Guest blog: Foodista launches a "crowd-sourced" cookbook

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The latest lucky food blogger to nail a book contract? Well, it's not exactly a blogger. It's Foodista.com, which includes a blog, but is mainly a group effort, an ever-changing online database of recipes submitted by users, linked to definitions of foods, tools, and cooking techniques. Most significantly, Foodista is also a wiki, meaning that participants can edit the contents of the site as they wish.

Think the recipe someone posted for chickpea stew would be better with a dash of lemon? Maybe your ideal brownie contains fewer walnuts than someone else’s version? Log on and make the change yourself.

The Foodista cookbook, to be published by Andrews McMeel in 2010, will be composed of winners of a recipe contest on the site.

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The idea bemused me at first. A cookbook, to me, is something with a personality, or a theme, or at least a single trusted voice. Some of Foodista's charm, by contrast, is the idea that the hive mind is a vast, collective resource, and that recipes are not written in stone. A crowdsourced Foodista cookbook seemed as oddly frozen in time as an encyclopedia published by Wikipedia.

I e-mailed Barnaby Dorfman, Foodista's co-founder and an acquaintance of mine, who wrote back that cookbooks are different from websites, but that each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. (Most of the recipe editing on Foodista doesn't involve changing fundamentals, he said, but deals with spelling and clarifications and other editorial notes.)

Publishing online, especially in a wiki, is the beginning of the editorial process, while publishing in print represents the end of the process. The cookbook, he thinks, will be something of a meld between the two. Users will give feedback on the recipe submissions before the final winners are chosen, and the cooks will have the option of tweaking their recipes as much as they like until the contest is over. Winners will be chosen by a mix of user votes and editorial votes from Foodista and Andrews McMeel staff. And, as for the audience, there's enough interest in food writing that a curated “best-of” collection has an appeal all its own. (Another site, food52.com, was founded with the idea of printing a  cookbook composed of winning recipes from users, though it is not a wiki.)

“As I think you would agree, there's a lot of fantastic writing, photography, and recipe development being published in blogs. However, not all of it is great,” Dorfman wrote. “We think that marrying the benefits of easy online publishing and user feedback, with the traditional strength of print publishing, we can create a product that represents the best of both worlds.”

“Food blogs aren't just about self-expression in a vacuum, they are also being read in huge numbers… Given that, we think a focus on well selected posts will have broad appeal.”

Interested? Foodista already has five varied pages of entries up for voting, from spiced honey-glazed broiled figs to “easy Parmesan knots” using refrigerated Pillsbury biscuits to a “Koreafornian” spin on pesto, using perilla leaves. Check out Foodista.com/blogbook to test them out, vote, or - who knows? - add your own.

Rebekah Denn writes at eatallaboutit.com.

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