Online Communities become too broad at their Peril

In a limited sense, Sabena Suri’s article "Ick, Old Married Guys on Facebook" is just a rant from a Gen Y writer about "outsiders" invading Facebook.  (As a married guy who’s just had his 43rd birthday, I haven’t yet decided whether to take direct offense.)

But in a broader sense, the article points out the dangers of being too broad.  e-Marketing Superstar Seth Godin has long advocated for creating "remarkable" products that appeal to narrow audiences.  He argues that great products aren’t afraid of risking being exactly wrong for large parts of the population, as long as they are exactly right for a narrower set.  Is Facebook in danger of this community dilution?  I haven’t yet come to a conclusion here, but it will be interesting to watch.

The technologist in me says that it’s simply a software issue — let communities create subcommunities within them, but each individual subcommunity can use the same features.  But the marketer in me says it’s far more than that.  Since branding is all about creating an emotional connection between a person and a brand, the "family brand" matters.  Eventually, if Facebook’s Gen Y / Gen Z -heavy userbase matures, they’ll be a robust AARP community.  (Like Margaret Cho’s joke, which asked us to consider what we’ll be like in our sunset years — "Hey Madge, Play Hungry like the Wolf again"…)

Whether the technologist or marketer will win will determine Facebook’s long-term success or failure.  Does an online community, by its very nature, require exclusion to stay vibrant?  Too soon to tell.  Meanwhile, you can join me on Facebook, and add me as your friend.  Even if I am married and old.  🙂

New Era for

Link: Opens Up to All Web Browsers.

For the past four years, as BigOven has grown to over 160,000+ recipes with about 52,000+ members, the recipes could only be posted to by first downloading and installing the Windows recipe software.  For the vast majority of users, BigOven was read-only, and they spent their time searching for recipes, finding ways to use up leftovers, and experimenting with flavor combinations.

This hurdle was somewhat deliberate on my part, both because (a) the HTML tools weren’t as rich as desktop applications to make it easy to enter valid recipes (e.g., ingredient lines had to be checked for validity, etc.), and (b) I wanted to throttle the volume of traffic to sort through operational and scaling issues.   The obvious tradeoff though was that this severely limited the growth of the network of users (and recipes, and photos…).

Today, I’ve released a very important new feature that removes the desktop client hurdle.

In other words, now anyone can post recipes free of charge to with a web browser.   It’s the easiest way to swap recipes online, and once you’ve posted a recipe, you can email it to friends, link it to other recipes (e.g., suggest pairings or uses for leftovers), you can create "Try Soon" and "Favorites" lists to plan your meals for the month, and much more.

Got a Mac?  Or Linux?  No problem!  Join up for free, and contribute recipes, photos and more.  By removing this hurdle, I think BigOven gets much closer to product/market fit, since of course, people want to be able to search for, rate, and exchange things like recipes and meal ideas with as little friction as possible, as ($65 million 2007 purchase by Readers Digest) and ($25 million July 2007 buyout by Scripps) have shown.

Hey, did you know about the Amateur Food Photo Contest?  Every month, we’re giving away $100.00 gift certificates to the user who takes and submits the best food photo.  Got a digital camera?  you could win $100.

Go ahead and try it, and by all means, send along any feedback!

Individual RSS Feeds for BigOven Recipe Archive

Seth Godin makes yet another interesting observation on his blog about "Bobcasting", where RSS meets the truly personal.

Today, most RSS feeds are one-to-many; it’s quite possible for RSS feeds to be much more 1-to-1.

For instance, on BigOven, you can subscribe to your friend’s "Recipe Streams", to be alerted to the photos they post, their Try Soon Recipes and Favorites, and what recipes they rate.  If you know a friend or two that eats the way you want to, it’s a great source of 2:00pm "what should I make tonight?" inspiration.

See mine at

Firestorm raging around

Seattle-based, started by Mark Britton (former Expedia Inc. general counsel) launched about 10 days ago.  Already, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against trying to shut it down.  I’ve offered my thoughts on the blog.

For some, Avvo having the audacity to try to put a numerical rating on overall lawyer quality is a truly dramatic development.

But a decade from now, I think we’ll be chuckling a bit at the parallels that have happened in one industry after another as they see their information-black-boxes breaking down:  first was securities trading, then travel, the mortgage industry, insurance, real-estate, and now law… is medicine next?  I hope so.  Each industry has gone through its own "stages of grief" as they see cultures/ethos built on information-sandboxing breaking down — fear, anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance…


Windows Vista Gadget Now Available

I’ve just written my first Windows Sidebar Gadget, which displays the Recipe of the Day, and lets you search the BigOven recipe archive easily from your desktop.

The Recipe of the Day is a seasonally-appropriate, highly-rated recipe from our archive.  The Gadget also gives you a quick way to search for a recipe, right from your desktop!   It’s easy to install.  If you’re running Windows Vista, simply click on the link below, choose "Open", then "Install". 

Tips on searching:  You can enter any string of ingredients, cuisines or tags, separated by a space, for instance "chicken spinach" will find all chicken and spinach dishes.   Or, "chinese spicy chicken" will find all the spicy chinese chicken recipes in the archive.