Uncensored discussion of the Chowhound makeover

'Cause you sure can’t talk about it there.

My executive summary:

The makeover got rid of the regional boards and distributed their topics (renamed “posts”) among topical boards (renamed “communities”), mostly new ones such as Restaurants & Bars and Markets & Stores (those are communities?) Most of the moved topics got location tags indicating which of the deleted regional boards they started out on, but the auto-tagging performed during the makeover missed some topics, and also added those regional board tags to topics from other boards. Thus, while if you view topics by a location tag it looks similar to the former regional board, some topics are missing and others have been added.

I presume CBS did this with the expectation that it would somehow increase ad revenues. They’ve never said why they did it, I presume because they know whatever the reason is (“make the board more like Yelp”?) would piss off the regulars.

They way they pushed out the beta they knew was unfinished suggests to me that they have a hard date by which they’re supposed to increase revenues by X%.

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hard date…to increase revenues…

Two factors might have been in play there, I think: Q3 ends at the end of the month, and there were probably performance bonuses involved. They thought participation would continue at previous levels, and the order of magnitude increase in the number of advertisements pitched to the same number of eyes would make the Q3 figures soar. The performance bonuses were keyed to getting the system out the door in time for this scenario to take place. So now, they have their bonuses, but there have been about ten SFBA posts in the past 48 hours, so who will see the ads? Even Site Feedback has been dead since yesterday.


I think that says it all. People have just given up and left. The core users want a discussion board (like this one) not a phone app.


I can barely even follow the explanation of the changes, which explains why I couldn’t figure out how to use the board.

I only tried for about a week, and I kept seeing the same three posts over and over again, even when it said the last reply was hours and hours earlier. The thread asking where you can keep the mug or glass was my last straw.


Based on the comments from Mr. VIP and the complete refusal to listen to 95% of the posts stating how difficult the new interface is, I think they have a completely new demographic in mind and could really give a fuck if any of the previous core users stick around. I’m not exactly sure who the millions of new users are that they are targeting, but it’s certainly not the users who created chowhound.


Yes, given some of the otherwise inexplicable behavior it seems plausible they figured the makeover would lose most of the old regulars and they don’t care.

I’m guessing they’re aiming for a site that splits the difference between Yelp and TripAdvisor.


Out with the fucking old and in with the fashionable new perchance ???

Not to white knight, but display advertising has really taken a nosedive as a source of revenue in the past year or so - I (half-assedly) write a blog, and it’s been a major source of discussion among the bloggers I know, IME, you can earn enough from display ads to keep a website afloat but not enough to turn a profit/earn an income. My guess is that they are figuring the new format will more smoothly integrate native ads and sponsored posts. However, the user experience is just atrocious.

It seems to me they were directed to increase revenues and to set up a site structure that would be more amenable to driving more ad and sponsorship revenue through more impressions.

However they totally screwed up the user experience part of the update. They may still think that this update is like past ones where some people get upset, some people don’t care, new users come on board and in the end everything just moves on.

However given the fact that they didn’t do usability testing correctly and instead rushed a disastrous beta out the door, I don’t think they did this primarily with a strategy to get new users or to increase engagement with current users. This was about advertising.

But at the end of the day, faced with a new site architecture that doesn’t work, they decided there was no other way forward except to just ignore all the criticism. Their jobs are dependent on this succeeding – going back would have meant total failure.

It does say something though when one person can run a site in his spare time better than a whole staff run by a parent company that needs to focus on managing a profit.


I don’t know that I’d have time to run this site if it got the level of traffic Chowhound used to.

Luke Tsai’s article in the East Bay Express is still the only news story Google finds about this.

well, the site was “better” for US.
apparently, it wasn’t good enough for CBS interactive.
so they tried to “fix” it.

their values and needs are VERY DIFFERENT from our values and need.

I’ve been seeing more Chowhound results in Google searches, so I think the redesign is at least to some extent doing what it was intended to do: cut into the clicks and ad revenues that have been going to other sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Epicurious.

I hated the “sound bite” look of the new format. I’ve noticed this in a few publications. Vanity Fair started inserting some crap like that a few years ago. VF has some segments that are meant to look picture-y and simpleton.

I don’t really like what they’ve done to CH but I’m a bit mystified by the comment that they have refused to listen to users in their feedback threads. Except for refusing to get rid of the new format, going back to the regional board focus, and requiring the complicated tagging, they’ve done a whole lot about the layouts and functionalities below that level. It’s pretty stupid, because what they’ve done over the past month or so is recreate most of the mechanics that was there before.

I’m not underplaying the HUGE impact of the new format and the loss of regional focus, OR the arrogance and insensitivity of how the change was done. Just saying that if you’ve been able to follow the more recent changes and still care enough to use the site, they seem to have almost recreated the old CH at least from a functionality (how you can read and reply) POV.

I understand what you are saying @Midlife.

But what you said below pretty much sums up the entire problem – it’s almost poetically satirical the way you’ve phrased it.

And, really the changes that they have made in response to user feedback has, to put it diplomatically, been mostly window-dressing.

It’s like being perfectly happy with a nice steak and big wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing for dinner every night. And then lo and behold the person is told that dinner every night is now going to be quinoa pilaf and tempeh patties. Said person complains that he really wants red beef and some good cholesterol clogging dressing with his lettuce greens, and the only thing that changes is that now the person gets some bacon bits with the quinoa and some American cheese slices with the tempeh.

Would any rational person feel placated? Or, simply feel patronized and humored long enough until all their inner Sisphysian energy is drained away.


Oh, I get the outrage over the death blow to the real essence of CH. What seems ironic to me is that (after a month or more of kicking and screaming) have pretty much now made it possible to use the site the way I used it before. I would have found it poetic justice for the mechanics to have survived jin spite of them, except that so many great people are gone. Maybe I’m not as purely idealistic as I thought I was.

You might be able to use it the way you did before, but few if any new users are likely to. The new architecture does nothing to promote regional communities.

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You’re preaching to the choir. I think I’ve posted here that I’ve now asked, 3 or 4 times, that they just REQUIRE a location tag on most ‘communities’ or at least strongly urge that during the topic generation routine. I got one vague reply saying they’d put it on the list. Since then … nothing. Obviously they feel that geo-centricity goes against their site goals.