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Jan 8, 2010 08:07 AM

Overheard on the Boards and the Chow Digest

First of all I LOVE the extra tips on "Overheard on the Boards". What's not to like about three more cherry-picked tips.

What would be a help is adding a restaurant name if any. For example, from the recent Boston Digest

“It was a beautiful tuna moment. Lots of fun people in line and lots of laughing and joking behind the lines. A true celebration of the sea.” – gyppielou about New Deal Restaurant

Zagat has a similar feature called "Outtake of the Week". While they are amusing, I suspect they have a professional writer making these up. They don't credit the poster and I've done searches on Zagat and never found those quotes.

Which brings me to a slight nit ... actually a jarring nit to me ... about the Chow Overheard.

Occasionally they are not about finding good food. Sometimes they are just pithy writing. It is jarring to me because Chowhound is about finding good food.

As to the Chow Digest, I've, uh, "mentioned", this before, but it was during the holidays. A lot of the Chow staff was gone. The holidays are over and I'd really like an answer on this.

Why are two of the Digest articles changed to links? What was the reasoning for this?

It is terrible for all sorts of reasons. When I opened the Home Digest this morning, instead of an enjoyable quick read, my heart fell to see I'd have to click on five links. to read those articles.

The problem with this

1. People rarely follow links. I know from years of posting. I didn't botther with the five links
2. The site is slow. Following those links is a relatively major time commitment for me.
3. The site remains buggy. some of the Chow Digest links don't work. Some of the Chow Digest articles are assigned the wrong category. There are other problems
4. Search still is buggy on Chow. I use my mail accout to search for Digest info I want.
5. If Chow goes belly up, decides to change format, drops the digest, etc, etc ... that info is gone. I still have my old Chow News in my mail folders. When I'm traveling to LA, I still use some of that info though the links no longer work. I have the full text.

If the reason for the change was that there was a feeling the email digest was too ... wordy ... how about this.

Put all the titles with links at the top of the digest, follow by Overheard, followed by the FULL digest article.

Then those who like short and pithy can scan the top of the digest and those of us that like to see the whole article can read the whole email.

Quite frankly, the site is so slow that not only have I given up on other boards, it has been three months since I've even kept up with the San Francisco board. I have 25 pages with unread posts. The Digest was my one last enjoyable pleasrure that I could quickly acess through email.

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  1. I'd like to add that having the full text of the digest in your email box is helpful for those times the site crashes or is down for unscheduled "scheduled maintenance" which just happened a few minutes ago.

    It seems like when you are traveling or making a recipe that is the EXACT time the site is down.

    1. I will be totally honest: we want people to visit the site. We want them to click through from the newsletter and discover the Digest posts, then click further and read the threads, then reply with their own opinions when they've visited the restaurant or tried the recipe.

      Once people are on the site there's so much more to discover, and that's what we are trying to encourage. I understand that there are problems with stability, but the engineering team is working very hard. If we find that people are indeed not following the links in the newsletters, we will reconsider the strategy.

      I like your idea about identifying the restaurant for more context in the "overheard" section. I'll talk to the editors about that. I'm glad you like that section.

      7 Replies
      1. re: davina

        Again, thank you for the reply.

        It helps to understand the reasoning behind this. Still, anyone who is subscribing to the Digest is already familiar with the site. I hope you will reconsider putting the full text at the end. Heck, I'll even click on the links to at least up by one the number of people who read the online digest.

        Frankly, I know the day before the email appears I can click on the regional digests to read them.

        However, other than San Francisco and the Home Digest, I don't do that. I'm relying to look at the Boston, NY and LA digest when I am in the area.

        I personally direct people to the Chow Digest when inquiries come up on the SF site. I've done that I'm guessing hundreds of times. I just would hope you consider some of the regulars. If you put the links at the top of the email, new people will click on those. Adding the full text at the bottom would be a courtesey to regulars.

        I am guessing Chow resourses are limited. Sometimes some respons is helpful even it is we can't do anything about it.

        1. re: rworange

          We ask people whether they want to sign up for newsletters when they register, so Digest readers are not necessarily only people familiar with the site.

          I'm sorry about the slow response. I did see your post over the holiday break and I intended to respond sooner. I know it helps to hear from us and we really do try to let everyone know what's going on.

          1. re: davina

            Thanks again for the response. I do hope you will think about restoring the full text.

            It seems so many decisions on the site are made based on new vistors at the expense of regulars.

            The way the restaurant records link to Chowhound reports, from my understanding, was based on mid-America ignoring the metro areas such as SF, NY, LA. While this may wind up turning up links to "The Dairy Restaurant" in Unknown Town, America, it makes the high-traffic links not so useful.

            At one time I directed inquiries to the restaurant database. I no longer do so because the info there is not helpful.

            1. re: rworange

              Oh boy, do we ever not want to turn off regulars. rworange you have some wonderful insight, we're going to keep talking about this internally. I truly, truly appreciate your passion and thoughtfulness.

        2. re: davina

          "I like your idea about identifying the restaurant for more context in the "overheard" section. I'll talk to the editors about that. I'm glad you like that section."

          I think it is a great idea. I've been seeing those blurbs and have had no desire to (and have not) click through to see what is being discussed. In fact, I hadn't even realized until I saw this thread that one could click through. (This was looking at the digests on CH, not via email.)

          1. re: MMRuth

            Anything that appears in blue anywhere on the site is a link you can click through, and you will see that the quotes in the "Overheard on the Boards" sections are all blue.

          2. re: davina

            I have to say, I was more engaged by the earlier versions. These new mails seem so content-free that I scan and delete them pretty quickly, whereas the older ones, with content from the thread, got me more interested in clicking through, and more interested in keeping them around for future reference.

          3. Hi rworange, I'm Joyce, I edit the Digest. it's a thrill to talk to you, because I see so much of your writing every week. : ) I completely agree with many of your points, in particular that we should include context (like a restaurant name) with quotes. But I don't agree that the Overheard quotes should only be about good food. As an avid eater, sometimes knowing what to avoid is extremely useful. In addition, I don't just make my restaurant choices entirely about food. Sometimes I'll go someplace because I like the atmosphere, maybe it's nice and quiet and I can sit with a book undisturbed, or maybe I like the owner and want to support him/her. The Overheard quotes are always chosen because they are interesting writing that (if you're a link clicker) leads to an interesting thread.

            As for the suggestions on format, I think they're good ones, and this has sparked internal conversation, so thank you so much.

            2 Replies
            1. re: pointybird

              Thanks, pointybird. I think I'm in the minority who posts about not only good but downright bad and everything in between.

              Basically for the same reason. It is nice to know what to avoid. Also, posting on some dreadful grub has sparked responses that a particular place may not do dish x very good but dish y is amazing. Also, downhill reports have always been a part of Chowhound. So point taken.

              As to returning the full text, if it isn't in the cards to restore it immediately, I hope that after a few weeks you will monitor and see if you got the desired response. If not, go back to the old format.

              1. re: rworange

                We are indeed monitoring the response. Sometimes working for a site is a little bit like experimenting in the kitchen, you try this, you try that, sometimes you get something wonderful, other times you scrape the whole mess into the garbage and try again. I truly, truly appreciate your thoughts, which, like I said, has us talking and listening carefully. And I agree with you, several times when I've been complaining about a restaurant a hound has come back and said "Well, you didn't try the scallops" and danged if I don't go back for the scallops and they aren't a treasure. So you're right about that one!

            2. I had archived every issue of SF, LA and New York Digests and the earlier regional ChowNews. I just UNSUBSCRIBED from LA and NY because there's not enough content in the new format to make them worth saving for future travel.

              10 Replies
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I've got to go with Melanie here. There is so little content now that I'm not even interested in the SF Digest anymore ... my home board

                  However, what is really killing me is that Home Cooking / General Tips Digest.

                  I really wish I had it enough together to click on the Home/General Digest links in the Digest... but if I did that, I wouldn't subscribe to the digest.

                  Serously, something better needs to be done. I'll wait until February, but at that point if things remain as, is I'll be unsubscribing to everything. There is no point to my getting the Digest. As originally mentioned, it provides no personal archive and if I want to read those articles and I think of it, I'll just go to the digest boards ... but probably not ... because getting to them on the main site is currently such a pain. .

                  Anyway, not posting just to be repetative, but just some thoughts because I really, really, hate this.

                  First of all, perhaps if you folks subscribe to the Yelp and Zagat newsletters ... or others ... it might be a help.

                  I suspect Yelp, as so many new features on this site, may be the inspiration for the change.

                  However, Yelp tells a story each week, it is not disjointed headlines. I tend to click thru to Yelp in most of their weekly posts because they give enough of a story and give me the restaurant link ... that's the real linkable item.

                  The problem with Chow/Chowhound and the restaurant link is there isn't any content there yet and what is there is bad.

                  If I click on the restaurant name I will get a record that 90 percent of the time won't have quick review. Where there COULD be content because of the wealth of chowhound posts .... Dig Deeper, Related Chowhound discussions ... has junk in it currently. I know the boards and I never use that section or refer anyone to it

                  Zagat might be your best example. Unfortunately Zagat has that "no there, there" thing going with their actual consumer reviews, so I don't usually click through for that.

                  However, they give the entire article about the restaurant ... surrounded by other interesting features that make me click thru to their site ... though being Zagat it is less frequently than Yelp, maybe once or twice a month.

                  It is kind of sad that I now consider Zagat a better resource email-wise than Chowhound. I will continue to archive Zagat .

                  So ... looking at the old Chow Digest I loved.

                  To tell you the truth, when i signed up for the old Chow News I didn't do it for the news. It was income for the site I loved and I was really being nice. Didn't give a damn about the News content.

                  I was doing a favor for Chowhound subscribing. However, week after week, I started paying more attention to the content and realized Chowhound was doing the favor for me.

                  As I said, I still have those in my email box and can still rely on them despite the major overhall of the site.

                  So looking at the Chow Digest here's my thoughts

                  Leave the entire article, but forget aout the stuff at the end. Put the 'Read More" after the article

                  For example from today's SF Digest it would look like this

                  After bringing Chicago-style hot dogs to the Bay Area, Little Gino’s has followed up with another Chi-town classic, the Italian beef sandwich.

                  “This is the real thing, not some lame imitation,” says Agent 510. “The bun is huge, the beef tender, and the dip has that meaty flavor it’s supposed to have.” Giardiniera, the pickled vegetable relish, is available on the side. The owner apparently wants to expand the menu to even more Chicago foods. Can you make deep-dish pizza at a stand?

                  That would link to the article with the stuff at the end. I don't need this in my digest and it would give me a reason to link to the site if I wanted to know it.

                  Little Gino’s Hot Dogs [East Bay]
                  2109 Milvia Street, Berkeley

                  Discuss: Little Gino’s in Berkeley now has a “real” Italian Beef sandwich

                  Chow has features built into the site that would promote more clicking. Use those.

                  For example, you have that date field to indicate new restaurants. That is the reason I go to the Zagat site. Their newsletter has "Recent openings" with links to the restaurant records.

                  You've got the damn ratings ... use the damn ratings.

                  Have a section on Chow Digest with top-rated restaurants or I forget what you call it, hot topics.

                  You have other features like Opentable that could provide links that are good week ... open late ... another good for kids ... even cuisine ... Thai restuarnats in SF or something like that.

                  One final thought. Chow News, in the beginning, was also responsible for getting me to post. I thought "How cool is this. Someone thinks my opinion about food means something". I know that it upped activity for other people who saw their names in the News... or even better the Chowhound books. Sometimes if I think someone would make a good contributor to the board, I'll point out to them I saw their great tip in the Digest. If I'm not reading it, I'm not doing that.

                  Sorry to go on about this. I miss my digest. It is the last thing that has me really hooked to the site. I've lost interest for the most part in the boards. No longer have that 'must read Chowhound today' fever ... mainly due to technical issues. Now I no longer have my "must read Digest fever".

                  I'll shut up now and see what, if anything evolves. If I unsubscribe in Feb, I unsubscribe. I thought I'd give it one last try.

                  1. re: rworange

                    I would like to see easy board links to the Digests restored, and I believe Chow editorial would like to see that, too. In the meantime, the best solution is to bookmark them, for instance:




                    (I'm not trying to offer up all-in solutions to your many issue as stated in your post above, just sharing because I've bookmarked the Digest URLs myself since it's become a pain to get to them on the board.)

                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      I know. Just have site burn out and can't jump through yet another hoop.

                      It's too bad. There are so many good features on this site but they are difficult to use. It's annoying that the one thing that continued to work well both on the old and new site is now gone. I guess the best offline advice was just be glad there's still a place to exchange tips. Expect nothing more.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        Yes, I have found it annoying that those links are missing. I usually end up going to the board in question, and then click through from Davina's stickied post.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          We are putting the digest links back on the top nav -- they're going to be on the Chowhound "flyout" -- that drop-down menu. It should go live at the end of next week.

                          1. re: davina

                            That's great; thanks for the update, Davina!

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              Really enjoying the access/ease of use now that the Digests are listed in the main menu. Txs.

                              eta: I just noticed that some of the drop downs, accessed from diff starting points/pages on the site, don't always include the Digest listings.

                              1. re: HillJ

                                Glad you like it! I'm happy they're there too. But can you let us know specifically where you're NOT seeing them?

                                1. re: davina

                                  Sure. When I typed that "eta" I was unable to reach the Digests listing from the "main CH menu" from a starting point of CHOW, Home Cooking Board and MidAtlantic Board but when I tried it just now, and tried the same page by page steps I was able to reach the Digest listing in every case. Fixed, added since 1/30 or my own browser clean..not sure. But, if I come across a page/place I'm not able to access via main menu, I'll post here.

                                  eta: currently, the CNET widget is covering over the far right side of the main menu column and blocking "mouse access" to the Digest listing and right column of Board choices.

                    2. I wish we had a Midwest Digest. :).

                      I love reading the Home Cooking and General Chowhounding Topics ones...

                      I don't mind reading them on the site, but I wish I could "favorite" them somehow. Also, I'm sure there's a way to do so, but I don't know how to use the search feature on them, and often wish I could.