Perspective

by Ben on August 26, 2010 · 36 comments

in Essay, Index, Rant

You may find yourself wondering what exactly goes on at Babychili headquarters that allows an entire month to go by with no posts. Fear not. There will be no shortage of the type of gratuitous verbiage you’ve come to expect from this blog. Should I offer some lame apology and then bitch about how busy I am? No; fuck that. We make our own beds, and choose how we spend our time. Instead, I’ll offer a confession to all you non-food bloggers out there. It has to do with how a food blogger views the universe. It’s not the most attractive thing about us, and it’s not what many of us would like to admit out loud, but it is true:

We are obsessed with stats.

CPM, Unique Impressions, Pageviews, Bounce Rate, Returning Visitors … You name it. They are like crack to a food blogger. There’s nothing like the frequent, fleeting approval that comes in the form of daily, unique visits to your site. It’s not the numbers themselves. It’s the subtext: Hey. You’re cool. We like you just well enough to have briefly paused at your site for, at minimum, x seconds. Keep up the swell work, and there is a minuscule chance that someday, we will perhaps rescue you from the slow, suffocating death that is your day job.

To the self-righteous among you who attempt to deny this, I have this to say: bullshit. Why else would you get so worked up about getting rejected from food porn sites like TasteSpotting (TS) and foodgawker (FG)? Why do you want your photo there in the first place? Immortality? Narcissism? Might it have something to do with the fact that the traffic on your post increases at least tenfold when it’s featured on one of those sites? Yeah, Sarah and Chuck (of TS and FG, respectively) have got it going on, and they know it. God bless ‘em. No one, beyond my 20 friends on Facebook, would have ever heard of my site if it weren’t for them. Do I get a little upset when a photo gets rejected? Of course. What red-blooded obsessive-compulsive wouldn’t? But ultimately, I realize that it’s impossible to argue with “we just liked other pictures more.” (Usually expressed by the referees as “Dull/unsharp.”) Right? I mean, you can’t argue someone into liking something, in the same way that you can’t debate someone into being attracted to you. (“Contention I: I am hot …”)

The dangerous thing about getting photos posted on these food porn sites is that the ensuing bolus of traffic is, in fact, like crack. Once you get a taste, perhaps several in a row, you get quite accustomed to certain outcomes. “Normal” (i.e., non- “enhanced”) traffic on a new post becomes sorely disappointing, or deflating, by comparison. It might as well never have existed. As a result, you could find yourself, for example, shooting pictures in a style that caters to these sites. Making meals multiple times for the purpose of a reshoot. Buying specific equipment to improve your chances of getting featured on the site. Wondering whether you should schedule a dinner party for 4PM to get better light. All fine things, as long as you know and are comfortable with what your objectives are.

At some point, I completely lost perspective.

This is how a crazy person views things: I have a very small blog, so my daily traffic on a non-post day is something like 50 unique visitors. The traffic when I get a post featured on both TS and FG on the same day? Hundreds to thousands. In sum, not high enough to crack the nut, but a hell of a lot better than 50. And that’s not including the residual traffic I get from TS and FG on days 2 – 5. Since it’s not realistic to count on getting featured at both sites, let’s be conservative and say there’s a 10-fold improvement in traffic. If I post at 1/5 the rate I normally would, BUT make sure that each post has a killer photo that will likely make it in, I’m still getting twice the number the impressions I would otherwise.

So. If I’ve cooked a nice dish, have a good story, have perhaps written a post, but have no photos taken in decent light, what should I do? TS and FG likely won’t accept any of the photos. A sane person would go ahead and post. In my distorted, stat-fiending perspective, I found myself thinking, No one is going to read this if it’s not on TasteSpotting. (Which is not true, incidentally.) But having that as the standard became paralyzing. Do I reshoot the whole thing? Do I try to get a hero shot with just one of the ingredients? Maybe I’ll just hold off and work on something else …

Then fellow blogger Jean from Lemons and Anchovies (which is a fantastic site, if you haven’t already visited) said the thing I needed to hear:

@lemonsanchovies: @brhau I’m sure your pictures are fine. Post already!

And that’s when I finally articulated mentally what was (in retrospect) obvious, but what I had, up to that point, failed to convince myself of: The point of my writing this blog is not simply to maximize the number of impressions. Duh. If it were, would I be throwing up a fucking marathon post about sous vide short ribs? Further, if I want to develop as a writer, what I need to do is write regularly, even if no one reads it. Cook, and write. I need to get over all this hand-wringing about whether the food porn gods will look kindly upon my pictures.

So that’s it. I’ve decided to give slightly less of a shit about getting stuff onto TasteSpotting. Not that I won’t continue to try like hell. But as a start, I will soon “release” a post that doesn’t contain a single gawkworthy photo.

Coming Soon—A dinner party, featuring David Chang’s Bo ssäm

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36 comments… read them below or add one

Liren August 26, 2010 at 1:24 am

Loved this post (I especially enjoyed the rant – it was cathartic!). And I especially love that you’ve decided to post for your and not for TS, FG, et al. I’ve done my best to embrace that attitude, and if a photo gets accepted, then it’s icing on the cake :) And just so you know, I have your RSS on iGoogle, so I don’t rely on TS and FG!

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 1:49 am

Liren, thanks for stopping by and letting me know your thoughts. I figured this would be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of post, so I’m glad that my first known impression was a positive one. :) I’m not a hugely active commenter, but I follow you as well and admire your work, as I’ve said before!

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Foodie in Berlin August 26, 2010 at 3:53 am

So true! Thankfully, I have gotten rejected from tastespotting or at least not accepted, half a dozen times, so I am giving up officially now. Good thing too because that whole thousands of readers thing sounds seriously addictive.
And yes, when I don’t post I feel guilty. I always think? “How long has it been since I last posted?” I should really post something.
Not the point! The point is to have fun but so much better when you get some positive feedback.
I am so THERE for your David Chang post by the way. I have the book but have never made anything from it.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Thanks again, Suzan. Know that you are in good company wrt TS. And it goes without saying that I highly recommend cooking out of that book. Everything so far has been delicious!

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Daisy August 26, 2010 at 5:28 am

YAY Bo Ssam!!!!

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Jean August 26, 2010 at 8:35 am

Thank you for this wonderful first read of the day! I’M GUILTY of all you mentioned. Disappointments (w/ my photography, writing and TS & FG rejections) are still frequent but I try to remind myself that I started my blog for fun and nothing else. Like you, I started my blog mainly as medium to improve my writing skills; in this regard the pictures are not primary to my overall goal (but the rejections motivate me to get better).

You have voiced the opinion of many new bloggers like me and I thank you. WELL WRITTEN. We’re all in this journey together so we’re each other’s support system, right? Thanks for a new post–been waiting (like, forever!) for something new from you. :-) Now just be like the under-achiever me and post, well, just because!

Thanks for the warm and fuzzies with the mention, too! :-)

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for the kick in the pants, Jean! Sometimes a little encouragement goes a long way.

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Jennifer August 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

It is refreshing to know that I am not alone in the stat induced hand ringing/hairpulling. Though your pictures are beautiful, you write so well that I think you can absolutely pull off picture free posts. For example: I did actually make the scallion and ginger sauce from your site and it was so good that I put it on everything for three days including a grilled cheese sandwich and I don’t remember there actually being a picture of it. I’m featuring it and you next Friday in my recipes from around the web.

Great post.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 3:19 pm

You probably don’t remember the picture b/c it was “dull/unsharp.” Maybe Chuck was right, LOL!

Seriously, though, I am blushing from your comments about my writing; not gonna lie. Ginger scallion is a good example of a post that got great engagement without having a bazillion pageviews. Glad I did something right, and I really appreciate the feedback.

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amy August 26, 2010 at 11:38 am

Thanks for sharing. PFB has made be revisit why I started my blog in the first place. Unlike you, I didn’t really concern myself with the images since I was more paranoid about my writing. But as you know, recently I’ve been going back and forth about getting a serious camera and getting more concerned ever since I entered PFB. I’ve been working myself up into a tizzy and decided this morning (before reading your rant) that I’m stickin’ with my P&S for now.

I’m going to close with a few words from Ice Cube…”check yo’self, before ya wreck yo’self”.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Hi, Amy. I do think it is a very strange development for food blogging to be so focused on photography. I can obviously relate to getting worked up about all this stuff. That said, I love photos enough that I would still recommend getting an SLR, if only to take pictures of your kids. If it’s possible to compartmentalize.

BTW, you know Ice Cube hates Koreans, right?

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Kelly August 26, 2010 at 11:41 am

Thanks for this Calgon moment. As a blogger relatively new to the “scene” the numbers game makes me slightly obsessive and neurotic and can sap the fun out of a great food or family moment. I think my spouse would trade in a few visitors to my sight for me actually bringing the food to the table instead of feverishly trying to squeeze in one more shot. But when I manage to keep it in perspective, as you say, it is an awful lot of fun. I’m going to sign up for your email newsletter because if any of your photos are as delicious as the photos of your kid up there…this is going to be fun. So, let em rip.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Yup, all things I have also thought. It’s a fine line, because my Type A nature leads me to behaviors that most people think are “sapping the fun” out of things. That’s how I roll, and it can often be fun (to me), but I understand that it certainly involves embracing The Dark Side. Totally stressful to my wife, though, and in this case it got to the point where it wasn’t so good for me, either.

And thanks for subscribing! May I ask how you found me? I don’t see you on Foodbuzz, or am I not looking for the right username?

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Kelly August 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

How did I find you? I believe I was playing on twitter and following some comment about the Foodbuzz blogger challenge or something. And then I saw something in your tweet about being batshit crazy which is one of my all time favorite terms…so here I am. I saw your lead photo of the stoplights…thought it was a gorgeous and interesting photo and started reading. By the end I felt like I had been in a therapy group session. Seriously, I just really dig your writing and like looking at your page. As for Foodbuzz I’m on there somewhere as Kelly Yandell but I haven’t quite figured out how the whole FB things works.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Well hooray for the long tail! I briefly considered that it might possibly be a bad idea to broadcast batshit crazy to, you know, professional colleagues, my extended family, etc. but I’m pleased to find that I have inadvertently selected for like-minded readership. :) Wish I could take credit for the photo. I know people like to hate on hdr, but it is a pretty phenomenal image.

I agree that Fbz is pretty clunky, but once you figure it out, it’s a very effective way to connect with other bloggers. For example, every commenter on this post so far is on the network.

See you around!

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Baking Barrister August 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Definitely guilty of all of the above. I finally realized that I can’t let a post rest 100% on a perfect picture–some posts will have a lot of traffic, others won’t. And FG? FG hates me and can go suck it.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm

You are too funny! Yeah, I definitely feel that TS has better, um, taste! :)

What I found difficult was that I got attached to posts for which I was proud of the writing, but no love from TS/FG. But you know, life goes on.

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SB August 26, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Wow, I had no idea sites like TS and FG existed. Amazing photos!

Looking forward to the bo ssam post. I made that for my birthday this year, but I wish someone had warned me that more isn’t always better when it comes to the sugar/salt topping.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Ya, they make Photograzing look kinda small-time, don’t they? :)

It’s a common complaint about the salty thing. I actually followed the recipe. Would have been too salty to eat alone, but it worked fine for the ssam.

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SB August 26, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Why does Ice Cube hate Koreans? Boo.

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Ben August 26, 2010 at 6:39 pm

LOL there was feud back in the early 90s over the lyrics to Black Korea. Surprised you missed it! I think we are all besties now, tho. :)

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angi August 27, 2010 at 9:46 am

What a great post! And it’s good to know, from reading the post and the many awesome comments, that I’m not alone in checking Google Analytics obsessively and also in getting rejected by TS and FG! I do like those sites because it makes me aspire to take better photos and learn how to do so, but I agree that that should not be the goal of every post on one’s blog. :)

Also, like Kelly, I still don’t think I’ve figured out how to take the most advantage of FBZ. How do you get so many FBZ visitors to your blog?? Every time I load up my FBZ account, I’m lost in the hundreds of activity updates (and I imagine that’s the same for most people) so I never end up visiting most of them.

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Ben August 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

Hey angi,

The short answer is to be active and social, just like in real life. You’ll quickly find people whose blogs you tend to gravitate toward (probably more than you have time for, actually), and it just happens naturally. Foodbuzz makes it easy (mostly because there are so many great bloggers), but there is no manual that explains how to get the most out of your experience. I’ve said before that there should be a “Foodbuzz for dummies.” Maybe I should make it a post?

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angi August 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

YES! I would heart a post like that!

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Amy K. August 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

YES! You should make it a post!!!

Also, I’ve been accepting every friend request b/c I figure, more friends = more traffic. Do I need to be a little more discreet?

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Ben August 27, 2010 at 11:45 am

No, you should definitely be a slut. This isn’t Facebook. Understand, though, that if you really don’t have anything in common with someone, or never have an interaction with them beyond “thanks for the add, sexy!” it’s unlikely that this friending will “= more traffic” but you never know.

If I make a friend request, there is usually something that struck me about that person’s profile or blog, but I don’t have a particular standard for accepting friends. OK, maybe I double check that that person is not Guy Fieri or Rachel Ray. I mean, that would just be embarrassing. But aside from that, there’s no downside. I always at least look at the site/profile. I have met some cool people from accepting their requests.

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Kelly August 27, 2010 at 11:47 am

I wish you would and answer some questions like…if you aren’t a featured publisher, does anyone actually see your posts other than your “friends” on Foodbuzz, and does it behoove one to build a little traffic before applying to the featured publisher thing as one of the rumors that floats around is that if you sign up right away you are locked into an ad rate based on your current traffic for up to 2 years. Foodbuzz seems so large and comprehensive that I somehow fear getting sucked into the hive. It would be so nice to have someone explain it a little. Please consider it.

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Amy K. August 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

Really? Should I have waited to become a feature publisher? I think I had 5 friends when i signed up.

Ben! We need answers!!

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Ben August 27, 2010 at 1:52 pm

If you had waited you couldn’t have joined PFB. Doh!

Ben August 27, 2010 at 11:57 am

OK will put “Foodbuzz for dummies” in the queue behind (1) “Bo ssam” (since I’ve already announced it) and (2) the 1st PFB post. May even be a series of posts.

Quickly: (1) Being a FP doesn’t give you THAT much more exposure on the Foodbuzz site than non FP’s, but there are many benefits. In either case, YOU determine how many people see your posts by what you do on the site. (2) How long are you planning to take to build up traffic? You need a LOT get a good CPM so why not join now and renegotiate in 2 yrs? Other ad networks won’t even talk to you, so a few $ a month is better than nothing.

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angi August 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I also only get a few dollars a month from Foodbuzz ads but I like that at least it means the site is paying for its own hosting, etc. :)

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michelle @ The Domestic Mama September 1, 2010 at 11:08 am

Completely understand the “crack”! Well written post- I like you. :) I will be a regular, here.

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Ben September 1, 2010 at 11:15 am

Thanks, Michelle. And welcome to our dysfunctional, little blog! :)

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Moodie March 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Thank you for this :) Oh, and I didn’t find you via TS or FG directly…(more like a Google search for ‘Fuck Tastespotting’.

I feel much better!

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Ben March 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Ironically, the next post got in to TS.

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Jackie January 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Hello, I discoved your blog from an article on this site: http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2012/01/get-to-know-us-stella-parks-bravetart.html
I think you will see an increase in blog traffic now :)

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