By Home Cooks, For Home Cooks

Posted: December 12, 2012

By The Book

When it comes to compiling helpful information, crowdsourcing has its pros and cons. The collaborative effort, born of online compendiums such as Wikipedia, asks web site readers or product users to contribute their knowledge in order to address a particular problem, or to add information on a chosen subject.

Here are the pros: By calling for information from an undefined group of people — rather than, for instance, from people already known as experts — information can come from unexpected sources. There may be pleasant surprises from people with great stories to tell, such as the unrecognized computer genius who tinkers with code all night or someone who studied regional Swedish as a child in Scandinavia.

So, putting out a general call for wisdom via the Internet makes a lot of sense.

But, as anyone who has submitted a question to a users’ group knows, the results are dicey, the grammar terrible and the verbal battles over minutia distracting and annoying. Worst of all, the readers, the potential beneficiaries of the information, have no way of verifying the credentials of respondents or any other traditional way of judging the value of the information.

This issue is addressed, somewhat, by sites that ask users to rate each answer’s value. But, like a lot of modern solutions, it puts the burden on the consumer to figure out who is trustworthy, often by trial and error.

One way to solve these problems is to have a systematic, reliable way for a cohesive, literate community of enthusiasts to test the results of submissions and select the ones they like the most. Having acknowledged experts in the field organize the results and present them to the public in a package that’s readable and attractive would be another plus.

Crowdsourcing purists would maintain that inserting an “authority” into the process takes away from its “Wiki” nature. That’s a good point, though “Food52” cookbooks seem to have mastered the process.

Food52 is an online food blog founded by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Hesser is a world-class authority, the former food editor for the New York Times and the author of “Cooking for Mr. Latte” and “The Cook and the Gardener.” She is joined in this more recent enterprise by Merrill Stubbs, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, writer for the “New York Times,” “Edible Brooklyn” and “Body+Soul,” and food editor for “Herb Quarterly magazine.”

The blog asks for beloved recipe submissions in general, as well as recipes from specific categories, such as “best macaroni and cheese” or “best zucchini dish.” These requests usually follow the season, if there is one.

Readers submit, test and then vote.

Two cookbooks have emerged from the blog, one published in 2011 and its second volume, which came out just recently. Since all the recipes are also online, the success of these books verifies the notion that many people enjoy paging through cookbooks for inspiration. Both cookbooks are illustrated, with lots of tips included.

Food52 and Food52: Volume 2 are available online — at Amazon and through the website at www.food52.com, as well as from independent bookstores.


Theresa Curry blogs about food, health and gardens at www.gma85.com.


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