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May 14, 2008 01:26 PM

Disturbing example of CH insider-ism and why it might discourage new members


There's a new Japanese yakitori place in LA called Yakitori Bincho that's getting some mention on the LA boards. And that's great. However, I'm a little disturbed that the original poster that alerted us all to the restaurant got so little notice. Here's the original post:
The only respondent was Rameniac, a well-regarded LA chowhound, who later posted about his experience at the restaurant. Rameniac did credit the original poster Vittus for the find, but I was surprised by the quantity of responses to his post, with many of them thanking Rameniac for the find. Later, another well-regarded poster Exilekiss posted about Bincho with another flurry of responses. Here are their posts:

I know there was no ill intent on the part of the LA CH community, but this does look a little odd. Why was there almost no responses to the original poster, a newbie, and so many for the established hounds? I wonder if this kind of thing discourages the original poster to discontinue posting about his/her discoveries? I notice that Vittus hasn't really posted in the last month, and perhaps has gone his/her own way by now. That would be a shame, since this might be one of the best posts on the LA board this year. Now, I don't want to see a lot of "thank you" posts either, but I think it could be helpful to new members to comment on the original thread, as a means of encouragement. I'm not sure what it takes, but it just looks like the community turned a cold shoulder to a new poster who took the time to introduce us to a significant place that wasn't on anyone's radar. These are the most valuable posts/posters. I don't care for those "where should I eat in ..." posts that tend to get a lot of responses, since I get very little value out of those, and frankly, I find a lot of bad advice on those threads.

Here's another post on the Manhattan board that might be the single best contribution in 2008 on tamale street vendors in upper Manhattan:

These are the posts that are examples of strong signals as opposed to the noise that require a filter in those mega-threads on "what should I order..." I hope we do our best to keep these posters around.

  1. As a new poster, I will say that your perception is exactly right. I've found this a rather difficult community to enter and am really surprised at how mean you can be to each other. Doesn't mean I won't visit, and post, but it certainly has given me pause and illustrated to me that not all foodie board share the same feeling.

    1. Agree entirely! Thanks for pointing this out. It's extra important to credit and engage new hounds (especially the ones giving great new tips) so they'll come back with more chow tips.

      Often you'll hear about hounds saying that they calibrate their tastes to those that have a posting history, so that they know who's reliable and who's not. While this can be useful as an easy way to get good food, it totally misses great tips from new hounds.

      It's not unusual to find that folks aren't willing to follow up on a new hound's tip, because they don't know if the new hounds are reliable. That kind of playing safe, by only going to tips from established hounds, is almost the moral equivalent of only going to places recommended by a guide book. We should have a high threshold for deliciousness, but a very low threshold for deciding to explore a place or follow up on a tip.

      5 Replies
      1. re: limster

        This advice is laudable, but I find it difficult to follow. My time and dining dollars are precious commodities, so I try to improve the probability that I'll get good advice by listening first to folks with a track record of being trustworthy, having similar sensibilities to mine, and/or having some special expertise or passion that I don't yet have.

        This has little to do with my sense of adventure, more a suspicion that in the broad universe of unknown posters, the chances of getting bad advice are far greater than getting good advice. The assumption that the average unknown poster may be unreliable can be confirmed by the number of bad places where there are lines out the door vs. great places that are mostly empty. That's even before we get to the difficulty of assessing whether an unknown poster might be a shill, a crank, or an ax-grinder.

        I wish I had the luxury of following more tips from first-timers, but my own experience is that it's better to wait for them to establish their bona fides as a) someone who at least has a modicum of what I'd call "good taste" (e.g., they don't love The Cheesecake Factory) and b) they don't have an agenda other than finding and discussing great chow. I find those qualities very difficult to assess in a first-time poster.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Lots of chowhounds explore places where we have completely no information (not even a terse tip from a newbie) and that's how new finds come about. If there is a tiny bit of information like a post from a newbie, that shouldn't change the desire for exploration; at the very worst it's just a piece of information to let one know that a certain place exists.

          Chowhounds tend to size up an unknown place critically by reading the menu to look for interesting stuff, seeing what people are eating, interrogating the waitstaff etc... even before tasting a couple of things. One shouldn't stop doing that just because one is following a tip. Follow a tip, but do it critically as per normal chowhounding. That might also mean engaging the newbie with questions about the place etc...

          It's just not about getting reliable knowledge from a newbie (or anyone), but also about figuring out what is unknown, so that one could go about filling in the gaps in our knowledge.

          It's important to maximise deliciousness, but it's even more important to maximise NEW deliciousness.

          1. re: limster

            I definitely agree with this point about novel information being very valuable. There is a tendency on the Boston board to fall back on the same universe of known-to-Hounds restaurants, though many of these places aren't more widely recognized by MSM and guidebook-type sources.

            Any time a Boston Hound (regardless of tenure) mentions a restaurant that previously hadn't blipped my radar, it goes into my my "new places" database, which is roughly categorized by formality/cost, location, and/or cuisine. But I still tend to try unknown places recommended by trusted Hounds sooner than places identified by newcomers. (The good news is that the shills are still pretty easy to spot, and the mods mostly keep them out.)

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Thing is slim, you're so well-known on the BOS board that people often end up crediting YOU for another hound's find -- maybe because you chimed in on a thread, or maybe because the poster didn't see the original thread, whatever. I also don't think it's mal-intent on the poster's part, but it is good form to give credit to the hound who really discovered a place.

              And I always knew you have a database. :-)

              1. re: yumyum

                I think it's kind of odd that people might credit me for being the first to identify new places on the Boston board. While I'm not shy about chiming in on a lot of places, and probably get out more than the average diner (partly out of inclination, partly out of professional duty), I've never been one to brag here that "I got there first". On the contrary: I often argue that getting there early is a mixed blessing: usually rough sledding, generally not a reliable indicator of how a new restaurant will eventually perform.

                (I do have an equally food-obsessed sibling with whom the got-there-first thing is a kind of jokey contest: it counts as a win if you get there one second before the other. We've had footraces to the doorsteps of new places for the sake of meaningless bragging rights.)

                I have been a loud and early advocate here for certain places I thought were worthy and under-recognized (Trattoria Toscana, Don Ricardo's, Taqueria El Amigo, Jasmine Bistro, for a few examples), but I can't recall a time when I was ever the first. That sort of thing seems more important to Yelpers than Chowhounds, at least in Boston.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. Hi, Vittus here. Thanks for your post.
          I have been casually perusing Chowhound for a few years, and use it whenever I need to check out a restaurant, but I seldom post. I originally posted about binchoo because I happened upon it when it was brand new and was impressed by its authenticity both in taste and atmosphere. I just wanted people to know about it so that others could enjoy it and it would succeed.
          While I didn't really have the intention of becoming an active poster on the board, I did wonder why nobody responded. I just assumed that maybe people weren't too interested in yakitori.

          Just a moment ago, before reading your post, I saw rameniacs post about binchoo. It was kind of rameniac to credit me, but I was just glad to see that someone was getting it noticed. I wasn't sure why so many more people were commenting on this post...I thought maybe it was just his wording in the title. Now that I know he is a well respected hound, it makes sense. I certainly understand that people will be more likely to listen to someone with an established reputation like MR. Rameniac than an infrequent poster like myself. So, I don't really harbor resentment towards the chow community. I'm glad that word about Binchoo got out one way or another.

          That said, it was a tad disapointing to get only one comment on my post. As you say, I don't really need "thanks for the tip" posts, but I was hoping other people would try it and post their thoughts in response.
          It wouldn't prevent me from posting new finds....if I found another Binchoo I'd post it....but I'd likely not put as much time or effort in the description as I did on the original post. As I recall, that one took me a while.

          My only other beef is, that I have sometimes found people to be a bit confrontational/snooty when I post here, but perhaps that is all in my head. IN any case that may have limited my amount of posts.

          2 Replies
          1. re: vittus

            I'm not on your board, but I wouldn't count "influence" by number of replies. Most of us have a LIST, and few of us are as assiduous as Limster, e.g., at followup. It wouldn't surprise me if you have plenty of cred with attentive hounds (who may not be frequent posters). [Um, how does a "casual" reader find the site talk board? ;-) ] Anyhow, I agree about encouraging newbies. dockhl, each board has a different flavor, sometimes skewed by a few. Please persevere, maybe you can help reset the tone of yours. Few people enjoy being mean.

            1. re: vittus

              Vittus, glad to see that you're still around. With the swell of participants on chowhound, it seems harder and harder to filter through all the crap to find nuggets of wisdom like yours on Bincho. Please continue to provide tips as you find the notable ones.

            2. If I mention a place I've visited and liked, I don't expect a lot of responses. What exactly is the problem here?

              2 Replies
              1. re: mpalmer6c

                Well, the problem is that sometimes, new posters don't come back if we don't engage them. And that's bad because it can mean the new posters with great chowy instincts don't contribute, and we lose information about new delicious food.

                1. re: limster

                  I think the problem here is knowing that they aren't coming back. They may not post frequently, but they may never have wanted to post frequently. If they only post when they're the first one to find a new spot that they think is truly Chow-worthy....they may not be posting much at all regardless of the reception. They may, though, be reading the boards and getting information and be ready to post if/when they find a new place that's worth it.