The response from Chowhound.com came in too late for my column two weeks ago, but it was so nice (and interesting) of them to respond, I thought I’d post it here.
When did Chowhound start?
Chowhound was founded in 1997 by Jim Leff. It existed on volunteer help and a growing, passionate community of users until 2006, when it was bought by CNET Networks. (CNET was bought by CBS in 2008.) CNET also bought the assets to CHOW magazine at the same time, and combined the two properties, launching them as CHOW.com in 2006.
What was the initial vision and how has that changed over the years?
The vision all along has been to create a place that doesn’t exist elsewhere online. Chowhound has certainly grown larger and more mainstream. But the ethic remains the same: It’s a place where smart, curious people can share information and learn from others. There are a lot of other sites where people can discuss restaurants online — and call each other names, shill for places where they work, and veer off-topic. Chowhound is a moderated message board, and our mods — mostly volunteers — do an amazing job of keeping the talk focused on the food. It’s not only the moderators, but the community that keeps the vision strong. We have users who have been with us from the start, it’s an incredibly passionate group of people.
Comfort food came and went and came again. Molecular gastronomy was all the rage and then it was a strange joke. Budget is obviously the biggest driver in dining habits, perhaps next comes health. I think, and I hope, that overall people are cooking more at home. They’re making better choices about what to eat when they eat out — healthy, local, seasonal food — and those choices are informing how they cook at home, as well.
Everyone’s a critic, right? But not everyone knows or cares about the ethical guidelines that come with being a critic. I think if anything, the trend is for restaurants to try to infiltrate and leverage the online audience to garner good reviews. That’s why our moderation policy is really important to us. We do moderate out anything that smacks of special treatment, or any insider status — if you have become friends with the chef, you should not be posting reviews of his restaurant.