harness some (not all because some of it is wacky) of that insight and passion the forum would be more vibrant and thus more valuable for all.

      The other irritation is that the moderation seems to be getting heavier. Has it become more US centric? Has it lost an understanding of how Europeans debate? Anything controversial, sarcastic or slightly argumentative gets deleted. We like that - robust debate is healthy.

      6 Replies
      1. re: PhilD

        Good points, Phil.

        Back in the US, I don't participate on or read Chowhound because there are other food-discussion sites that allow a tiny bit more rambling in the interest of promoting community. If those types of sites exist for London, I don't know about them, so here I am.

        I gather that recommendations for travellers/newcomers is more the purpose of Chowhound all over the world than forming a community of foodies. And that's just fine; it serves a very useful purpose. But there is (the geek speaks!) a ton of research showing that tight moderation works against community formation, as does too much anything-goes.

        Now, back to the main board to report back on tonight's dinner....

        1. re: mmwwah

          I just wanted to mention that I notice that U.S. posters have the same issues when it comes to posts about say, a NY restaurant review being moved to the Food Media board, or a thread about "typical Southern food" being moved from the South board to General Topics. But, I also notice that, when that happens, often (though not always), posters from other regions chime in, and add significant contributions to the subject. The "rules" may not be perfect, but I do like the fact that I can count on finding, say, recs for great crabcakes on the DC/MD board when I do a search, without coming up with discussions about recipes for crabcakes, or discussions about what an authentic crabcake is. Just my two cents (or the equivalent pence, or euro - don't know what the euro is divided into). I've stayed w/ CH for a number of years now because to me, it is a community, even if there's not a lot of "chat"/rambling.

        2. re: PhilD

          Phil

          You articulate the dilemma very well. And it also makes me realise how the problem of Brits not "finding" CH causes its own problems for those of who are here. For example, you and I have recently posted recommendation requests on the Spain board as we are both visiting very popular holiday destinations there. Almost zilch response for either of us.

          On my return from Tenerife, I posted a brief review of some of the better places we came across (none great but one or two reasonable finds). Unsurprisingly, there have been no comments. By comparison, I posted a similar review on the forum of a well known, mainly North American, travel review site (it might, erm, advise you on your trip, so to speak). There is now a fairly vibrant and useful discussion going on - all Brits or Irish folk. They could be here, if only they knew of us!

          I'm never in favour of free-for-all and don't feel comfortable in unmoderated forums. But a loosening of the grip would benefit debate amongst us Europeans. And on the foodie front, I am much more likely to trust the recommendation of a Hound who not only knows their food but who I "know" because I see their humour, view of the world, etc.

          I had hoped my thread would remain on the UK board, so folk could easily see the Moderators response that they are trying to be as helpful as they can at present. It is, perhaps, ironic that it now finds itself in "site talk", albeit with a pointer on the UK board.

          I'd be interested to learn what you and others think can be done at a practical level to encourage more Brits and Irish to find us and participate. At present, I feel at a bit of a loss to think of anything.

          John

          1. re: Harters

            The way to encourage more like minded chowhounds to participate is to post about where to eat. When I first started on chowhound, the traffic on the San Francisco board was probably about the same as the UK board today. Traffic grew because the board was useful to people and hounds were willing to engage like-minded new posters. The more senior posters encouraged new posters to share their opinions, even if they disagreed with their own. In this manner, there was less "group think" and more opportunity for hounds to decide on their own, with not just critical thinking but more importantly, critical eating.

            From personal experience, I'm more liable to trust a hound's advice if I find that they are focused on the food. There's nothing like seeing someone dissect a dish down to its elements. On the other hand, my threshold for accepting a tip on a place to try is very low; this is an opportunity for personal exploration, not a board where one decides whether a place is good or not (that should be decided at the restaurant after the meal). Afterall, chowhounding is about finding delicious new ground rather than playing out safe options from a guide. Very often I'll read a brief post from someone that I've never read before and it turns out to be a great place. A classic example is Angela's Cafe in East Boston, which is now a board favourite.

            1. re: Harters

              For what it is worth - I find that often on the Manhattan board, where I post most of my reviews, often there is little, if not no, response to a review initially. But then, six months later, someone pops up on that thread, because they were looking for information on that place, and they've found my review helpful. While responses are gratifying, I also look at posting fullsome reviews as building the database for those who come after. I've noticed that you are doing the same for Manchester. In the long run, I think it sets a good example, and helps create a resource that others can rely on upon. As a counterpoint, if someone posts a great in-depth review on Manhattan, I try to respond, just so that there is some feedback, which encourages people to post again. Over time, through my participation on the Manhattan and Home Cooking boards, I do feel as if I "know" some hounds, and trust their recommendations.

              1. re: MMRuth

                Harters posted here - I think this is on point:

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/492703

          2. The geographical breakdown among the boards is a convenient way to organise information, but personally, I don't think that it should constrain hounds geographically when they think about where to eat and what community they belong to.

            I have always seen the board as one community of chowhounds that post to different boards. It's not about being US-centric or Euro-centric, but being food-centric. I have happily eaten in many parts of the world with other chowhounds that share the ethos of what chowhounding is about.

            One of the main reasons why I first came to chowhound and why I stayed around was the quality of the information and low levels of noise. If I was going to LA, I could just browse through the LA board and not be slowed down by topics that did not help me eat better. To take an example from the Food Media Board, topics like "Who are the great food writers, past & present?" are very interesting and very worthy of discussion. BUT if I am hungry and trying to figure out where to eat in a specific locale, it would be completely useless. Ditto with discussions on food TV programmes, or how we regard a particular food personality.

            If we want to build a community, we need to think about how it is going to be built. Have lots of chatter and the community will be built around chatter. Have lots of sharing of food-tips and the community will be built around sharing food-tips. It's not about how many people a community is made of, but what the shared values are (which are articulated in the Manifesto and chowhound FAQ). Chowhound is a very specialised site and it shouldn't be all things to all people.

            Jim Leff has mentioned many times, that unlike traditional passive media sources where one just accepts a certain programme, the food and restaurants discussed on the Chowhound boards are entirely dependent on the people who post there. If the chow content on the board is not to your liking (e.g. same places get mentioned all the time) then post chow content that you like (e.g. a place that has never been mentioned that serves delicious food). Don't like a particular topic? Don't respond to it. The chow on the board is what you make of it.

            I don't mean to be contrary, but just that my aspirations for chowhound are different. Whether Chowhound becomes a major player in the UK or anywhere else isn't important for me -- being a major player doesn't necessarily equate to more quality information. Rather than having a big audience and vibrant debate, I'd much prefer have useful and practical tips on what and where to eat, anywhere in the world.

            2 Replies
            1. re: limster

              Lest my previous post suggest otherwise, I'm not complaining about Chowhound. It's very clear about logging ideas for where to eat in specific places, and it's quite popular.

              I speak only for myself in saying that I prefer a higher degree of community because I can't tell whose tastes align with mine otherwise. We used Chowhound for a few weeks when we first moved to LA in 2004, and we had a series of terrible meals at restaurants that came highly recommended -- from people who like different things than we do.

              I've been scoring a lot better on the UK board, thank heavens!

              1. re: mmwwah

                I think Limster's right about posting being the key to building participation. I found the board while searching for something, probably that's how most of us got here. The more posts, the more hits, the greater the number of the tiny percentage who will be interested enough to stick around and contribute. Then you get the community, which I agree with mmwwah is valuable. The Boston board, which is quite active, has a lot of community (and not a little rambling), enough to make up for the endless "coming to town where do I eat" requests. But it gets stale when people stop posting new finds. As for moving posts, if the mods hadn't split the Henry Hong discussion from DC/Balt. and put it on Food Media, I wouldn't have discovered him! So there are benefits.

            2. Another aspect of the dilemma comes to mind.

              There is a recentish thread in Food Media discussing BBC America' s programme titled in the US "Last Restaurant Standing". This was shown in the UK last year as "The Restaurant".

              The dilemma would have arisen for the Chowhound Moderators had someone started a thread on the UK board last year. In accord with existing policy, the thread would have been moved to Media and we Brits would have continued to discuss it there each week, obviously including which contestants had been voted off the challenge. Of course, we would have no way of knowing that the prog. may subsequently be exported to other countries and that we were spoiling the result for others. And, of course, it is entirely proper that we should be discussing it there and then.

              So what to do?

              Prevent any discussion on a programme unless it's a programme being shown in the US? Of course not.

              Move the thread to the "correct" section and spoil the programme for many?

              Leave it to run on the UK Board where comparitively few Americans will come across it?

              I know what I'd have done. Luckily no-one started a UK thread. But I understand Series 2 is in the making.....

              2 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                We'd have moved that thread to the Food Media and News board, allowing UK posters to discuss it. Given that they weren't getting the program, it's not that likely that all that many Americans would have been reading the threads religiously enough to have it spoiled for them when it was eventually imported.

                Canadians don't get to see Top Chef until after Americans do, but we don't ban discussion of that show until it airs in Canada.

                1. re: Harters

                  Personally, I wouldn't have seen it as a dilemma. The more general boards (such as General Topics, Food Media etc) aren't here for the sole benefit of the American chowhounds. They're for everyone to post on, regardless of where they eat.

                2. My two-pennorth, as a UK resident/citizen, is that CH is too rigorously monitored for my taste. The UK/Ireland board is never given the chance to become a real online community. Any interesting discussion, if it deviates ever so slightly from the thread title, is promptly deleted. Essentially, I agree with Phil D.

                  I also think the boards need to be redesigned - they're pretty confusing at the moment.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: greedygirl

                    To clarify, we don't remove posts because they deviate from the thread title, as long as they are on topic for that board - i.e., about restaurants and food/alcohol stores in that region. We do move (if feasible) or remove posts that belong on one of the topical boards, the reasons for which we explained in the email to Harters, posted above. As we noted there, "At the end of the day, we strive to be a community of Chowhounds, and we hope that UK posters will participate in the topical boards, and offer their perspective on discussions of a more general nature." We also remove posts that attack other posters or that are not about food.

                    1. re: The Chowhound Team

                      I fully accept the current policy of Chowhound - this is your game and we play here by your rules.

                      However, you'll have seen that what I and other Brits/Irish who have contributed (on this and other threads) are saying is that we feel we could better grow the UK/Ireland board if there some greater degree of flexibility which would allow a development of our distinct national Chow community within the greater Chowhound community. Above, PhilD explains the view much better than I ever could.

                      Obviously, it's a matter for the CH management team to determine if there should be any such change.

                      John

                      1. re: Harters

                        I would respectfully disagree that the UK/Ireland board is better served by a distinct national community. Chowhounding transcends borders, and many of the chowhounds that I admire cross great distances (and many borders) to find something delicious. While traveling everyday is not practical, it is still essential to cultivate the mentality -- the willingness, the lust, to go as far as resources would allow, for something more delicious. For this reason, we shouldn't just make any board more relevant to the people that live in that area; we should make it more relevant to chowhounds everywhere.

                        What chowhounds have in common is not geography, it is a set of shared values as described in the chowhound manifesto and FAQ. And therefore we should grow it around these values, rather than geography. There are many internet resources for discussing food, cooking and restaurants, each with their own personality; and what makes Chowhound what it is, is this set of values, not the locale where the posters reside. A community takes time to develop; a community of like-minded people on the same mission takes longer to develop and even harder to maintain.

                        From personal experience participating in several CH boards, and watching the volume of posts grow on these boards over several years, I feel that the way to maintain the high level of chowishness is to only attract like-minded chowhounds, rather than casting a wide net. I would personally prefer a lower volume of posts if they are chowy, rather than a larger volume that I would have wade through to filter away the non-chowy parts. If we post about where to eat delicious food, the rest should take care of itself. That is how I feel we should grow the UK/Ireland board, or any other board on CH.

                        1. re: limster

                          Thanks for this post, limster. Until then I didnt know there was a CH manifesto nor had I come across a FAQ section.

                          Both set out very clearly the CH ethos as you explain it. The suggestions I'd made equally clearly run at odds with that, in so far as they very much involved casting a wider net.

                          My apologies to members for suggesting such changes which I only did in ignorance of the site's core values. There will be no further criticism of current policy from me nor alternative suggestions for growing the UK/Ireland board. It'll either grow as you suggest or it won't.

                          Thanks for clarifying things for me. It'll be interesting to watch what happens over the coming period.

                          John

                          1. re: Harters

                            One thing that occurs to me about the "community building" aspect - users could put their email address in their profile, and then if someone wanted to have an "off topic" discussion, that person could just ask another poster to email them. That keeps the board on topic for sharing chow tips, but allows other kinds of discussion to flourish, albeit only between two posters at a time. I put mine in my profile in a somewhat non standard form to avoid spam and I've not noticed any increase in spam, or "unsolicited" emails since doing so.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              That seems like a good idea, MMRuth, although I am so spam-averse that I'm still skittish. I am newish to CH and prior to that had only participated in one other food related site, which had a function that I liked -- the possibility of Personal Messaging other posters. This avoided having to provide your email in your profile.

                              1. re: grayelf

                                The email that I do post is one of several that I use - this one is dedicated to "online" things - such as ordering things, getting newsletters, CH, etc. That way my personal email/work email doesn't risk getting spam. But, as I said, I really didn't notice an uptick in spam once I finally decided to put my email in my profile.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  I've used the same address to post to CH for 5 years. I don't think there's been any noticable increase of spam, but I'm sure there's been some. I just have good spam blocking so I rarely see ANY spam.

                                  1. re: Chris VR

                                    You've convinced me! I used my "online things" email address and put [at sign] instead of @ in the middle to discourage those evil email harvester thingies :-).

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      Good idea- I probably should do that, but that cat was probably out of the bag... er, harvested, long ago :-)

                                      1. re: Chris VR

                                        I say, never too late, those harvesters are continually active. And I can't take credit for the idea. I stumbled across it somewhere on Chowhound!

                  2. Perhaps the moderators have just a little too much time on their hands and are just a little too heavy handed. Really, lighten up just a little and the forum will be more fun.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: sancarlo

                      Why do you call that heavy handed? In any organised information resource, such as a library, the right information needs to be store in the right place so that people can find it. Why is chowhound any different?

                      When I started reading chowhound over a decade ago, the boards were really focused on scoring great food, and there was very little chit chat or tangential stuff that while food related, didn't have any direct value for finding delicious food (e.g. celebrity chefs, or assorted service rants). If anything, I find that focus has been slightly diluted.

                      Finding and eating delicious food is the fun part, this forum is just the means to that ends. Reducing the focus of this forum reduces the its effectiveness as a tool to find and eat delicious food, and that reduces the fun that many chowhounds get out of this site.

                      1. re: limster

                        Limster

                        As we've already discussed above, you have your view of this and I have mine.

                        I am currently following your suggestion that the way to grow the UK/Ireland board and make it relevent to us nationals and residents is simply by posting. Frankly, I think it has not got a snowball's chance of working but I will stick with it for some months longer (perhaps till the autumn). As you know there's no similar "competitor" in the UK so it's Hobson's Choice.

                        However, I have no confidence whatsoever that, on their own, the practices that have succeeeded in north america will be successfull in the UK, Ireland or, for that matter, other countries outside north america. There is no evidence, whatsoever, to suggest that posts over the last couple of years, mainly relating to London, have encouraged any more than a handful of Brits to join CH. There is no evidence, whatsoever, that posts on the national boards of other English speaking nations have encouraged more than a handful of their nationals to join. There is no evidence, whatsoever, that posts on national boards, where there are many English speaking residents (such as Spain), have encouraged more than a handful to join.

                        This is not a criticism of the current practices, as such. The owners, and members such as yourself, may be very content for CH to retain its tight focus. In which case, I am as confident that as I can be about the UK, CH will not grow across the country and will stagnate, increasingly failing in its own mission statement. It will remain primarily as a board where north american tourists can find recommendations of a handful of often touted places to eat in London. There'll still be handful of residents and nationals contributing. But that'll be about it.

                        As I've said elsewhere, threre are currently fewer regular posters in the whole of the UK & Ireland, outside of Greater London, than there are in Asheville, North Carolina. My definition of CH success is when similar sized small towns in the UK, like Harrogate and Barrow-in-Furness, have sufficient CH members to bring the sort of information and discussion that the Asheville folk bring to the South board. As I say, I have no confidence that, even if you and/or the CH management shared my definition of success (and there's no reason why you should), it could be achieved without some new "flexibility". Let me assume that there is a genuine wish, on the part of CH management and others, to see the UK/Ireland board grow so that much better national information about delicious food is available to the board, the challenge for them is to work out how they intend to encourage residents of places like Barrow, Bacup, and Bideford to find the board and feel its a "place for them". There may be creative ideas out there and, if there are, I'm sure those of us who are British or Irish will want to help out (we have the most interest in seeing our own board develop and, I have to say, know our own "market" best).

                        Of course, if the intent is to maintain the rigidly controlled tight focus, it would be most helpful to know that. I could start looking for a new home right now, rather than leaving it for a few months.

                        John

                        1. re: Harters

                          Great post John, it sums up how I feel.

                          I am pretty new to Chowhound (and still a bit hesitant to post my thoughts all the time not being a super foodie, but someone interested in good quality food), but get a real feeling with regards to the UK board that in some ways we are operating an unpaid reviewing service for the service of US tourists without being able to build our own community. Our "off topic" post are often lost in the shuffle on the other boards.

                          One only needs to turn on the television over here to and realise that there is real potential here given the fact we have proper food/cooking shows on network television in prime time. Not something that exists in America, and not something limited to London.

                          1. re: nanette

                            I sympathise with your sentiments about being a tourist service, because sometimes I felt that, even back when I was posting in the SF or Boston boards. In many ways, every single board can somehow be an unpaid review service for tourists, and one could argue that the more heavily trafficked boards on the US are exploited more in that way, given that there are way more inquires from tourists and more information on those boards that can be used by tourists.

                            We have already built a community, it's called chowhound. Why should we build yet another one to separate ourselves, based on an arbitrary criteria such as where we live? Historically, people used to isolate themselves from others based on all sorts of arbitrary criteria such as religion and nationality, and it's not been conducive to sharing, which is ostensibly the purpose of sites like chowhound.

                            Thus, I worry about wanting to build a community that wants to isolate itself and be separate from everyone else. Chowhound has been about swapping and sharing information. Why should we share only with a subset of people when we can share with everyone?

                            For the boards, I feel that what is important is what makes us different from those that reside in America or Asia etc... It's about what we all have in common, which is the love of food, no matter where we live, what kind of culture we come from.

                            BTW, you'll be surprised at how great tips about delicious food that I've scored over the years, from new posters such as yourself, despite the fact that you think you're not that hardcore. New posters can be a great source of refreshing information, and I hope you'll share your tips about great foods at great places. There's real potential everywhere and we just need to tap into it in a way that will benefit everyone on chowhound, rather than just a subset of the people that use this site.

                            If you want to share a recipe, think about how much bigger the audience on the home cooking board is. Even if not all the specific ingredients are available to all posters, it's sure to bring up lively discussion on good substitutes! In fact, there are cookbooks by British authors frequently discussed on the homecooking board, as such those by Fuschia Dunlop or the guys from Moro.

                          2. re: Harters

                            Breaking down the 2 issues:

                            1. Growing the boards

                            At the level of local boards, big is not necessarily better. The boards with the greatest traffic are also the boards with the largest number of complaints about tourists asking about where to eat. That's been the bane of many of the big boards that I used to frequent. And for that reason I certainly hope that whatever happened on the big US boards won't happen on the UK boards.

                            No one can promise that any board will grow or how fast that would happen (the SF and Boston boards grew over several years, not months), but if a boards grows, it will grow based on the types of posts that end up on the board. The question becomes whether we want to grow our board around chit chat or tangential-food related topics or if we want to grow it purely around finding delicious food.

                            The more focused the topic, the fewer the number of interested posters and the lower the participation. But there's a corresponding increase in signal-to-noise. My experience with very heavily trafficked boards on CH (SF and Boston) over the last decade is that more isn't necessarily better; I wasn't getting a proportionate increase in the number of great tips about places to eat. In some ways, I was getting better tips with the SF board back in the day when the traffic level was similar to what we have on the UK board now. It's more important to grow in the right way than to grow willy nilly.

                            I've always used the boards as an information source, rather than a venue for socializing; that's a personal preference and style. That's mainly because I find that it's easier to socialize with other chowhounds over a meal rather than on a discussion board where it can be hard to convey tone and other nuances in social interactions. At the end of it, to me, eating food is more enjoyable than talking about food.

                            2. One open community of chowhounds vs many separate insular communities

                            I don't want any particular board to be just relevant to particular groups of nationals or residents. I want every board to be relevant to chowhounds everywhere. Let's make it a place for all of us, rather than just a place for some of us.

                            One of the great things CH has done for me and many others is that we can fly thousands of miles across many borders and be able to share a delicious meal with others that share the same fascination for food. I've personally know of chowhounds from NY sharing a meal with those in Tokyo, or ones in Boston chowing with those in Shanghai.

                            IMHO, don't see a UK community or for that matter, a NY community or a SF community. I see one community of chowhounds, who are looking for delicious food everywhere. It's not many communities, it's one community with one set of shared values that transcends geographical barriers. It's one of the cool things with the internet -- allowing people from diverse locations and backgrounds to come together because they have a set of shared values. Chowhounds have more in common with one another, but at the end of the day, it depends on whether we wish to emphasize what we haver in common or to emphasize the differences. I feel that there needs to be a desire to share not just with locals, but with everyone. If not, then we would have failed to tap the diverse perspectives on food that make chowhound such a special place.

                            To be honest, I can't say that my opinion is necessarily shared by the people who run the boards, and I am uncertain as to how they will wish to grow the boards. But that's how I feel having participated on several boards at many different eras. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.