Dear Serious Eats

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.

Love always,

Pavlov
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17 thoughts on “Dear Serious Eats

  1. Hi Pavlov, thanks for taking the time to write this. I can't help but feel like some of this is not-so-subtly aimed at me (though if it's not, then perhaps I just misread).I hear where you're coming from, but I do want to let you know that I spend pretty much every waking hour every single day (whether a work day or a weekend) on Serious Eats, doing research for Serious Eats, cooking for Serious Eats, or talking with community members in the comments sections on Serious Eats. If you don't see our engagement, well, I'm not sure how I can respond to that. Look at the comment histories of myself or Robyn or Adam or Max and see how often we're in there, chipping in to talk threads, listening to readers' comments and criticisms, and making sure that people's opinions are not just heard, but addressed.Not only that, but we try to engage our readers off-site as well. I just spent a day and a night baking pies for the Serious Eats pie and wine social at Brooklyn Winery this past sunday. That was my personal time and the personal time of Erin, Robyn, Ed, Jessica, and Jen. None of us were paid anything to do it, but we do it because we want to give something back to our community, meet them offline, and show them that it's them that are the real lifeblood of Serious Eats. I defy you to find any online community where the editors are as actively involved with their readers on a daily level. I don't think you can do it.Obviously we can *always* do a better job, and if there are specific things you'd like to see, you can reach us any time at editor@seriouseats.com, or me personally at kenji@seriouseats.com. A blog post like this with some sort of vague accusations but no real suggestions as to what to change is not too helpful for affecting real change.Also, we don't delete any comments unless they go off-topic. That's always been our comment policy, and always will.And yeah, I guess I'll have to write the requisite "things change, and not everyone will be happy with the changes" comment, because it's true. The site is bigger, we have more writers, more editors, more posts every day, etc. It's not easy to edit, deliver, schedule, and post over 100 pieces of 100% original, 100% free conent every week, but we try our best to do it while still taking the time to listen to and address concerns.If you ever feel like you're being neglected or not heard, then we haven't done our job, and I'll definitely be bringing up these topics at our next editorial meeting on Thursday. Social media is definitely a weak point in our arsenal right now, and one that we've been trying to address. The problem is that as the site grew, our social media presence did as well, to a point where it's become too large to manage as a part-time thing. It may require us hiring a full-time social media manager, but it's just not in the books right now.Thanks Pavlov.Best, Kenji

  2. Could not agree more. Every now and then I post in talk. I just posted my spaghetti recipe to see if I could get some real talk going and it did to a certain extent. I usually just do the photograzing thing to look for new recipes. Oh well some good things just have to come to an end.

  3. Yeah I mean it probably wasn't the best business model at all, but if you paid one person to do nothing but interact, RT and generally address your stuff as well as theirs… it would be 100 times better than what their doing now from a simple "human" perspective. Seriously how much could a wal-mart greeter cost? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Roddy… I'm pulling for you on that Community Manager Job!

  4. Completely agree. There are still a few authors and articles I love to read – but it's not what it used to be. I can overlook some additional content if it just doesn't appeal to me, I'm happy to see more cities and food topics included, but when every other article is rehashed content of the 15 best [insert list of places that had already been covered] put together by the umpteenth intern this month…I get a bit annoyed.The drop off in community is really too bad – when they did this recent expansion they should have delegated certain tasks to a community manager (I'm still willing SE – though you're not reading).I would gladly pay a fee to be a member of the old community if that's what it took to support it.

  5. yeah I don't buy it Tupper, there was a reason we used to go…. sure people will come and go… but admin stopped talking and just started deleting. There was nothing personal about it anymore …. it was like a waiter giving you your plate and your check at the same time… unwelcoming, smug and arrogant is how it feels. I know you can't pick up people's characters from their writing…. but after they have been told it's no fun I wanna get off this ride…. so many times they would make changes…and even worse, they don't acknowledge you asked in the first place. Really sad to think you're above it. I don't give a shit if you're the worlds greatest chef, if people keep telling you your lasagna sucks… but you do nothing because people still buy it…. you're a hack and you're not doing your job.

  6. Right there with you… it's a damned shame. I just can't care about a site that doesn't act like it cares about it's people. I fully expect someone there to tweet it out and say… "Is this what anybody else thinks?" As if the people who follow are going to say different. I hope they don't do that… I hope they will accept a little constructive criticism. For all I know they won't read it or just won't care.

  7. Hey Tiffay, I'm gonna tell your wife you're using her things! LOL… bustin yer stones J… Thanks again, and right on brother. I wish they'd come back, or at least hired someone who gave the appearance of caring about the community.

  8. I've been wanting to say it for quite some time. I owe them a great deal of gratitude for helping me meet some wonderful people, but now I feel as though I'm in the way. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. Well said Pavlov. I don't use the site nearly as much as I used to and for many of the same reasons you stated. I used to live and die by SE: Talk but when a certain Slicer went on to bigger and better (I assume) things, the community took a SERIOUS (ooh look I made a pun!) hit and hasn't been the same since. Even the Science geek's posts have been ho hum of late and my favorite wino's column is increasingly sporadic. Mohican (yeah this is my wife's Google account because I'm too lazy to make another just for this)

  10. BRAVO!!!!!! Thanks for putting into words the sentiments of many, many, many former Serious Eats followers who have developed the most wonderful of virtual and RLife friendships thanks to SE. We are all terribly saddened by the changes we witness…KarmaFree Cooking

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