I received an email which specifically cited cooking as an example of a Stack Exchange site that "is awful". This person said:

Meta-judgement is the ability to assess the quality of someone else's contribution. Different people have different meta-judgement skills in different areas. Wikipedia has been largely successful because they've carefully circumscribed out the area of knowledge in which people's meta-judgement skills are reasonably good (no original research, neutral point of view, verifiability etc.). Stack Overflow has also been successful because objective programming questions are also an area where people's meta-judgement abilities are good.

Once you move out of these carefully circumscribed areas, I think you run into trouble with your philosophy.

I've been casually lurking on the cooking stack exchange for a while. It's awful. The people there don't know [anything] and they don't even know enough to recognize the people who do know [anything]. As someone who is a damn good cook, I look around for a bit and I can't see a compelling reason for me to contribute in such a community. There's a thousand other places I could go to throw my pearls of wisdom into an indifferent crowd, the cooking stack exchange is no different from any of the rest of them.

I am not saying I agree with this, I am presenting it for your feedback.

It's true that we explicitly disallowed subjective questions for a long time, and for good reason. But we have learned that it is possible to have constructive, useful Q&A around totally subjective topics. To that end, we came up with the Six Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions.

It's hard to address this argument in detail without specific examples of these bad cooking questions and answers, so in Wikipedia parlance, {{citation needed}}.

But I guess the crux of it, as stated, is that cooking is a topic where this "meta-judgement" ability is in particularly short supply.

Your thoughts? And let's fill in the missing citations: what are the best and worst examples of cooking questions on the site, right now?

worst as in "most highly upvoted but objective wrong answer" and best as in "most downvoted/argued against but actually objectively correct" answer.

  • 8
    "I've been casually lurking on the cooking stack exchange for a while. It's awful. The people there don't know [anything] and they don't even know enough to recognize the people who do know [anything]. As someone who is a damn good cook" ... Umm. There are quite a few professionals here, self included, and the community seems to by and large recognise that.
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 7:20
  • Could you state your credentials? I couldn't find them anywhere on your profile.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:41
  • 6
    You know, after reading all of the follow-up comments (still without one single example), I'm starting to suspect that we've all been the victims of a very elaborate trolling attempt.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 3:10
  • and/or he is attempting to position himself as more experienced/knowledgeable than e.g. you, darin, papin, hobodave, or michael. (aside: it seems to be kind of a sausage party around here. while in a strict sense, gender is irrelevant and only knowledge/skill matters, are we making this place less welcoming for women?)
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 5:52
  • 2
    @Aaronut - an elaborate trolling example that might some day allow the troll to post something to his blog about this whole incident, thus perhaps upping his reputation as an SME on not food, but social networks. At least that's my theory. @roux - there was a meta thread on making it welcoming for all classes of people a while back
    – justkt
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 12:00
  • @roux: I, personally, am not a professional of any sort, just an enthusiast, so if he wants to make that claim on me, all he has to do is show evidence of any professional experience. You, Darin, papin, Michael, etc. are another story entirely.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 13:38
  • @justkt: Very interesting theory. It is conspicuous how quickly he managed to work in the link to his blog and his favourite communities. I am not an SME on social networking either but did read his post from top to bottom and was rather underwhelmed; it's full of specious reasoning from the very first paragraph (I can point to several people who are incredibly intelligent, valuable friends and yet still enjoy both talking and meeting people). The entire essay seems to be little more than a defense of elitism, peppered with occasional bragging about his "insider" status in various communities.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 13:46
  • @roux Re gender disparity, I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of users here came from StackOverflow. Cooking has inherited SO's user set, which is pretty far away from 50/50.
    – KatieK
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 21:14

8 Answers 8


I don't want this to sound like thoughtless retaliation, and I will respond to each point in kind, but first of all, assuming you've reproduced this e-mail verbatim, the fact that the author not only feels the need to define metacognition but also incorrectly refers to it as "meta-judgment" gives me the impression that this person just read the original Dunning-Kruger paper and has decided that s/he is seeing the pattern everywhere. [citation needed] indeed.

Anyway, I said I'd respond to each point, so here goes:

  1. I reject the notion that Wikipedia succeeds at this in the way that the author implies. A quick look at their list of controversial issues should quickly lay to rest any beliefs that every article is consistently unbiased and high-quality. Wikipedia is not bad by any means, but there is a good reason why academia continues to refuse to allow it as a research source.

  2. I also reject the notion that Stack Overflow is exclusively the domain of those whose metacognitive ability backs up each and every one of their votes. Beginner questions do well, of course, but the more advanced/obscure the topic, the less reliable the information becomes. Security is one area that I've noticed is often extremely weak. Take, for example, the question about how to store recoverable passwords; there is an answer with 47 upvotes advocating an approach that is completely insecure and making a completely invalid analogy to a system that actually is secure. As with Wikipedia, Stack Overflow is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it perfect even in its limited domain.

  3. I accept the assertion that in order to survive in the long haul, we will need far more people from the cooking community as opposed to the programming community. That is one reason why I asked a long time ago if we could get "crossover" statistics, i.e. find out how many members are new to SE and are not coming from SO or similar. It goes without saying that as long as we have a fairly steady influx of users from SO and only a trickle from Google and WOM marketing, this will be a problem. However, I have yet to see a QA thread so egregiously bad that it could seriously classify this effort as a failure or even anything close to it.

  4. Generally speaking, there are actually many telltale signs of inadequate metacognitive ability and/or groupthink within a community. The most obvious is a flurry of open-ended, loosey-goosey questions that anybody can participate in. The Software Engineering proposal was stymied on Area 51 by this; the questions were so obviously bad that it was clear that the wrong people were participating. That's why the name was changed to ACM/IEEE, to say "hey, this might be outside your area of expertise." Not meaning to harp on the SE proposal here but what I'm trying to say is that it's blindingly obvious when the unskilled outnumber the skilled, and if you have to cherry-pick examples to "prove" it then it's probably not a real problem.

  5. Cooking is subjective but not as subjective as some people make it out to be. Many claims are testable, and presumably if somebody asked the question then they are going to test it. There are several questions on the front page now with answers that are either obviously correct, easy to verify, or backed up by a source. For example:

    And so on and so forth. I admit that not every single answer actually has a citation, but to demonstrate that the site has a metacognition problem one has to show answers that are actually wrong, not just unsourced.

  6. Even if our community does not have any more expertise than the myriad of other communities, as this anonymous e-mailer suggests, the engine gives it a major advantage over most other sites which are based on forums. So if this person really believes that the site is collectively "ignorant", then that would be all the more reason to join, to help fix some of these issues, and recruit other knowledgeable people to do the same. Everybody benefits from having a smarter community participating on a site that doesn't suck.

    What kind of person sends off an e-mail to say that a site is lousy and even goes so far as to admit that they've just lurked, instead of actually doing something constructive and making it better? And why should we listen to what they have to say?

Anyway, to sum it up - to the question Is cooking too subjective to work? My answer is a big fat


If it were, we'd never have come this far.

  • "it's blindingly obvious when the unskilled outnumber the skilled" yahoo answers obvious perhaps? :) Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 3:33
  • how is babby^H^H^H^H^H stake formed?
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 7:17
  • 2
    On a more serious note, what Aaronut said is, as usual, on the nose. Perhaps more ominously, there is an... interesting progression from "What should the domain name be?" to "Here's the design we are ramming down your throat" to "No domain name sry" to "Can this site work?"
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 7:19
  • @roux a) you will have a domain name redirect b) I hardly think the design process is fairly characterized as "ramming" c) way off topic for this question, anyway Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 7:31
  • 1
    there is no other way to characterize 'here is a preliminary design concept' 'oh actually, this is the final design, enjoy' than 'ramming'. my point being, there has been a disturbing trend in announcements from on high.
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 11:30
  • 3
    @roux: I have to admit that I was a little suspicious of that too, but Cooking is one of the most successful SE sites by the team's own metrics, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt. I think Jeff is doing the right thing by publicly airing such a major complaint and giving us the opportunity to respond.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 15:07
  • @Jeff: I've come to realize that Yahoo Answers actually follows a similar pattern to other Q&A sites, if you think of the "subject" as "everything." You actually can find good answers, but only to questions that are very basic - not with respect to a specific field but with respect to the general population. The narrower your scope, the less noise you get, but also the less traffic. It's really not an easy balance to strike, although clearly Yahoo had the wrong idea by virtue of the fact that there are now several blogs dedicated exclusively to documenting the horrors there.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 16:48

Ah, prognosticating on The Internet - what could be more fun! As kids we pretended to be Matt Dillon; now we play Nostradamus.

By way of credentials, I shall reveal the following: I have predicted the Teletubby phenomenon, the rise of Google, the success of the iPhone, the victory of Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential Primary Elections, and The Terrible Hummingbird Plague of 2009.

And I can confirm that Mr. Shalmanese is absolutely, incontestably correct in what he predicts:

  • Ignorant brutes will descend upon the site, men of low pedigree will fill it with base answers and more will follow to greedily consume this vile offal, never mindful of its origin or the inauspicious name recommending it.

  • The informed and enlightened will strive against this barbarousness, and find their words lumped in with barbecue stories and tips for making "eggs over easy". Bitter tears of frustration will flow like vinegar as they reflect on how, in another time, their pearls of wisdom might have lined bird cages or pressed flowers.

  • Name-dropping will continue to be seen as a poor substitute for practical advice.

In addition, I predict that something not common to every public forum in every medium ever will occur. But I'll leave the exact nature of this to your imagination...

  • 7
    I wish I could flag "Ignorant brutes will descend upon the site, men of low pedigree will fill it with base answers" as fucking awesome.
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 6:00
  • 3
    I know I shouldn't +1 sarcasm as a complete answer, but +1 anyway.
    – yossarian
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 11:49

Since the author of that e-mail has come out and, among other things, suggested that we only do well for questions that are easily answered by Google already, allow me to provide a few counter examples:

  1. Why can applesauce be used in place of oil?

    • I answered this one, and gave the actual (correct) explanation of why the substitution sometimes works, and heaped on disclaimers about the limitations of this substitution. Perhaps it is not the most comprehensive answer on the web, but at least it tries to lead readers in the right direction. The top 3 google results are full of inaccuracies.

    • The first result is a chowhound thread. I've found that site to be very useful in the past, but the answers are all over the place. The first two answers suggest a 1:1 substitution and that's almost never what you should do, even in a cake. Only much later on (and who reads that far down?) do you start to hear that, actually, it really does change the taste and texture, and doesn't work in all baking recipes, and doesn't work so well when you've made the recipe from scratch as opposed to using a mix with all sorts of stabilizers, and that maybe you should go half-and-half or at least add a little bit of oil, and so on and so forth. Not very authoritative at all.

    • The next result, from eHow, is slightly better in that it does mention some (not all) of the limitations. However, it repeats the mantra that a 1:1 substitution is just fine without any other modifications. It also adds some misleading statements at the bottom: "Unsweetened applesauce will reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe." I think I understand what the author was getting at, but the way it's worded is backwards. Adding even unsweetened applesauce may increase the total amount of sugar in a recipe, since apples are naturally sweet. The more important point, which is never mentioned, is that using sweetened apple sauce will almost certainly require you to reduce sugar in other parts of the recipe to compensate. A casual reader stumbling upon that eHow article would not take away that message.

    • And in third place we have an Answers.com response, arguably the worst of them all, which suggests that you can substitute applesauce for butter or margarine (although, confusingly, it also says "in oil-based baked goods"). It does mention using some oil, so it gets a point for that, but mentions none of the other potential problems (sweetness, shape, etc.), and suggesting that applesauce would be a good substitute for butter in bread dough is wrong wrong wrongity wrong.

  2. Just try using Google to find the answer to Why do my muffin tops lean?

    I'm sure that you consider this a basic question, but it is not so basic to everyone. I've actually known a few people with this problem. Using Google for this will get you nowhere, because both the word "lean" and the phrase "muffin top" are associated with body fat and weight loss, which, as you might expect, are several orders of magnitude more popular than muffin baking.

  3. Why do tomatoes get so hot?

    I love this one because on what other cooking site would you get a physicist arriving to weigh in on the issue of heat distribution, conduction, and the difference between a food simply being hot and burning your mouth? Perhaps you are looking for examples that are more about culinary techniques/issues, and I will get to those, but this is really an awesome question for demonstrating the usefulness of the whole SE "network" as opposed to individually-focused cooking forums.

  4. Why do some recipes recommend Kosher salt?

    I've used kosher salt plenty of times in recipes but never knew half the stuff that Darin put in his answer. That is, by and large, the most definitive post I've ever read on kosher salt. It's way more useful than the Wikipedia page on it.

  5. Pasta: Simmering Water or Rolling Boil?

    This is another one that I like, because it's a bit of a tricky issue. We have two competing answers that are actually both sort of correct. The accepted answer repeats the conventional wisdom but includes a proper explanation of all the terminology (including specific temperatures). The other, higher-voted answer challenges the conventional wisdom and provides a source to back it up. Both of these answers received many more votes than other answers.

    Now you might say "A-ha! The accepted answer is wrong! You see!" Except it's not wrong. The issue is that pasta does not require a huge pot or a rolling boil to cook perfectly. But it's also true that especially for certain types of pasta, such as spaghetti, those factors do help if you tend toward leaving the pot unattended. And that's exactly what the top answer says: "Help prevent sticking." Nowhere does it repeat the erroneous folk wisdom that a simmer will turn the pasta into mush.

    Together these two answers provide a lot of insight that you just won't find on Google. Most of the top results just parrot the myths.

  6. Frozen veggies meets gumbo = flavorless. How to add flavor?

    I wouldn't even know where to begin searching for something like this on Google, and although Michael's answer seems obvious in hindsight, I think many if not most of us would not have thought of it soon enough to fix it (it's important to note that this answer came in less than half an hour).

So, do I need to go on, or is this sufficient to explain why our community and site is better than a Google search?

Obviously, like any site, there's going to be a long tail. We're always going to have our share of prosaic or even mind-numbing questions, and sometimes they get voted up more than they should because they're easy to understand and people want Electorate badges. But these kinds of questions are the staple of any cooking site. Many home cooks have years of experience but are also self-taught and have gaps in their knowledge that a professional wouldn't have; many of these people also have valuable insights to contribute, and will be much more willing to do so if they can get their naïve questions answered without the smarmy attitude that so often accompanies the more "advanced" cooking communities.

And I would really like to see more advanced, "haute cuisine" questions here, but I think that will only come with time. As I stated in my other answer, even on a site with many professionals such as Stack Overflow, the truly expert-level questions tend to get the least attention. The only way to prevent that is to have a completely closed system that only allows recognized experts in the field, and then it starts to look more like an industry journal than a Q&A site. We want to be useful to regular people too.


It'd help if the author of the email could point to specific examples of

I've been casually lurking on the cooking stack exchange for a while. It's awful.

"Everything sucks!" Is neither constructive nor actionable. I am still waiting for actual URL examples and explanations of what specifically is "awful" about cooking.stackexchange.com.

Provide URLs. Briefly explain what about them, exactly, is wrong.

Beyond "it's awful", even with examples, let's talk about positive examples: you have to be able to point to other sites that you do think do things correctly, or maybe aspects of different sites that work well.

The author, in his answer here, did cite http://forums.egullet.org/ and specifically http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/116617-sous-vide-recipes-techniques-equipment/ as examples of

information resource that cannot be mimicked by any online and very few real world expertise sources

Though it's a bit of an appeal to billionaire authority due to the participation of Nathan Myrvold in the thread.

sad for me seeing Quora turn from an absolutely amazing resource slowly into yet another internet community, exactly as I predicted when I interviewed with them ~6 months ago .. Joining the site and actively contributing will not be helpful if I believe the ultimate structure of the site is not geared for success.

Based on your Quora participation history, with friends like that, who needs enemies?

Still, it's useful to consider http://forums.egullet.org as an example of a cooking Q&A (ish) site that is working.

  • 4
    eGullet is a great community with many great contributors. The problem, as always, is that they're a forum, and a rather large one at that, and as such, most of what you see is noise. But I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 15:06
  • This is the nub of the issue I am pointing at. You don't know who Nathan Myhrvold even is. What's more, you aggressively don't care who he is. It's this Wikipedia style attitude that causes pathologies like danah boyd losing an argument on how to spell her own name (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Danah_Boyd). The core of my argument is that this works somewhat acceptably on Wikipedia and SO. An answer can contain a reference you've never heard of but as long as you can verify it's correctness, you don't care about it's providence. This fundamentally does not work for cooking.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:18
  • In cooking, providence matters deeply for Subject Matter Experts. That's something inherent in the process. Because cooking contains so much subjectivity and taste, I need to know where you're coming from to even be able to interpret your answer. Whether it's Alice Waters of David Chang matters deeply.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:21
  • The only way serious, substantive discussions of Cooking can proceed is through a literate audience. One that is expected to learn and know these names and concepts and styles by default. If every discussion has to start from the basics known by a home cook, the discussion devolves into mediocrity.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:23
  • @Shalmanese: What makes you think that any of us don't know or care who he is? You're making all sorts of assumptions and claims without any evidence to support them, which is ironic in a discussion revolving around the ability to present evidence for subject matter. All in all, it just sounds like you think we should all be oohing and aahing over the fact that Nathan Myhvrold posted, OMG! Like I commented earlier, Alan Kay posted on Stack Overflow; so what? Who cares? In the grand scheme of things it meant almost nothing, SME or no.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 0:29
  • Can you please tell me, without looking, how many times you think Nathan Myhvrold has posted in that thread? Can you also tell me, without looking, what you believe Nathan Myhvrold's contribution to the culinary realm has been?
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 1:00
  • @shalm I guess you never saw my danah boyd petition: ipetitions.com/petition/danahboydpropercase/index.html yep, it's really from me. anotherlab.rajapet.net/2008/06/… Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 2:19
  • @Shalmanese: Again, what does that have to do with anything? Why should I try to answer these questions? I don't care if God himself posted in that thread; you obviously think we should all be gushing over this whereas in reality it's the function of the community as a whole across many subjects and over a long period of time that actually matters, not a handful of contributions in a specific megathread by one or two celebrities. As purported evidence of how one site will succeed and another will fail, your example falls painfully short, and it's silly to delve any deeper than that.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 2:55
  • 4
    "In cooking, providence matters deeply for Subject Matter Experts." - Thank you for proving you are not, in fact, an SME when it comes to anything truly culinary. Those of us who are professionals in the field only give a damn about provenance (the correct word) when it is coming from a known expert; Adria on hydrocollooids, or Robouchon on classic French, or Ripert on fish. Beyond that, the only thing we care about is if it works. Doesn't matter if it was Anne Burrell or the crazy guy down the street who said it. Does it work? Good.
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 5:58
  • 2
    @roux: You would be amazed at just how many deranged pantsless men in alleyways are actually brilliant ex-chefs, driven mad by the insane dietary restrictions of their clientele. They're a veritable buffet of sound advice.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 13:51
  • If I wanted sound advice, I'd talk to my techie friends. I want cooking advice ;)
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 18:21

@Shalmanese: There's a critical piece of the philosophy and functionality that has eluded you: Stack Exchange's "archive of knowledge" is nowhere near finished in neither breadth nor depth. If the "depth" does not suit you, it will only continue to improve as new answers are contributed, existing answers are improved, and the whole collection is vetted and undergoes peer review.

You said that Stack Exchange is no different from the rest of them. That's high praise considering the Cooking Stack Exchange has barely existed for 90 days. So what if — at least in your opinion — Cooking.SE didn't snap into instant, unassailable genius in its first 90 days. That develops with time, hard work and continuing contribution.

But you chose to sit on the sidelines and watch and condemn.

In contrast, the forums you celebrate are constantly watered down and mired in irrelevance. Throw your "pearls of wisdom into an indifferent crowd"; Who's to know? Some of those questions are hundreds of pages long. What good are those pearls when there is so much noise to drown them out? How am I to find them?

If you fixed just two questions on this site, you would have improved this archive of knowledge by over 1%, single-handedly. That's quite an accomplishment for so little effort. —Small units of incremental impromement.

  • re: hundreds of pages long and noise, I found in those first answers to the "great example" things that were clearly said much better and debated more carefully here. If it takes me pages and pages to get to the expert there and here I can find answers by professionals (roux, Darin, etc.) that bubble to the top through their exceptional quality, I'd stick with here even lacking authors of major monumental tomes at the moment!
    – justkt
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 16:11
  • 2
    @justkt - not to mention that Stack Overflow has been heralded as an example of where the formula works, but most of the top contributors there are only celebrities on Stack Overflow. I won't pretend that we are "overflowing" here with professionals of the caliber of Nathan Myrvold or even Alton Brown, but the first step is getting professionals period. Once you establish that reputation, the "giants" eventually take notice. I mean sure, Stack Overflow had Alan Kay come to make all of two posts; so what, did it really alter SO's destiny?
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 16:57
  • I made my prediction to the Quora people when that site was about the same age. I laid out exactly the arguments I'm laying out on this site now. They were unconvinced by them. I watched closely, I am slowly starting to see the effects I predicted take place. I engaged in a conversation with Jeff because I think the motivation behind SE is admirable but he is falling for the exact same unlearned lessons. If the community listens, that's great. If not, I have no actual affinity to this site or you people as users. It's not going to bring me joy to come back here in a year & say I told you so.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:36
  • Part of the reason behind me stance on all of this is that this is not a new problem, it's a sickenly, depressingly old one. It's been happening over and over again in online communities for the last 20 years and the effects follow the same pattern every time.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:38
  • 2
    @Shalmanese: Eventually, somebody is going to get it right, via technical means, which seems to have happened with Stack Overflow and may very well happen with these sites. You haven't really explained why you think any of these sites are going to fail, other than "it's horrible", and if you're not going to offer constructive suggestions then what's the point in listening?
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 0:27

I have trouble seeing the e-mail author's point at all. In general the community has worked extremely hard to carefully craft a site definition that encourages good subjective questions which can be accurately judged by professionals and experienced amateurs and discourage the bad subjective. For example we carefully defined what recipes might be objective enough that they could be correctly judged "the" recipe and therefore were acceptable on the site. We've looked over what makes a list of X question acceptable and not many times, carefully debating who can verify whether or not a flavor pairing is good or not and other details, with our professional members and top contributors weighing in. I think this has been largely successful in helping to define a very useful community where members seek answers that explain the why and how and information is shared in a generally constructive, informative, and fair tone.

I went looking for downvoted answers that were actually correct. The closest thing I could find was this response to changing a quick bread mix's sweetness. While the answer is technically correct, the discussion about the downvote gives a pretty clear defense of why the answer was voted down. One could make a fairly good argument that it is not more correct than any higher voted answer.

I'm marking this CW - if you see anything else that could qualify for a worst answer as defined in the question, please fill it in.


I know that at this late stage there's little point in adding another opinion to this, but still...

To me, the problem with Shalmanese is captured in this comment of his:

In cooking, providence matters deeply for Subject Matter Experts. That's something inherent in the process. Because cooking contains so much subjectivity and taste, I need to know where you're coming from to even be able to interpret your answer.

First off, I think he means "provenance," but in any case this just amounts to an appeal to authority. The people posting here don't meet his definition of established experts, therefor nothing they post can possibly be useful. I strongly disagree with this attitude.

Yes, there's lots of subjectivity, but I don't rely on an expert to tell me what's good and bad, I can see it for myself. I'm not a professional baker, but I've done enough and read enough books that I can make a pretty good cake and I can certainly tell a cake that tastes good from one that sucks w/out an expert to explain it to me.

I don't think cooking.se is that much different from Serverfault in that respect: most of my experience is w/ Windows, but I've used Unix and Linux enough that I can recognize a good answer from someone who is a Linux expert.

But basically Shalmanese thinks the site can't thrive with experienced amateurs posting, only if accredited professional chefs post.

  • The problem with citing logical fallacies is that they are as guilty of the lack of nuance as the fallacy they purport to demolish. Appealing to authority is not a bad thing when what one wants is an authoritative answer; one doesn't ask a random person on the street how to set a broken bone, one asks a doctor.
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 10:09
  • However, as I said above, chefs really only care about provenance when you are talking about a specific subject in which someone has acclaimed expertise. Adria on hydrocolloids, as I said above, or Madhur Jaffrey on Indian cuisine, are likely to be seen as more authoritative answers when dealing within their subjects. I don't particularly care about Jaffrey's opinions on, say, how to bake croissants more or less than anyone with baking knowledge. If her methods work, that's all that matters.
    – daniel
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 10:11
  • Not only is the appeal to authority a disagreeable position here, but the exact opposite position has been enshrined in the design of SOFU and SE since day one. Reputation is based on votes, and anyone can vote, thus one's reputation is (at least in theory) proportional to one's direct contribution to the community and not any other factors. This works for mildly subjective issues too, as long as they aren't so subjective that no answer can actually be classified as wrong or unhelpful, and cooking is nowhere near that subjective.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 13:56

I am the author of that email and I welcome constructive debate. It's been a long time since I used the Stack * sites so excuse me if I fail to follow some point of social etiquette. The email thread arose out of a conversation around an essay I recently posted entitled "The Evaporative Cooling Effect in Online Communities".

In response to Aaronut's post:

  • Metacognition and Meta-judgement are two separate things. Metacognition is awareness of your own reasoning processes and relies on introspection. Meta-judgement is the assessment of someone else's contribution. These are two separate skills.

  • I completely agree with you that Wikipedia has many, many problems. However, overall, they are largely successful. This is not what I'm arguing.

  • I also completely agree that Stack Overflow is not perfect. This is also not what I'm arguing.

  • You argue that Google/WOM is important and it obviously is but you've failed to articulate how, after you've reached out to people beyond the SO family, how you convert them into active participants. This is the crux of the issue.

  • My concern is not with the level, it's with the first derivative. The question is can cooking exchange be built into a site that gets better over time? I don't see a mechanism for this to happen.

  • Of the 5 examples Aaronut listed, 3 of them can have the exact same answer found as one of the first 3 hits in Google. This, IMO, is fine but not an especially compelling use of a Q&A site. The other two are genuinely good answers but they're not the type of great answers that make something an addicting resource. For an example of truly great answers, check out http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/116617-sous-vide-recipes-techniques-equipment/ for example. One of the most active contributors in that thread is Nathan Myhrvold, author of the new mega-tome on Molecular Gastronomy. In that thread, you see real, genuine Q&A going on and it's an information resource that cannot be mimicked by any online and very few real world expertise sources.

  • As to what kind of person sends off an email complaining about a site, I'm a person who genuinely is invested in the SE mission and wants to see it succeed but I believe the best way of doing so is via informed critique. Joining the site and actively contributing will not be helpful if I believe the ultimate structure of the site is not geared for success. The other factor is that I'm one person with a limited number of hours in the day and I've already invested in a cooking site. I'm Shalmanese on eGullet and you probably recognize me there if you've spent any time there. If you imagine I or any other person in the world is going to see the site and immediately jump in with gusto, then that's a fundamentally flawed view. Instead, you should be asking, what it is about cooking exchange that could convince someone like me to want to make it a great resource.

Also, my main arguments have been on the downfall of Quora as they are coping with issues of growth and Cooking Exchange only incidentally came into the conversation as another community I expect to go down the same path. It's been extraordinarily sad for me seeing Quora turn from an absolutely amazing resource slowly into yet another internet community, exactly as I predicted when I interviewed with them ~6 months ago. The tricky issue is that, by the time you recognize the problem occurring, it's too late for the fix. What I'm arguing is not so much the state of cooking exchange now but what I see as it's inevitable state 12 months down the road if the same fundamental design is kept to.

  • 9
    The thread you listed is 129 pages long. it might be full of great Q&A but how can I find it without reading through all of it which might contain a whole load of stuff I don't care about along side the answer to my query. It's ok if you were involved in that from the start, but to come to the party late and you have a mammoth task ahead of you.
    – Sam Holder
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 12:12
  • 4
    The second reply to the "great example" you linked to starts with "i laughed, i cried, it was better than cats, it changed my life forever". I'm sorry, but if that's the best you can come up with, then you're just demonstrating why discussion forums don't work well as a teaching medium. And "informed critique" would point to examples, not merely bash the community. I didn't realize that you wanted to see examples that weren't easy to find on Google (considering part of the stated mission of SE is to be the first Google result), but I'm sure I can dig up several of those as well.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 15:03
  • 2
    By the way, a Google search for "meta judgment" turns up not much of substance. I have never heard this term before. Metacognition is called meta cognition because it's meta - knowing what you know. The ability to assess someone else's contribution is not "meta-judgment", it's just judgment, and requires metacognitive ability. I am sorry if it seems like I'm quibbling over semantics here, but as you can see, I'm not using it as an excuse to ignore your larger points; I just think that, when making such a profound criticism, it helps to use either accepted jargon or plain English.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 16:34
  • 2
    @Shalmanese - your e-mail indicates that you thinking cooking.se is currently awful. Your last paragraph indicates that you think it will be awful in 12 months given the current structure. Which is it and why - with examples, please.
    – justkt
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 16:44
  • 2
    @Sam, I aggree 100%. There is so much great information in that Sous Vide thread, but I've gotten so F#$%ING frustrated trying to find answers in that thread. It's impossible. And google doesn't help, because it finds a post that looks like it's a response to the answer you're trying to find, but you still can't find that post. eGullet has awesome information, but it's impossible to find if you're not part of the community and saw it happen in the first place. I think that's exactly the issue that SE is supposed to solve!
    – yossarian
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 16:51
  • 2
    It is exactly the issue that SE is supposed to solve, @yossarian. The team has stated in the past and restated recently that Google is the "Front Page" for SOFU/SE. I participate and even moderate some traditional discussion forums too, so I'm keenly aware of the differences; the one thing I've come to hate the most about forums is exactly what you refer to, the "I guess you had to be there" feeling, where putting any one post into context means that you have to painstakingly read the entire thread. And of course most people don't bother and just post anyway, further polluting the waters.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 17:17
  • The eGullet SV page is widely known as one of the two or three best resources for SV on the internet and, for a long time, was one of the single best written documentations of SV that existed anywhere in the world. Seeing people here dismiss it as a 129 page long, hard to navigate is as laughable as saying here "Oh El Bulli? That can't be a very good restaurant. It's super hard to get to. What we should do is build a 3 michelin star restaurant but in Barcelona so that it is easier to get to". If you start from this base of general cluelessness, you have no hope of attracting true SMEs.
    – Shalmanese
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:26
  • 8
    What a patently ridiculous analogy. That thread is more like going to what is supposed to be a 3-star restaurant but finding that their menu has been scrambled and hidden inside a collage of children's crayon drawings, bad comic books, and pages from Atlas Shrugged. And you have to sign 30 pages of Terms and Conditions in order to place an order.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:47
  • 5
    Separately, whenever somebody says that something is "widely known", that's a sure sign that they're not prepared to back it up. I don't know, maybe it had the status you describe, before it reached critical mass and everybody and their brother started posting in it. But now I can only describe it as an inscrutable mishmash of good recipes, mediocre recipes, random tips and techniques, in-jokes and pointless banter. It's incoherent and you know it. Holding that up as an example of a great source of information is only weakening your position here.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 22:51
  • 3
    A lot of us here consider ourselves to have varying degrees of expertise on the subject matter. The Dunning-Kruger effect swings both ways and I'm inherently mistrustful of people who outwardly claim to be experts without any credentials to show for it. So if your position is that we are simply to take your word for it because you are an SME, then I am forced to reject that argument on said basis. You want to know what wasting time is? Leveling broad but serious criticisms without being able to point to any specific examples or offer constructive suggestions, even after being given ample time.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 0:36
  • 2
    Umm. You go from "I welcome constructive debate" to, "[I know] what the fuck I'm talking about", "put up with this shit", and "I'm a pigheaded asshole". With that attitude the quality of your contributions is irrelevant. Pack your stuff and leave.
    – hobodave
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 2:44
  • 2
    @Shalmanese: You're right, I'm not an expert on sous-vide. I don't do any sous-vide whatsoever. In case you hadn't noticed, this site is not about sous-vide, it's about the whole of cooking, and it's very hard for someone to be an expert on all things culinary. Even with all that said, you can't objectively claim a damn thing because you don't know me. And if you are claiming to be the "SME" yourself, then prove it, either by credentials or by actual contributions (no wai!). Otherwise your assertions are meaningless.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 3:01
  • 1
    And after all this you still can't point to a single specific example of what you think is wrong with this site. I can only assume at this point that you have none.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 3:02
  • 7
    Can we just call this what it is, troll, and move on please? This reeks of "my daddy can beat up your daddy!" Dude had a complaint, it was rightly aired by jeff, we all seem to disagree with him, he's not making compelling arguments, lets bury it.
    – yossarian
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 3:09
  • 3
    Yep, boring. Darwin will decide whether this site ultimately has a lot of value or not, we don't really need to debate it... just keep doing it and see if it grows or withers. Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 3:44

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