The decline of Chowhound, by the numbers


#21

Unless there is someone or a team who’s highly focused on building a community, the community isn’t going to magically appear. SEO gets a site eyeballs, but it doesn’t say what kind of eyeballs. The one thing that Jim Leff got right at the beginning was spending a ton of time getting the word out and market the site, and got a bunch of highly proficient eaters onto the site.

I just don’t see a corporate team with that mentality, or these proficient eaters inclined to pour their hearts into a corporate site with a storied history but questionable recent track record. The top two in the team are traditional Silicon Valley product managers so the focus is always going to be building a next-gen product. Though that site is no typical general purpose Internet product, but more a enthusiast nerd-out site that has been re-purposed to be general purpose. The community manager is supposed to build community, but she’s too bogged down in the last few months, by day-to-day tactical executions related to product roll-outs.

And if you look at the picture from a monetary perspective today, there is no strong reason for the team to invest in marketing that forum- its a high-cost low-return endeavor. You run a forum because you love something as a hobby (e.g. food), not because you love money, because there is no money to be had.


(John Hartley) #22

I believe there is a slow death in the forum format. I’ve seen food and non-food local boards close. My home board on egullet, once vibrant is now moribund. Folk have found other ways to get restaurant information, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, local review sites, etc. I still regard the forum as “the best”,as it allows an easy interchange of information but it is dependent on people posting information to start with.

The excellent research figures in the OP show some evidence of a steady decline in Chowhound that is probably only worsened by recent events over there.


#23

It’s my preference as well, since it works like a conversation rather than a series of pronouncements (which is what Yelp and TripAdvisor seem like to me). And I don’t have to cruise around to multiple Facebook pages or Twitter accounts to gather inte if it’s contained within one forum.


(John Hartley) #24

I rarely post reviews to TripAdvisor. The problem is that, assuming everyone is like me, then you only read the last few reviews which means that, after a week’s gone by, your review is probably never read again.

There’s a Spanish resort we visit annually and I contribute to the TA forum for it. The last couple of years, I’ve posted reviews to the restaurants’ pages and then posted a forum thread with links to all the reviews. Means that, if anyone searches on the forum for restaurant reccs, they may find my thread and then the reviews.


(Jason Perlow) #25

Nothing lasts forever. You get a bunch of seed users which generate the majority of the content. Many people lurk. The seed users don’t mix with the new ones and cliques form. They splinter off. The cycle repeats with a new group.

I am also of the general mindset that people are far less participatory than they were at the height of food board popularity which was around 2003. I would know, I ran the biggest and most active one there ever was at the time.


(Jason Perlow) #26

Egullet is dead/low traffic because one of the founders disassociated himself from the site after six years and became an independent food blogger. The other one had to go make a real living and then subsequently died. The current staff is essentially off mission. But it exists.

The one that disassociated himself and is still alive moved out of the NY area to FL, abandoned his food blog after 10 years, had a sleeve gastectomy, lost 150lbs and has to practice his foodieism In extreme moderation now. Better than the alternative though :slight_smile:


#27

I would not call eGullet dead Jason. Not what it use to be but there is a lot of good talented people making great food and posting about it. Was it suppose to be more than that?

You still in South Florida?


(Jason Perlow) #28

Yes. Have been since 2012. Have no intention of returning :smile:

I realize of course it isn’t dead per se. You also cannot judge a community by the volume of posts it generates, it’s more about the quality of the discussion.

I am glad that there are people that continue to keep the lights on there. I lurk. But it isn’t the site I set out to create. It stopped being that after the first four years or so. I had a lot of lofty ambitions for it that far exceeded simple food discussion.

Reality would have intervened regardless, I was far happier being a food blogger. For a while anyway. That’s another thankless job, with its own set of issues. But at least you’re not beholden to anyone else.


#29

Jason, what did you set out to do and what did it become after 4 years then?


#30

I have sympathy for Marssy and Pat Sully. Redesigns of this kind – for companies as big as CBSi – are huge multi-year undertakings, with a ton of sign-offs from upper levels of the organization (if the plan didn’t itself come from some CBSi higher-up who doesn’t have anything to do with Chowhound).

Both of those two are fairly recent additions to staff – I suspect the redesign was plotted far earlier than either of them came along. As employees who are fairly low on the sky-high corporate totem pole, they likely had little influence to do anything other than execute the pre-existing plan and make fairly minor feature changes.


(John Talbott) #31

One must note here that Jason was one of the founders and bounced out in one of the silliest coups I’ve ever seen. His history of egullet and its business model, eg get 1-2 experts in each city or country, was brilliant, but destroyed by egotistical managers, disclosure, I was fired for refusing to stay up all night moderating sites I knew nothing about. RIP egullet


(Tom) #32

Maybe so but Marssy was a key figure in suspending many long time CH contributors (not lurkers or trolls) on technicalities that were largely unenforced in the past.

She absolutely refused to listen to FACT based arguments and permanently suspended people because she didn’t want to be bothered with having to do her homework and research member claims.

Lazy at best, intellectually incompetent at worst.


#33

Perhaps. But respect begets respect. The Bigs chose not to respect the long-time users, in the belief that they knew best. Perhaps they did from a click-through and advertising viewpoint.

But from a user viewpoint, the ham-handed way they went about banning and suspending users or shutting down threads just for saying the new site was unwieldy and unusable from a user perspective spoke volumes. They. Didn’t. Care. About. The. Users. Perhaps that came down from on high in Georges’ lofty office at CBSI. It wouldn’t surprise me.

The thing is, you need knowledgeable users to keep the site going. After awhile, it drops off the Google radar screen, except for the older threads. When newbies go to CH via a search and see little to no new content being generated, they’re going to be outta there.


#34

“When newbies go to CH via a search and see little to no new content being generated, they’re going to be outta there.”

I have no love for thee way things are at CH now but, when I go to the ‘latest’ feed, I see lots of new posts… new topics too. Not much I have interest in the way I did before, but they’re there. I have no way of quantifying to know whether what’s being posted here is true, I just see them.

If CBSi is making money now, and didn’t before, they’ve accomplished their mission. It’s really no more complicated than that. The qualitative/subjective parts are another discussion. Kinda like whether or not Trump is really inciting violence in a way that is illegal. My opinion is that his failure to be an adult about it is reprehensible, but people keep showing up and voting fur him.


#35

I am also of the general mindset that people are far less participatory than they were at the height of food board popularity which was around 2003.

Jason - I wonder if its one of those generational cultural shifts. I perceive that eGullet and Chowhound’s core community was in the “boomer” age range rather than the “millennial” range, and those groups represent quite desperate cultural values. So maybe its less about the natural cycle of discussion boards but more of a generational shift away from discussion and debate.

I suspect that if you looked at the ages of posters on the boards and looked at those that stayed around versus those that moved to twitter etc you could see generational differences (recognising the boundaries between generations are never clear cut). Twitter and technologies of its ilk allow the user to target better, both as a poster and reader. They let people be very much on trend as its such an immediate technology. and it allows people to bask in the shadow of the high profile and/or celebrity posters (be they genuine celebrities or just celebrities in their sphere of influence).

So if my theory is correct maybe CBSi looked at Chowhound as an mature asset and formulated a strategy to extract as much value as possible in this phase of its life. The community was a inconsequential casualty as the most influential had already moved platforms and technologies.

Hopefully places like HO will continue to exist for this boomer as the brevity and randomness of Twitter doesn’t do a lot for me.


#36

In perhaps the last five years, there was a poll regarding age and IIRC the median age was in the low 40s.


#37

Hey, what about gen-x, don’t we get something besides Reality Bites? :wink:

I suspect that most of the participating members on Chowhound are from the pre-CNET/CBS days (2006 and before), which would put them in Baby Boomer or Gen-X categories.

Rather than test this out by looking at when every single user joined, I took a sample, which may or may not generalize — I did a survey on the SF board a few months back http://www.chowhound.com/post/sfba-user-survey-respond-1031002?commentId=9800661 and over 2/3 of people said they joined in 2006 or before.


#38

Well, in the sense that people are far less interested in drive-in movies (or, what am I saying, movies in theaters) or radio drama. Neither of these things were shitcanned because of a loss of consumer interest, but because the people who paid the bills wanted to back other, newer things.
As for the discussion boards - this is the format I prefer above all others, and something that I always considered to be one the triumphs of the World Wide Web - but people are less likely to want to blurt out some kind of insight to a discussion board that owns their contributions - than to Facebook or Blogger which also owns their contributions (at least that’s what Im told).


#39

Decline because of food bored . Should try food selfies . A new generation .:stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


(John Hartley) #40

Phil

I’m hoping you have a typo there and you intended “disparate”.

John