As you may know, our development team reads every single suggestion that comes in via our feedback form.
One of the more common feature requests is to combine like-items on the grocery list, and sometimes, people quite reasonably wonder why this isn’t already done, since it seems so easy – simply take 1 egg, 2 eggs, and add them together, and boom – that’s 3 eggs.
We are definitely looking at this type of feature, but I first wanted to take a moment to explain why it’s not as trivial a feature as it first may appear.
Major design goals we have for BigOven that impact our ability to deliver this include:
- allow cooks to ADD entire recipes to the grocery list,
- allow cooks to SUBTRACT recipes from a grocery list, right up until the last minute, even at the grocery store, and have their list accurately reflect their change-of-mind
- allow cooks to add recipes to the site in as unconstrained-a-way as we can – i.e., keep the text the way the cook wants to express it (we support snapping photos of handwritten recipes, entering them by URL and typing them in by hand)
- seamlessly synchronize this list across mobile apps and the web
- allow cooks to use any of the 250,000+ recipes already entered in the site
- do NOT require the cook to go through a specific ordered process (e.g., require that a menu plan be created before a grocery list is generated, or require a recipe go through the Favorites list first before being addable to a grocery list, etc.).
Philosophically, we see cooking as often a very ad-hoc and flexible activity, and the app and website needs to help and stay out of the cook’s way in what they wish to do, even at the expense of “perfectly structured” data. Specifically as it applies to this feature, if you cook like me, your grocery list can change right at the last minute, when you suddenly notice that avocados are in season and on-sale at the grocery store.
We want to be sure that if you change your mind, you can simply swipe the entire recipe off the grocery list, and all the underlying items for that recipe are automatically deleted for you, and no more. That’s why all of our free mobile apps support addition of recipes to the grocery list as well as ad-hoc SUBTRACTION of the recipe from the grocery list. Summing the items together presents a data-display and preservation challenge. Alternatively we could engineer two different “views” of the grocery list, the underlying one (containing all line items) and the consolidated one (showing summation). Providing two views of the grocery list is certainly possible, but it’s not trivial – it adds complexity not just to the design and development but also the user interface in all the apps and the website.
Another related goal is to allow you to post your recipes in as unconstrained a manner as possible. That is, we don’t want to “shoehorn” you into a rigid data entry process, because one person’s “scallions” are another person’s “green onions”, and some would like to express their prepnotes as “finely chopped” and others would like to say “finely diced”. We consider your recipe your own, and don’t want to mess with the way that the text is written.
Thus, the publicly shared recipes can end up with lines that look like:
- 2 whole green onions, finely diced
whereas another recipe can have it written as:
- 3 scallions, chopped
…and you might choose to add both to your grocery list. A final matter is that not every cook fully respects the “Item Name” and “Prepnotes” boxes when adding a recipe to share – some might enter “finely chopped scallions” as the item name, and others might enter “scallions” in the item name and “finely chopped” in the prepnotes (the preferred style).
Now, BigOven knows that both “green onions” and “scallions” can be found in “Produce”. But to collapse it into 5 green onions for you, and also allow you to remove one of the recipes at the last minute, and present the remaining 2 scallions (or green onions) to you in the original form, accurately at every stage across all the platforms, is not as trivial as it first appears. Put simply, showing a consolidated list would make it very difficult to then subtract-out the recipe and all the ingredients at the last minute, and would also make it difficult to combine the prepnotes in a logical way. We are looking into it, but that’s why this seemingly trivial feature (combining like items) isn’t quite as easy as it first appears, given our goal to allow the removal of recipes right up at the grocery store.
Competitors that have a summed-tally of grocery items made from recipes generally take the approach of turning the grocery list into a “read only” view, where you can no longer remove the component recipes, or they have a very fixed set of recipes that are editorially curated and cannot be added-to. We don’t think these are the right tradeoffs for home cooks.
Instead, what BigOven does is group items by aisle for you, and sort them alphabetically within that aisle. Then, you can quickly scan the list to see what you need. We think it’s generally a fairly simple matter to scan the items in the department, and do the quick estimation.
This isn’t to say that we think the goal is impossible – it’s really quite doable. But it’s not trivial. This is simply an update on why this “please combine items automatically” isn’t quite as trivial as it first may seem, and doing a quick-and-dirty summation would come with major negative tradeoffs that we’re not willing to make. While intelligent ingredient addition and subtraction is a great feature, there are still dozens of higher “return on investment” features that are therefore ahead of this feature request in the queue – ones that we think you’re going to really enjoy.