Today I'm launching my latest endeavor: No Nonsense Recipes. With nearly 19,000 recipes uploaded so far, the site is live and open for business.
Perhaps a recipe website isn't the most exciting or original idea, but within this mundane space I'm taking a radical step. No Nonsense Recipes is a subscription-only site with no advertising or tracking. After a 30-day free trial, it costs a whopping $19 USD per year. Why, you might ask, would anyone pay for something they can get for 'free'?
If you search for recipes online, you've probably noticed an annoying trend. The top results send you to pages with long, rambling stories, interspersed with pictures and ads. You find a recipe at the bottom of the page (maybe). Presumably, this is because Google decided that the more times a search term is mentioned, the more relevant the page is.[^1] If you're searching for "roast beef", the page that says "roast beef" 500 times must be more relevant than the page mentioning it fewer times, right? Of course, this is not the case. A recipe only needs to say "roast beef" once.
The root of the problem is the advertising-based economy on the web. Recipe blogs make money by selling ads. To increase traffic and make more money, bloggers craft their sites according to what GoogleBot likes best. But what is best for us - the human beings scrolling through webpages on our phones in the grocery store? We just want the recipe.
It's a bait and switch. We aren't visiting recipe websites for the advertising (and the annoying stories and pictures), but that's what we get.[^2] The websites' real customers are the advertisers, not us; we're the product (as the cliché says). "Users are used as they use."[^3]
Revenue and user experience should be linked in a virtuous circle, not at odds. Let's ensure that our experience is that of the customer.
I provide a user-centric service with No Nonsense Recipes. Here, users become customers again; by paying for the service, the user is the focus and the website remains free of advertising and tracking.
A service that treats us better is worth paying for.
[^1] This may or may not be the case, but it's the explanation I've heard. Much of search engine optimization sounds to me like modern-day old wive's tales. It's also possible that this was once true, but not any more. At any rate, the people publishing recipes certainly seem to think it helps.
[^2] This is without even getting into all of the privacy implications, manipulation and fake news, censorship and everything else. Topics worthy of several more posts.
[^3] Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the age of Fiber Optics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008), 28.