Dear Serious Eats,
After waking up on a Saturday you were the first thing after my morning coffee that I looked forward to. You were interesting, topical and fun. You used to not only inform me, but you also entertained me. Because you were engaging, actively participated in your own as well as other peoples stories and threads. You were wonderfully warm, personal and different from any other food site/community.
There was always someone there to learn from or commiserate with on cooking, and even though it wasn’t interactive per se it was interactive enough. Talk was topical and even if it strayed off course from time to time you would bring it back to center with a friendly post. You were different, you were unique and everybody noticed.
Things took a dramatic turn when you made a decision to make personnel changes and in one fell swoop a big piece of both your personality and charm that made the site special and welcoming were gone.
Things were exciting for a bit as you added science with the food. This was interesting and most probably enlightening for anybody who had never read Harold McGee’s book “On Food and Cooking”. The person behind the science was fun, engaging and seemed to fit in nicely even though there was an obvious and large gap to fill.
It wasn’t long after this that things seemed to take a turn eventually becoming in my humble opinion, a downward spiral. Your staff became increasingly detached and less involved with the community only taking time to comment with other staff members threads to tell inside jokes, and cajole each other into telling even more inside jokes that made us feel more like outsiders looking in.
I’m not sure what happened but the whole look of the site became sterile and oddly colored, ads became hair triggered and talk threads seemed to almost disappear and people became unattached. Meanwhile content became so bloated and uninteresting as to appear like overzealous children looking for their parents attention and approval. It looked like you had caught Food Network Disease or FND…you poor thing.
You have had opportunities with your social media to embrace the community and if not promote them at least follow, like or otherwise acknowledge they exist. Twitter has something called Follow Friday which is an opportunity to mention people you like, or people who patronize and support you.
I can only surmise you either don’t like anybody or… don’t feel there is anybody worthy of your mention. I’m not convinced it’s either, but rather something even worse…you don’t know how to use social media. Your people are all very smart, super smart…hell probably even genius smart, and I know you and they have the credentials to back it up.
Unfortunately as sometimes happens, very smart people have one inherent flaw… they are too smart. Some say “long on smarts, short on common sense.” It seems someone in your group should have noticed that social media has the word “social” in it and took that as a clue to be… social. Not a one dimensional billboard becoming so much noise in the ever noisy Twitterverse.
Now I never claimed to be a smart man, but when all you do is pedal your wares, self promote and in general ignore all but the crème de la crème of the food world, you’re not being social but rather snobbish and boring. I’m sorry I know that seems harsh. But you’re now “that person” that wants to come over and show your four hour slide show from a trip to Panga Panga, and you shush anybody that tries to ask a question.
I only go there now for the sake of one person’s musings and rarely anything else, and I hate that you’ve driven me to that. I’m sorry you changed for the sake of progress, money, influence or whatever it was you changed for the sake of.
I do however think you’re missing some opportunities, let me explain. 1) Improve your social media, it isn’t very good and it’s not social. 2) Improve your interaction with the community both in, and out of the site..If you don’t have the time to talk, it means you don’t have the time to listen either… I promise you there will be time to post soup dumplings tomorrow. 3) When possible try talking “with” people and not “at” them, this is called a conversation. I know it sounds cliché but people have conversations and learn from each other every day.
You can probably speak to unbelievably successful numbers and staggering growth since “The Change” and to that I’d say good for you. But just because you’re successful doesn’t mean you know everything. Don’t stop listening and learning.
Sure you could tweet this story and get a million people to call this letter and me… bullshit. That’s because you have a million followers, not friends. If you listened to, cared about, and interacted with, the people in your community…you’d have a billion friends and they’d not only follow you, but they’d care. No man is an island.
You might say it’s a case of the site growing in scope and content, that people move on and find something else and that technology is ever changing, that you have added responsibilities. Those things are all valid no doubt about it, but there’s one thing people always respond well to and want to treasure, hold close and not let go of… friendly personal interaction… you’ve lost yours, and I wish you would get it back.