Food52: a recipe for crowdsourcing success?

January 23rd, 2012 by

microtask_food52Take the following ingredients:

. Two award-winning cookery writers.
. One eager food-loving crowd.
. A sprinkling of game mechanics.

Mix them all together and what do get? Answer: Food52. Founded in 2009 by New York Times journalists Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the site is described as a “social hub for people who love to cook”. As well as debating burning culinary questions (just how do you make a vegan omelet?), Food52 runs regular crowdsourced recipe contests. Members of the community submit their finest gourmet creations, which are tested and voted for by the crowd. Winning recipes are awarded prizes and eventually published.

Aside from the crowdsourcing element, what struck me most about Food52 is how good the site looks. Food-wise Amanda and Merrill may be “all about simplicity”, but there’s nothing homemade about their presentation. Winning crowdsourced recipes are accompanied by mouth-watering professional photos (warning: this is not a site for dieters). No doubt this acts as a participation incentive: “enter our contest and we’ll make your Grandma’s cookies look like something out of a glossy magazine”.

Food52: the secret’s in the (crowd)source

As they explain in this video, when it comes to crowdsourcing, Amanda and Merrill are practical, rather than idealistic: “it’s a great way to get lots of content but it’s completely useless unless you can curate and filter it”. This is a fair point, but I think too much top-down control can also disengage users. If every cupcake recipe is rigorously monitored and filtered, the Food52 community may (understandably) start to feel the site doesn’t “belong” to them.

Food52 clearly has big ambitions. This year the company began a (no doubt very lucrative) partnership with US health food giant Whole Foods. They have also just launched a Holiday Cookbook iPad app. It’s still early days but, for now, Food52 seems to have cornered the market in “cooking social”.