Thursday, September 24, 2015

Completely Non-Economics: Chowhound is Dead

It’s a shame, but it was inevitable once founder Jim Leff sold it: sooner or later it was going to be run purely for a profit, and its contribution to US food culture would come to an end.  Miraculously, this fate was evaded for several years, but now it has finally come to pass.  It’s obvious that core community people are jumping ship, and the content is drying up.

I’m a long-time contributor with an attachment to the original vision: Chowhound was not about high-end dining or showering trendy restaurants with even more attention.  No, the goal was to uncover the hidden gems of food culture, with an emphasis on small, regional, “ethnic”, and unexpected.  The drive-in with exceptional fresh-fruit milkshakes.  The ephemeral food trucks, taquerias, fish camps, and what’s-it-doing-here Laotian cafes in small midwestern towns.  Places that weren’t necessarily best of show, but demonstrated that quality doesn’t need ostentation or high prices.

The Chowhound knowledge base was always evolving because “chow-worthy” establishments would come and go, and the factors that made them special would flicker on and off.  The site’s value depended on the constant chatter of contributors who understood the aesthetic and kept their eyes and taste buds open.  Information was organized geographically, since the whole point was suitability to site and serendipity.

Well, it’s gone.  The new format is about selling eyeballs to advertisers.  It is much more difficult to wander through a locality, peering into the thread windows to see what’s on offer.  It’s a whole lot easier to see graphic-intensive advertising.  It’s obvious that traffic has fallen off a cliff, and that the core folks, who understood that Chowhound was a fundamentally different beast from Yelp and had more credibility because of it, have taken a walk.

I’ll miss it.


Sandwichman said...

How is that "completely non-economics"? Operator sells site that relies on unpaid content contributors and now that is run purely for profit, core contributors leave and content dries up.

That's economics.


Well-written. I always relied on the chatter and always with excellent results. I should have contributed more, perhaps, but there are a few of us out here who really appreciated Chow chatter. And to sandwichmen elsewhere: this means yet ANOTHER lovely, unique place will be made into a boring profit-driven hole of mediocrity.