Share a Cooking Video on BigOven.com

I am very pleased to report that BigOven now has Cooking Videos!  Since 2004, BigOven has let cooks around the world post recipes and photos, and to date there are about 160,000+ recipes and several thousand photos that have been posted. 

The next natural step is to let people share cooking and food-related videos with each other.  Want to document the way your relative makes that cherished tradition in yur family?  Want to show off your knife skills, or your time-honored method of carving a turkey?  Do you have a favorite restaurant you’d like to review?

There’s no better way than video.  You can post your video free of charge to BigOven.com, then share the permanent link with the world.  While YouTube is a great video sharing platform, sometimes its broad focus makes it very hard to find the best cooking video content.  On BigOven, every video is reviewed before going live and not all videos will be approved.  Further, we’ll be linking the videos into the recipe content itself over time. 

The back-end work to enable this was fairly substantial, but we started this project in early September, and I’m pleased to see it’s now live.  I now know pretty intimately how YouTube was built, from the ground up.  The database part is pretty trivial, but there are some tricks of the trade to get video streaming to work — and there are new roadblocks to the User Interface because of the embedded objects / IE patent suit.  Anyway, it’s great to see it live, and people contributing videos!

Moved production environment from NJ to Texas… from Seattle

I just finished a major "kitchen remodel" of BigOven.com, moving the entire production environment (that’s business-geek-speak for "all the electronics that that run the site") from New Jersey to Texas.  The old host was UplinkEarth, and the new hosting provider for BigOven is Rackspace

The time had come to make the switch, because UplinkEarth’s reliability and responsiveness on the dedicated hosting side had suffered.  I wanted expanded storage capacity and a whole lot of bandwidth and backup.  While I was happy with UplinkEarth when I first started with them 3 years ago, I became increasingly disappointed in their fault-tolerance (there was a 4-6 hour site outage last year for many west-coast users due to their lack up backup connectivity).  Service responsiveness was suffering as well — if I logged a ticket with them on Friday evening, it sometimes wouldn’t be until Monday morning that I’d get any kind of response.  Simply put, banker’s hours don’t work for Websites, and I needed an alternative.

After much comparison and consideration I went with RackSpace, which has many locations worldwide but is headquartered in Texas.  They were roughly triple the price, but in the migration, I’ve also dramatically expanded the hardware and software configuration, and they offer a level of ticket-response, hardware setup, and customer service that is exceptional.  (They call it "Fanatical" customer service, and have implemented a very good ticketing system whereby I have to close out every service ticket with a grade.  So far, I’m about 92% "Fanatical", 8% "Very Good" in my feedback.)

My oh my was the transfer itself a hassle.  (But worth it.)  The basic method was to:

  • Get the new boxes up and running with SQL Server 2005, ASP.NET, all the various code and all the third-party tools I’ve used to create BigOven.com
  • Test the new boxes against the (old) live production server environment, to ensure the code worked
  • Lots of firewall configuration issues on the new site
  • Make a backup copy of the (old) SQL Server 2000 databases that run BigOven.  This includes all the recipe, ingredient, photo, and member data.  It’s a modestly large set of data now, since BigOven has 60,000 users and 160,000+ recipes, and thousands of photos, etc. 
  • FTP the data to the new server farm.  (This took forever, because it’s several gigabytes of data.)
  • Get the new SQL Server 2005 servers running with the snapshot of the data. 
  • On the actual cutover day, we took the production environment offline, did a differential backup of the data, then moved this data to the new servers. 
  • Put a "we’ve moved" sign on the old environment, with instructions on how to update the HOSTS file (while DNS takes a week or so to catch up across the Internet)
  • Transfer all the photos to the new site
  • Redirected all DNS servers for www.bigoven.com and the mail servers, etc. to the new site

During the transfer, there were lots of niggly little steps that had to take place.  For one thing, the SQL Server "Copy Database" wizard seemed like a good idea, but was useless because it did INSERTS on the data, and many of the BigOven tables have "identity" fields.  This kind of migration technique means that all the primary/foreign keys in the database get orphaned (e.g., because on the production environment, recipes, ingredients, users, etc. might have been deleted, so the primary key might be 1..2..3..6..8..9, and it would try to insert them into the new database as 1..2..3..4..5..6).  The right way to transfer the data turned out to be the backup method, and the production site needs to be shut down so that no new data is added to the database in the process.   

Another major hassle centered around deploying my SMTP/POP (email) server in the new location.  I was relying upon a shared SMTP server of UplinkEarth.  It’s amazing how many settings have to be just right in order for inbound and outbound email to go through.  (Thanks, spammers!  You’ve created a fun world.)  Now, although I have a masters in computer science and worked for Microsoft and Expedia (for a total of more than a decade), I’ve never had to deal with things called SPF records, reverse DNS lookup entries, PTR records in a "zone file", etc.  What  a hassle!  Can’t you just set up a server, tell it to be "bigoven.com", and you’re done?  Nope!   Here’s a very, very useful site to make sure your DNS entries are up and running:  http://www.dnsstuff.com

But it’s all starting to settle in.  The result of this migration is a much faster and higher capacity site with much better 24×7 service levels.  I’m happy as a clam, and happy to see the site being very snappy.  One new feature that wouldn’t have been possible without this migration is BigOven Video, coming soon to the site.  In all, the site was down for about 3 1/2 hours on a Tuesday late afternoon.  Longer than I would have liked, but not disasterous.

The fact that I could accomplish this entire migration without a plane ticket, managing it all from Seattle, when the production environments moved over 1,000 miles from NJ to Texas, is absolutely amazing to me. 

BigOven.com climbing in traffic

I was pleased to see the progress BigOven.com is making in climbing up the traffic ranks.  Marcelo Calbucci of Sampa keeps a ranking of the top Seattle "Web 2.0" startups; BigOven climbed 11 spots to rank #31 on the list for October.  BigOven.com outpaced multi-milliondollar-backed startups like Avvo.com, SecondSpace.com, TripHub.com, Cozi.com and others for the month.  Several more interesting features are on their way over the coming months… stay tuned!

Killer Music Combination — Rhapsody + Sonos + Sensa

With all the hubub about the new iPods, I stopped into the Apple store.  The iPod Nano, Classic and iPod Touch (as well of the iPhone) are superb — beautiful to touch, and astonishingly small, and simple to operate.  Tempting…

But you see, I’ve got this "lock-in" problem.  For the past year, I’ve been a very happy owner of 4 Sonos players for my home.   These wireless babies let me play songs in whatever room I’m in, and I can even nail them all together with a click of the button for "party mode" — and they are all synched on the beat.  They work flawlessly and cost thousands of dollars less than inferior home audio systems — I’m a huge fan. 

So a few months ago I added Rhapsody to it; I’m now paying about $13 per month — the cost of one CD — to play any song I’d like from over a million choices.  If I want, I can buy them for 10% off the iTunes price and own them permanently.  I’ve got playlists that I use at home.  To me, Sonos players plus Rhapsody is really the "killer app" platform for home audio.  If I’m in the kitchen, or my office, and want to hear any song, I can dial it up and 3 seconds or so later, I’m listening to it.  Pretty amazing.

If I had an iPod, I’d be locked in to the AAC format, I’d have to physically move the iPod device where I wanted to play it, I’d have to plug it in, I’d have to fetch the song and download it or rip it, etc.  Further, if I get a guilty-pleasure song that I’m happy to hear once or twice, but know I’m gonna hate in a couple weeks (e.g., Umbrella or What goes around comes around come to mind), I don’t have to buy it to hear it all.

So if I bought an iPod, as great and elegant as they are, I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of this impressive service.  So I decided to pick up a "lesser" product, a simple $129 Sansa e280R

It’s an amazing little device for jogging — I can simply drag and drop any song I’d like (ok, not Beatles, but just about any other song!) to the Sansa player icon.  Each song takes about 3-4 seconds to transfer over USB2.0. 

What’s more, I can just tell Rhapsody to always copy over my key playlists, as well as a great "Recommends" feature that automatically loads my MP3 player with recommended choices based on other highly rated songs.  Voila — I’m ready for a run, with my favorite music and a few more options too.  It’s pretty remarkable, and incredibly low-priced.  It also has an FM tuner and an audio recorder, two things iPods don’t have.

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 BigOven.com

Link: BigOven.com 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 www.bigoven.com 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 BigOven.com 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 AllRecipes.com ($65 million 2007 purchase by Readers Digest) and RecipeZaar.com ($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 Amazon.com 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 http://www.bigoven.com/~stevemur.