Cooks, Crooks and Social Media Ethics

17 11 2010

Like most people, I was taught as a young child that cheating is wrong and that you don’t want to do wrong things.  In those days, cheating was clear: you didn’t look at other people’s spelling tests, you didn’t “collaborate” on individual homework and you didn’t claim someone else’s work as your own.  Most schools and universities have their own specific definitions for academic integrity and what counts as plagiarism, and crossing those lines can lead to harsh ramifications.  It’s hoped by teachers and parents alike that these lessons in honesty translate to personal and professional practices as adults. However, we also live in a hyper-shareable ecosystem, where it’s never been so easy to reproduce and distribute content from others. In a field as unregulated as the internet, problems are bound to arise. But such actions still have consequences.

Recently, Cooks Source magazine felt the blazing anger of bloggers as they crowded around in defense of Monica Gaudio, whose article about apple pie had been reproduced without her

knowledge or consent. In the storm of nasty emails and facebook messages, there were many rumor stories flying about, but two facts that surfaced remain relatively unchallenged:

1. The editor of Cooks Source didn’t believe that they had done anything wrong.

2. This was not an isolated incident of “borrowing”.

In my mind, this seems like a clear case of plagiarism.  Gaudio had not given her permission for her work to be reprinted and Cooks Source acknowledged that they knew it was her uncompensated work.  But it’s rare that cheating scandals are so black and white. If getting permission from and compensating bloggers for their articles is at one end of the spectrum and this recent incident with Cooks Source is at the far other end of the spectrum, where does one draw the line? In the context of online blogs and communities, where does cheating actually begin (or even end)?

Most of the time, it can be assumed that works that have the author’s consent and are properly attributed, are okay.  It’s also commonly accepted to link out to other sites in the body of a blog (in fact, the blogger’s code of ethics demands it). What if I find an interesting article and post a link to it on my website or facebook page because I believe that my readers would find it interesting?  Since the link would take you to the original posting which would clearly delineate it as content from that other site, that is also going to be okay.  Many bloggers also offer a specific link for you to use when you want to trackback to a certain entry. Okay, but then what about tools like which drags twitter, looking for the most disseminated articles and then shapes it into a familiar format?  Is that an abuse of information gathering or not? The more you explore, the more gray areas you uncover. There are a thousand different potential situations, but content ownership and authorial rights must be taken seriously.

This is not a new issue, but one that has gained even more importance over the last few weeks.  Most people don’t want to do something that is wrong and get angry when they find out about shortcuts that were taken by others, as can be seen by the sanctioning of Cooks Source by the blogging community.  It’s apparent that even after posting an apology and taking down their Facebook page, Cooks Source may never really move beyond this plagiarism scandal. (If you’re interested in seeing the massacre that was their Facebook page, there are a number of saved screen snapshots in Google images.) So how to avoid such difficult situations?

1. Make sure you know that your practices are on the up and up by reviewing the copyright laws.

2. If you are afraid that your content may not be safe, set up a Google Alert to help you find places where your name and keywords are popping up.

3. If you’re a blogger, review the sites suggested by O’Reilly a few years ago as examples of appropriate professional behavior online.

4. Finally, no matter who you are, writer, editor or reader, practice digital literacy and seek, evaluate and credit the original source.

So tell me, where and how do you draw the line when sharing online content?

Thanks to ilovebutter and quinnanya for use of their images.


A Baker’s Dozen of the Best Food Blogs

1 07 2010

The blogosphere has communities for just about every interest group: golf aficionados, animal lovers, wine enthusiasts….if you can name it, there’s at least a couple hundred related blogs about it.  Even understanding that there is an online place for everyone, there is one community so massive that it has garnered books, a movie and thousands of blogs.  Not only is this a large community, but it is a very active one with much updating, in-linking, collaboration and commenting.  What makes this group so large and dynamic?

Well, I have a theory.  Social media offers the opportunity for people to connect with others and to build online relationships.  Offline, people often gather, bond and connect over food (think about family Thanksgivings, work dinners and friends all pitching in for pizza).  It’s really no surprise that these two activities have found and fallen in love with each other in the food blogging community.  After all, food is a universal: everybody eats. As 17andbaking says, “it seems to me that one of the most important things about being alive is, well, food.”  Not only is food something that complete strangers can discuss with ease and understanding, cooking is a creative and productive outlet.  While good cooking requires a certain skill set, anyone can choose to engage in the activity itself with only basic understanding and minimal equipment (although, as any twenty-something newly on their own will tell you, you may not want to eat the end result!).

In the midst of innumerable blogs by great home chefs and bakers, why does one blog get hundreds of comments per post, and another go unacknowledged for what are (probably) delicious recipes?  To answer this question, I took a tour through the top twelve food blogs (based on number of in-links) and came up with a list of five criteria that these blogs all have in common. Note: I skipped over some sites that are more accurately labeled as magazines rather than blogs.

1.     Good food. This one should be a given.  Inspired, delicious food with recipes that people want to replicate in their own kitchen.

2.     Clear and abundant pictures. The photography of food blogging is stunning.  Many times the images have a Pavlovian effect upon the audience, demanding an attempt of the recipe be planned even before the entry has been read.

3.     Well-written. Although blogs are essentially online diaries, there is no place at the top for a blog author who cannot write.

4.     Life/food intersection. These top blogs not only provides a recipe, but context.  Often, it is discussed why a certain recipe (old family favorite or an attempted replication of a restaurant dish recently eaten) or a particular ingredient (strange cravings or seasonal choices) are chosen.  The way life leads us to food and food connects to the rest of our life is examined and celebrated.

5.     Personality. Each of these bloggers reveals distinct traits and offers sneak peeks into their lives, sharing heartwarming stories or wry and funny anecdotes.  These blogs come alive with the characteristics of the writer/cook and woo the audience into friendship.

From these five ingredients rises incredible food blogs with devoted followings. Don’t believe it can be that simple?  Check out our top 12 food bloggers and see for yourself!

1.     101 Cookbooks

2.     Smitten Kitchen (This site is one of my favorites.  I made her Chocolate Mousse for our Ladies’ Night dessert this week and it was sumptious!)

3.     Chocolate & Zucchini

4.     David Lebovitz

5.     Orangette

6.     Simply Recipes

7.     delicious:days

8.     Kalyns Kitchen

9.      Becks & Posh (although this site hasn’t been updated in quite awhile, the number of references still pointing back to it speaks volumes and keeps it in the top twelve)

10.  The Amateur Gourmet

11. Cream Puffs in Venice

12.  The Pioneer Woman (there is a relatively simple chocolate cake recipe from The Pioneer Woman that puts all other chocolate cakes to shame. Do you have a birthday, holiday or weekday coming up?  Make this cake.  You will be glad you did.)

And because more is better when it comes to delectable food blogs, I’ll throw in my personal favorite, Joy the Baker, to make our list an even baker’s dozen.  All thirteen of these blogs illustrate the five characteristics mentioned above (and some more). Who else would you add to this list/recommend?

Are there any other traits that you believe are necessary for a certain food blog to rise above the rest?

Thanks to JSmith, Anonymous and Mr T in DC for use of their images!


Slow food bloggers, Where art thou?

28 05 2010

Here at Extanz, we’ve cataloged thousands of food blogs and even contributed to a few ourselves. This particular sector of the blogging world is quite trendy – focusing on the hottest ingredients, techniques, restaurants etc. However, food bloggers seem to passing over an important trend (one even the First Lady is on board with) – that of eating locally & sustainably.

I’m a skier, but I’m also a foodie and an environmentalist. I cooked in high-end restaurants for years and love to experiment in my kitchen, my degree is in environmental policy, I eat organic/natural/free-range/grass-fed as much as I can (aka pay more than I can really afford). I also try to eat local – this proves slightly challenging in the winter given my location in Colorado and distaste for most root vegetables … but I do try. I’m much better at reading food blogs!

With all those food blogs out there and the growing popularity of the slow food (a movement with origins in Italy that emphasizes the importance of ‘good, clean and fair food’), local food and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) movements, you’d think there’d be quite a bit of related chatter on food blogs, right? Eating sustainably and healthy is a hot topic – Michelle Obama’s on to it, there’s books on it, been to a Whole Foods lately? It also produces far superior ingredients that should cause all us foodies to rejoice. I delved into the blogosphere to see which of these movements (if any) are trendy with the foodie bloggers. Here’s a snapshot of what I found (not quite the cornucopia I was looking for, btw):

  1. Of the thousands of blogs by influential food bloggers over the last 6 months, only 120 blogposts focus on slow food, local food or CSAs. Huh. I guess the mainstream food bloggers are still focusing on perfecting that bouillabaisse or the next big thing after cupcakes, rather than sourcing food locally and using the unique and fresh ingredients you get by doing so.
  2. While we hear about the slow food movement far more often than CSAs or local food across other mediums, the influencers in the blogosphere who are focusing on these 3 topics seem to be focusing more on the fundamentals of eating sustainably, namely CSAs and local food. A general Google search of the terms “slow food” and “Community Supported Agriculture” returns roughly the same number of results (~2.1 million). Of the entire food blogging community we’ve catalogued and are monitoring, the top 100 influencers have written about slow food 20 times in the last 6 months compared to 48 entries on CSAs and 52 conversations about local food.

So … who is talking about eating sustainably? Here are the top 3 blogs to follow for all things local, CSA-related, and slow food:

  1. Serious Eats: I ended up on this site last week while looking for a classic slice in NYC … little did I know it was the mecca for local food blogs. The three blogs below rank highest for our search terms, but peruse the entire site to satisfy your craving for slow food news.
    1. Carson Poole’s series on Meet Your Farmer and Meet Your Forager epitomizes influential bloggers focusing on local producers who feed the slow food movement.
    2. Caroline Cope of Umami Girl joins Serious Eats once a week for her Crisper Whisperer blog where she offers ideas for preparing your abundance of fruits and vegetables from your CSA or farmer’s market.
    3. Street Food Profiles travels around the country (and sometimes crosses borders) to feature local street food vendors where you can watch your food being made.
  2. SlashFood’s writers could independently support a CSA with the amount of CSA-sourced produce they’re cooking with.
  3. The Leftover Queen chronicles her efforts to use up her leftovers and healthy eating while focusing on sustainability, traditional foods, and seasonal eating.

Any ideas on why food bloggers are neglecting the sustainable eating movement when it provides them with some of the best food out there? I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, check out your farmer’s market this weekend to join the movement!


P.S. While writing this, a snapping turtle emerged from the woods for the first time this Spring which provided an appropriate photo for a slow food conversation … the slow part, not the food part.

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