Interview With Sarah J. Gim, TasteSpotting ~ Food Interviews

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Interview With Sarah J. Gim, TasteSpotting

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Sarah J. Gim runs the hugely popular food porn site, TasteSpotting. TasteSpotting closed its virtual doors for a few weeks, but it is back! In this interview, Sarah talks all about TasteSpotting. How are submissions selected? What happened a few weeks ago? What can we expect in the future? Sarah will be reading your comments and is happy to answer questions you may have.

How did TasteSpotting get started? Were you involved from the beginning?

Jean of NOTCOT and I met while working for the same company in LA. The idea for TasteSpotting just grew out of working, talking and hanging out together. She's a highly talented designer and has a superb eye for aesthetics and I'm a food freak. Since a lot of food is visual, we thought it would be fun to put those things together as a site. We launched TasteSpotting in January, 2007.

Was the original concept the same as what it is now?

Certainly, we evolved over 18 months with respect to what the focus of a lot of the submissions are (much more recipe-focused than when we started), but the concept is still the same - a collection of beautiful images that link to something deliciously interesting, TasteSpotting provides a place for people to first eat with their eyes, be inspired, and discover new blogs, sites, and resources.

Did you expect it to take off the way it did?

We had hopes that people would love it the way Jean loves design and I love food.

Did you have to get more people involved as the site grew?

For the most part, TasteSpotting kept to the core group of people who worked on it from the beginning, though we had help at time with moderating the submissions.

How many submissions do you get a day on average?

A lot! But, it does vary.

Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands?

Per day? Not in the thousands. That would be insane! There have been days when hundreds have come in.

How do you pick which ones go on the site?

We have always gone by our gut (what a pun!).

So you just go through them all and pick the ones you like?

Yeah. I mean there are some basic things we always stick to. The link has to go to something interesting, like a blog post with a good story or recipe, an article, a video, some sort of resource. Photos should be clear, in focus, well-lit, and well composed.

Do you ever take a bad photo if the link is fascinating?

Sure, if it's fascinating. But, we rarely do BAD photos. More like we'll let a "not awesome" one go by.

What about the captions? Does the caption come into play in your decision?

It does sometimes, though it has less to do with fashion and more to do with function. It's nice when captions are witty or cute, but it's actually super important for the submitter to put as much descriptive info in the caption as possible because that's how users can search for things on the site. If a caption is not very helpful, we may ask the user to resubmit with more detail.

I've seen some sites that have TasteSpotting boycotts because they get so frustrated at never being selected. What do you say to these people?

I know, and it's hard for me to not feel terrible about it.

Do you have advice for them?

It's hard to give "advice" because I don't consider myself an expert in blogging, writing, food styling, or photography, not to mention that taste is so totally subjective (I am, however, of the firm belief that some "tastes" like caviar, truffles, and cilantro are objectively just bad). However, I would say that people who are submitting from their own blogs should continue doing what they are doing because the food they cook, eat, and what they blog , is, no doubt, awesome.

Basically, for food bloggers, I wouldn't want them to try to "improve" their styling and photography skills just to make it onto TasteSpotting. But, if they want to improve just because they do, I would recommend they browse some of the food blogs that are well-known for their photography to see how they compose shots.

You don't need to buy a high end camera or set up a studio in your house. Just get to know the manual settings on your camera and try not to use the flash.Everyone is welcome to continue submitting, though if it were me, if I weren't picked multiple times and still wanted to be, I would change something.

Are there any particular blogs whose photography you love that you would recommend as a place to start?

Oh my! Where do I begin!??! I love Heidi Swanson's 101cookbooks, Becks & Posh, MattBites, and La Tartine Gourmande. I also like Nordljus, Kuidaore, and Chubby Hubby.

What about resizing before submitting? Is that something you recommend?

The site automagically crops photos when you upload them, but that's just it. It's just automatic so we don't control how the cropper crops images. If you submit something and the cropper crops it but the subject is on the other side of the photo, that makes the photo look bad and we might not take it.

Right now I would say that cropping/resizing a photo exactly how you want before submitting is always the best way to make sure that it gets submitted the way you want.

Why do you say “right now”?

We're improving the submissions process. Basically, we want to give more control to the user. Right now, when you submit, you have no idea what it will look like so we want people to be able to preview their submission and make sure it looks the way they want it to look before submitting it.

Would this be like the preview feature that used to be on the site?

Something better! I think it will be ready this week.

Speaking of changes, a few weeks ago, the food blogger community was shocked to find a note on the TasteSpotting site saying that NOTCOT would no longer be operating TasteSpotting. What happened?

Jean sold her interest in it to me. We were working through the usual issues.

What happened during that time period? Many people believed that TasteSpotting would be gone forever. There was a lot of speculation. Did you know that you would be back?

We didn't actually know what was going to happen.

Were you surprised by the food blog community's reaction to the loss of TasteSpotting?

The support and love was overwhelming. I wasn't aware that people were so attached to it - and that was so encouraging.

What are you thoughts about the other sites that popped up during that time, like Food Gawker?

Chuck [Food Gawker] did an admirable job of putting something up so quickly and the other sites like fpdaily.net and recipemuncher.com are all well done, too. There is definitely enough room for more than just TasteSpotting. People probably expect a lot of competition, but the reality is the food web is huge. I mean, just look at how many food blogs there are!

My hope is that users will sort of be choosy about what they submit to each site - like submitting the same post, but a different image. I don't think anyone really knows what will happen, or even what they would want to happen, but it seems like the more food porn, the better!

Definitely! You mentioned a change in the submission process, but are there other changes we can expect now that you are the sole owner?

Well, to be quite honest, there will be improvements to the site based on my personal and professional experience with the web – maybe some design changes and feature improvements. I am also looking to the users for what they want. I love when users write in saying that they would love a feature that does this or that.

Do you click on every link?

I click on every single link that comes in. It has to be done to maintain the quality of the links, the images, and the overall aesthetic and philosophy of the site.

How long do you spend working on TasteSpotting moderation every day?

Actual hours, I don't know, but I am always checking in on the site. Submissions come in all day long. and moderation involves clicking through and reading a blog post.

Is food blogging your full-time job?

Well, I guess you could say that now. I would say that being a food web geek is my full-time job since I'm also a blogger with Slashfood (and Styledash - though that's not food).

I don't expect you to give numbers, of course, but does it pay enough to live?

I try to make it work, and so far, it has.

I'm sure lots of people (myself included) will be jealous when they read that.

Well, I worked for 13 years nonstop in Web-related jobs (with a short break in there for grad school), so I consider this a "working" extended vacation of sorts.

What's a fun fact about you outside of the food blogging world?

Is there anything outside the food world?!?! Hm, but a fun fact... I won the Spelling Bee in 5th grade.

If you were going to interview one person about food, who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain. I love him. Tony, are you reading this? I love you! No, I just love his style of writing.

19 comments:

Katy said...

cute interview!!! i always kind of wondered what was going on behind the scene at tastespotting! :-)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Great interview -- glad to know more about the inner workings of Tastespotting, too.

Alanna @ A Veggie Venture said...

Interesting! I didn't realize until just now, Sarah, that you were 'officially' with Tastespotting though had figured out along the way that you were one of the frequent contributors.

Glad it's back. Last week someone brought up the question of photos going into the public domain once posted on Tastespotting. Would love for you to address that here?

Thank you -- and many congratulations -- for delivering something that so many loved-loved-loved.

SteamyKitchen said...

I'm addicted to Tastespotting AND FoodGawker!

Erin said...

Great interview! It's nice to hear about some of the inner workings and history behind Tastespotting. It must be fabulous to be able to work from home and be completely surrounded by web 2.0 and food blogs all day.

KELLY said...

What a good idea!

By the way, I hear you're going to teach a class at Kitchen Conservatory in the fall. Yeah! It's so much fun; you'll love it!

Stef said...

Sarah should be chiming in here soon, but in the meantime...

Katy - Me too! It was fun to do the interview.

Lydia - We both enjoyed.

Alanna - Interesting question. I'll be curious to hear Sarah's response.

Steamy - How could you not be!

Erin - Glad you enjoyed the interview. Sarah's job sounds busy but so fun!

Kelly - Thanks! I'm looking forward to it.

sarah said...

katy, lydia, alanna, erin: glad to provide some insight :)

alanna: on the question of photos...submissions don't go into the public domain. the current terms of service on the site basically ask that everyone have integrity about submissions - we've taken care of the attribution thing by now putting the name of the originating site on the post, and if the person who owns a site or a photo is uncomfortable, we will take it down immediately upon their request. :)

jaden: we might have to get you into rehab for that!

Big Boys Oven said...

sunny and warm day from Kayel! It was great reading this interview write up. Love it! Well done and so well explain.

Orchid64 said...

I love Tastespotting, but I wish they'd vary the types of pictures. Nearly every shot is some intense close-up from an artful angle. I understand that they want good-looking pictures but the repetitive aesthetic is tedious.

Sally said...

So good to have you back T.S. and well done Sarah.
I am fairly new to food blogging and have been lucky enough to have 2 piccies on there. Must work harder and maybe I will be on again soon.
Nice interview
Love to all.

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

Very interesting. Tastespotting is such a great resource for finding new blogs. I'm glad it's back!

Sang d. said...

bravo sarah! it's so refreshing to be enlightened with the mysterious disappearance and then reappearance of the beloved tastespotting!

love to hear that you're so connected to the users and addressing their concerns - it's that sense of personalization that makes this site so unique!

re: those other sites that popped up while you were away, well, don't they always say that imitation is flattery? anyway, we're glad you're back! long live tastespotting!

Anonymous said...

Woah. Looks like there's more to this story than said here, i just found www.TasteSpotting.org which seems to be a goodbye site to the original!

Kate said...

I'm glad that this interview introduced me to tastespotting!

Sandie said...

I'm a fan of Tastespotting, it's an elegant site. I love browsing (and of course, having my own photos featured there). Great interview---this is content every food blogger (and food lover) can enjoy!

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