Making it easier to join in the cooking fun

Today we’ve released an important set of improvements to the website for brand-new users who do not yet have an account.  Prior to this change, if cooks wanted to try out the “Make a grocery list” or “Make a Menu Plan” feature, they’d have to create a free account.  Starting today, they can just click a button to start to explore, saving the account details later.  We call this project “Open House” and it’s designed to let new cooks explore the site without commitment.

For cooks who want to add recipes, make a grocery list or menu plan, simply visit www.bigoven.com and click the option you’d like.  Then, you can either choose to sign up free, or click “Join Later”.  “Join Later” will actually provision a temporary account for you to use, which lasts for 24 hours.  At any time, you can save your information and make it a full account simply by finishing the signup process (indicating your email address, choosing a username, and creating a password.)

try-it-out

We’ll be watching to see what this does to our join-rates and will have more to share in a few weeks’ time.  Thanks!

 

 

 

We’re Usability Testing All the Time

At BigOven, we’re big fans of usability testing.  Our current favorite provider is UserTesting.com, which lets us kick off various task-based tests, select a panel of users, and literally watch as they discover the site, or the apps, for the first time.  UserTesting.com lets us specify a set of tasks and observe what they do; what they think is useful and what is hard to discover.  We then take that feedback and incorporate it into our site and app updates.  (The user is paid for their time.)

As an example, watch as real-life home cook Jennifer discovers how to:

  • Find a recipe or two she’d like to make
  • Make a grocery list sorted by aisle
  • Share recipes with friends

We notice, for instance, that it’s currently not obvious to many cooks that the “Try Soon” list is populated with three recipes right from the start, so we’re going to try to make that clearer in the future.  We’ve also noticed that cooks aren’t as aware of the benefits of a hosted grocery list (one that fully syncs with the apps) as we think they could be – it’s a terrific time-saving tool.  We also see that the popular suggestion about combining like items on the grocery list comes up as well.

Thanks to these tests, plus your comments to us, site logs, support tickets, reviews in the app store, discussions on Facebook and annual surveys, we’re able to make continuous improvements to help make BigOven the most-used, most-loved app for home cooks.

Recipe tagging eliminated in favor of Recipe Folders

We have removed the ability to tag recipes with arbitrary keywords, in favor of Recipe Folders, which is a more powerful and customizable feature. 

Our data has shown that recipe tagging was a very little-used feature, and it added additional clutter to the recipe details page.  Significant editorial maintenance effort was necessary to keep the tags relevant to everyone (e.g., a tag with “Jim’s Favorites” has no meaning to most of us) — and free of spamming.  As a final consideration, major search engines like Google tend to mistake clumps of lots of links for keyword-stuffing – we don’t want to send any low-quality signals to Google when the pages are being indexed.

So, for all these reasons, we’ve removed arbitrary recipe tagging.  If you’re a recipe poster, you can still include keywords in written text in the description, heading or more, and a search anywhere will still find that recipe.  Pro members can make use of Recipe Folders to create personal collections and share those with friends and family.

Incorporating Photo Quality in Search Results

We love great food photos.shutterstock_116313982

To that end, we are rolling out important improvements to BigOven search results.  Starting today, our subjective assessment of photo quality will affect the placement of the recipe in the search ranking on BigOven.

The BigOven team reviews every photo submitted.  While recipes with photos have always sorted higher than those without photos for a given search result set, we’re now starting to demote those recipes that don’t have attractive photos, and actively promote those that do have good photos.

If you enjoy great food photos, be sure to contribute some!  You can do so in the apps themselves, or directly on the website.  (Click the camera button on the recipe details page.)

More than ever on BigOven, great food photography matters.  Here are some brief tips on taking some great food photos:

  • Get close, then get closer
  • Keep the subject in focus
  • Lighting really matters — don’t use flash, it tends to create flat light and harsh shadows
  • Do use natural light, close incandescent, or one of these food photo lighting setups
  • Top-down photos of food are (mostly) boring — try it at a side angle or oblique angle
  • Think about color, composition, and balance
  • Cooks generally want to see the actual finished, plated product more than anything!

Learn more about Food Photography in our Food Photography Guide.

Press Roundup, March 2014

We’re always happy to see the word spread about BigOven. It’s been a while since we’ve taken a gander at what the press is saying about us — here’s a short list of some recent and not-so-recent articles.  Thanks for these mentions, writers!

Journalists, media, logos and screenshots can be found at www.bigoven.com/site/press.  We appreciate you getting the word out to home cooks everywhere!  Just as important, we love reading reviews on Google Play, Windows Marketplace and iTunes – BigOven continues to earn 4.5/5 star reviews on every major app platform.

We’re just getting started.  We love hearing from you, and hope BigOven is making your life easier, and getting you to the home dinner table more often!

Upgraded Recipe Search: Faster, Easier

recipe-search-fast-300x200

We’ve upgraded BigOven’s search to a faster, more powerful platform.

At BigOven, we know a key part of our job is to quickly put you in touch with the recipes you’re looking for.  We want to do so as fast and simply as possible, whether you’re in the kitchen or on the go.

To that end, I thought you should know that we’ve just completed a major upgrade to BigOven‘s search engine to a faster, much more scaleable platform.

These improvements apply to the entire BigOven platform:  the website www.bigoven.com, the BIgOven Recipe Apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, and the BigOven Recipe API.  Every month, BigOven spends tens of thousands of dollars just on hosting and bandwidth for the servers that power the free BigOven recipe apps and website, and we’re making a considerable new investment in this new scalable search cluster.  (Plug:  We’d be delighted to earn your support for these continuing investments via a BigOven Pro membership.  BigOven Pro costs less than one latte per month, and removes all ads and unlocks lots of great features!)

This new search speeds things up dramatically today, and it’ll open up new features in the future.

Faster

The first thing you’ll notice is that BigOven’s new search engine is just plain faster.  Queries that used to take 3-5 seconds now return in a fraction of a second.  Our preliminary data suggests that querying is up to 5 times faster than before the upgrade.  We believe that performance is a feature.

Since we’ve migrated searching off the major database back-end we use, and instead farmed it out to a separate system, this puts less strain on the database, which means your recipe additions, updates and deletes will be faster as well.

Better

BigOven.com now provides better ways to get to the recipes you want.  For instance, type in a search for “asparagus” on BigOven, and you’ll see a lot of asparagus recipes, but also a handy summary categorization by course:  search-results-asparagus

Let’s say you want to only want the Soups that feature asparagus.  There’s now a simple way to get there right away.  This is called faceted search, and BigOven.com didn’t provide these counts previously.  Just click the “Soups, Stews and Chili” link and you’ll be taken there.

By default, BigOven’s looking for your keyword in the title of the recipe, which is what we’ve found gives the most common queries highest relevance.  But BigOven also gives you an easy option to broaden the search.  Simply click the “Broaden search” button:

broaden-search

Also, we’ve added new scoring methods to boost recipes.  If you’ve posted a recipe, and you’re signed in, those recipes you’ve posted will be automatically sorted higher for you, very likely on the first page of results.

So, if you’ve posted your favorite way to make Chocolate Chip Cookies, when you search (when you’re signed in) your recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies will sort much higher than others.

BigOven generally sorts recipes by a proprietary scoring system, wherein BigOven estimates the recipes quality. BigOven examines things like the number of reviews a recipe has, how many different reviewers gave it a higher score, people who’ve favorited it, whether a recipe has a photo, and more.  We’re constantly tuning this algorithm, so these factors can and do change.  But if you’d like recipes purely sorted by Star Rating, by Date posted (oldest to newest or newest to oldest) or by title, you can change that easily.

Click the button marked “Refine/Sort” and you’ll see many more options, such as showing only those recipes with photos, only those in a particular category or subcategory, only those including or excluding ingredients, whether the recipe is nut free, gluten-free, etc.  Some of these filters require optional BigOven Pro membership.

Refine your recipe search with many options.  Some are exclusive to Pro membership.

Refine your recipe search with many options. Some are exclusive to Pro membership.

There are a couple other goodies in there too, such as “Did you mean?” support, when you type a common misspelling, like “tuna caserole [sic]“:

tuna-casserole

More Scalable

BigOven is big, and growing!  The BigOven mobile apps have been downloaded over 10 million times, and we now have over 300,000 public recipes (and many more privately-stored recipes.)  You are among 2+ million registered members, and BigOven welcomes more than 1,000 new signups every day.

As more and more of our friends join and share recipes, this new server farm is poised to grow more easily. Ripping out the search engine and installing a new one, spread across multiple servers is no simple undertaking, and there’s bound to be some dust settling.  If you notice anything strange, or have a suggestion to make it even easier to find the recipes you’re looking for, jot us a note on our Site Comments form.  We’re listening.

We hope you enjoy BigOven!  Happy cooking.

 

Love your BigOven app? Get early access…

BigOven is looking for cooks who’d like to be on the leading edge of new app releases via the BigOven Early Access program.  

We’re building a small list of a few dozen users who get early access to our releases. We want to hear how they work for you, what might be missing, and what could make them even better.  If you’re on this list, when we have new releases ready to go, you’ll get early access (free of course) and can provide us immediate feedback before we make a broader release to millions of cooks.  With an inside-track to development, you’ll have a chance to voice your opinions directly into the new product development process.  

BigOven Mobile Applications

BigOven Mobile Applications

If you use the BigOven apps regularly and want to participate, please request early access:

Request early access to BigOven apps.

At this writing, we’re particularly interested in iOS users — iPhone and iPad.

Who is ‘early access’ best suited to?

  • If you use one or more of the BigOven apps regularly and rely upon them for your kitchen organizing, and have a little time to spare to help us improve via quick feedback
  • If you use BigOven but regularly wish to give feedback on how they could work better for you
  • If you are comfortable with how BigOven mobile apps work

Text your grocery list to any cellphone (New Pro feature)

 

Text your Grocery List to any cellphone.  Your grocery list is ordered by aisle.

Text your Grocery List to any cellphone. BigOven sorts your grocery list by aisle.

Want to send your list to someone to do the shopping?  BigOven Pro members can now send their grocery list to any cellphone via text-messaging (SMS) on www.bigoven.com.

It’s easy.

Step 1:  Visit Grocery Page

Your grocery list is at www.bigoven.com/grocery.  Grocery lists sync automatically for you across BigOven’s free mobile apps, but we realize that sometimes you may want to simply text the full list to another person, or perhaps yourself, if you don’t have wireless coverage in the grocery store.

Simply visit the grocery page at www.bigoven.com/grocery and click the phone icon:

sms-grocery-1

 

Step 2:  Enter the phone number, area code first

send-sms-grocery

Step 3:  Your message will be delivered within seconds.

BigOven groups your list by aisle, and also shows a handy link to the recipe(s) on the list at the very bottom.

Here’s how the list shows up on Windows Phone.  The [A] indicates that the ingredient corresponds to the recipe linked at the bottom of the text.

wp_ss_20140303_0001

Messages will be sent from BigOven’s automated messaging account.  You might wish to Save the sending number (231)-464-OVEN in your phone contacts, so you know who it’s from.  There is no BigOven charge for this feature for Pro members, however text-messaging data rates may apply (check your carrier.)

BigOven Pro unlocks many features and also removes all advertising wherever you sign in.  A single Pro membership covers you all points of service — web, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, smartphones and tablets alike.

You can try BigOven Pro completely free for 14 days — activate your free trial at http://www.bigoven.com/premium/join.

We’re hiring!

WP_20140228_14_00_29_Pro

We’re currently seeking fantastic software engineers for our Seattle office.

We’re a small team, but BigOven has openings for mobile software engineers (Android, iOS) and web (C#, MongoDB, SQL).  If you’ve got a passion for mobile, cloud computing, and cooking, we’d love to talk with you!

Interested?  Visit our Jobs page.

 

Create your own groups of recipes with folders – new for Pro members!

Our top feature request from Pro members is now here — Recipe Folders.  You can now create custom groups to keep track of family preferences, events coming up, anything you like!  Each folder has a separate URL, so you can share those with friends.

It’s the new signed-in view for BigOven.

There’s a folder view on the left, a handy finder at the top, and a gallery / list view toggle at the upper right:

my-recipes

 

 

Drag and Drop Recipes Into Folders

You’ll see a drag handle in the upper left of a recipe tile while you’re in your “My Recipes” area.  Simply grab that icon and drag it over to the folder you’d like to place it in, and drop it.

Tip:  Recipes can exist in more than one folder.

drag-to-folder

Demo Video

Use #1: Keep Track of Your Family’s Top Requests

Create a folder for each person you cook for, and you’ll never again be stuck for ideas!

Use #2:  Save Time by Planning Ahead

Thinking about an upcoming event?  Create a folder for it, and then gather some recipes into that folder.  You can later add these to the Menu Planner if you like, or go straight to adding these recipes or individual items to the grocery list.

Use #3:  Organize recipes by diet, equipment, season or cuisine

BigOven gives you lots of ways to categorize recipes, but if you’d like to create a special Juicer collection, ways to use your new Panini press, or personal paleo favorites, use folders!

Use #4:  Organize the recipes you add

As you may know, BigOven lets you add all recipes in four easy ways.  Clip recipes from your favorite websites via the Recipe Clipper.  You can type them in yourself.  You can use the handy copy-and-paste import.  Or we’ll even transcribe them for you.

Now on any recipe detail page, you can save recipes to any of your own folders.  Simply click the “Save…” button:

save-recipe-folder 

How to Manage, Rename, Delete Folders

Simply click “Manage” and you can rename folders, add new ones, or delete them.  When you delete a folder, you are not deleting the underlying recipe, only the folder itself.

manage-folders

BigOven Pro Membership Required

Folders are one of many time-saving features of BigOven Pro.  BigOven Pro gives you access to special recipe collections, nutrition detail, search by dietary preferences, private notes, unlimited recipe addition, an ad-free experience wherever you sign in.  It’s designed for those who want the most recipe organization power with zero advertisements.  You can try it free for 30 days at www.bigoven.com/pro.

Tip:  Share your special folders with Others

Each folder comes with its own special URL.  On newer browsers (the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, and IE), you’ll see the web address bar change to a unique URL for each folder.

For instance, my username on BigOven is “stevemur”, and so my recipes area can be found at http://www.bigoven.com/myrecipes/stevemur.  My favorites can be found at http://www.bigoven.com/myrecipes/stevemur/favorites.

Web-Only For Now… Coming to Mobile Later this Year

At present writing (February 2014) this is a web-only feature.  But we’ll be hard at work adding this to the mobile clients for free updates later this year.

Like this feature?  Please let us know your thoughts!  And make something great tonight!