The Future of Cookbooker
  • Hi everyone:

    As loyal users of the site will have noticed, it's been extremely quiet lately on my side of things. I've come in a few times a while ago with a hurried apology, but nothing has changed with the site and I wasn't even able to update the recent challenge a few of you ran in September. The truth is, I am simply overwhelmed with the rest of my life: my work, my family, and writing (I'm an author... or was an author and am trying to get back into the writing life) and Cookbooker has slipped down to the bottom of my priority list.

    Starting Cookbooker was an amazing experience, and although it didn't take off as I had hoped (it has never been even remotely financially viable), it is obvious that we've developed a core group of users who have found it useful and continue to spend some of their valuable time putting recipe reviews into the site. I will be forever grateful for those of you who've supported and spread the word about Cookbooker over the last few years.

    This sounds like a farewell address: but it's not, exactly. I don't want all the work that has gone into Cookbooker to go to waste, and I don't want to be one of those websites that abruptly closes one day, leaving users high and dry.

    So, I'm opening the discussion to those of you who've been here and have put time and effort into Cookbooker to get your feedback on how to go forward. As far as I see it, there are three main options:

    1. Do nothing new. I still pay the server bills, but don't update the site. This is what's happening now, and it's not a viable option. It's not a lot of money (a basic server is only $25 per month or so), but if the server and site are not updated eventually something's going to break and nobody will have the time to fix it. Plus someone has to deal with the spammers who sometimes appear. So really, this option might as well be: close the site.

    2. Hand it over to someone, lock, stock & barrel. This would mean transferring all the source code, the database, the email accounts and the domain name, to someone willing to keep running the site and improving it. This would require someone with time, as well as experience with MySQL (open source database) and PHP programming. If these two terms don't mean anything to you, however well-intentioned you may be, you won't be able to keep Cookbooker going. It took me two years to teach myself to program well enough to create Cookbooker, and even so there are still bugs that should be fixed, not to mention that my code is very messy!

    3. Merge with another related site. Someone suggested Goodreads, but that's not likely. Not just because they're enormous and would not be interested in a little site like this, but also because they have no way of capturing reviews of recipes, just books themselves.

    More possible is Eat Your Books. I emailed them recently and they are quite interested in helping out. First we would have to see if the data could be easily moved over, but ideally what would happen would be that they would create accounts for everyone who has an active Cookbooker account (and merge if you already have an account there I presume), then move the reviews all over, so they're preserved. It would be some work on both ends (probably more for them), but it would ensure that the reviews continue to be useful and available. Also they have forums there, so people could continue their challenges and perhaps even suggest that EYB have some similar challenges in the future. They generously offered to give everyone free accounts for several months in order to try out their site. No money would change hands in this deal - I'm not trying to make any money from Cookbooker or the review database.

    The great thing about EYB is that they're a site that charges a (modest) subscription. Although everyone loves free, the problem with free websites is that they have to get very large to make any sort of advertising money to support themselves. Paid sites are much more likely to last online.

    So, that's my 2 cents. I'd be happy to hear from people. I'm strongly leaning towards #3, unless one of you is or knows a programmer who has time on their hands and a love for cookbooks.

  • Andrew,
    I am so glad you stopped in to give us your thoughts on the future of Cookbooker. I hope we can get some good conversation going here amongst the active cookbooker crew.

    I will address your suggestions as you brought them up.

    1. Not really feasible. In order for the site to continue, we need to have someone on board who can handle the programming so the site can stay current.

    2. I really, really wish I knew how to program because I would gladly take over this part. I'm hoping that someone does and is willing. Once someone does that, we can share the keys and have multiple people share the responsibilities.

    3. I am a founding member of EYB. Although I find the site useful, and have lifetime membership, I don't find it intuitive the way this site is for reviews. I really don't care for their format.

    I am grateful that you started Cookbooker and I hope we can find a way to have it continue.

  • Hi Andrew,
    I’m very glad to hear from you.

    I must admit that I had resigned myself of late to the loss of cookbooker since shutting down seemed to be the direction it was taking. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent here and much as I would like to see the continuation of the site (second option), I don’t know how likely this is. Personally, I have no objection to the transfer of information to Eat Your Books, a site I’d considered joining recently when I believed the demise of cookbooker to be imminent. I really appreciate that you’re looking after your cookbooker members by offering this (hopefully viable) option.
  • I'm with Beth--I love this site and really hope there is some way to keep it going. I myself am not a programmer tho I would happily take on some responsibility for upkeep. I also joined EYB at the very beginning and have a lifetime membership but don't really like the site's format.
    I too am glad you started the site. I think its design is brilliant and that you have created a comfortable atmosphere for us. I have my fingers crossed...
    Would a membership fee make any difference? EYB had a fifty dollar lifetime membership at its beginning and now charges an annual fee.
  • Thanks for the thoughts so far! @kate: a membership fee is a nice thought, but alas it won't help. My issue is not the cost of the site, but the time required to keep it running, which I simply don't have any longer. If it had somehow taken off, and provided an income, I could have cut back on work to keep it going. But that didn't happen...
  • I will chime in, too, with my cookbooker enthusiasm (but of course you knew that).

    I do have an annual subscription to EYB, and agree that I do not care for the way the reviews work. Maybe I just do not understand how to enter them?

    Another possible option -- have any of you seen 101 cookbooks library? I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I stumbled upon it one day, added a few comments, and discovered an active and engaged community. I didn't pursue it because my heart is in cookbooker, but it might be a possibility. Below is a link for one of the cookbooks, and you can see some reviews.
  • Andrew, thanks for everything . Good luck with your writing. As much as I'd like for cookbooker to keep on as it is, and since none of the terms in option 2 mean anything to me I'd have to go with option 3.
  • Andrew, how much time did you spend working on Cookbooker, on average? And how long did it take you to learn what you needed to know?
    I don't know any PHP or MySQL yet; however, I just quit my (very stressful) job a few weeks ago (finally!) and am looking into my options. Learning how to program is definitely one of them (at my job I also did everything related to computers and servers, websites and programs etc., and I'm busy with Python at the moment). BUT I need to find out first if this is actually something I would be able to do.
    I'm going on a week long trip tomorrow early in the morning and I'm not yet quite sure if we'll have internet access, so if you don't hear from me for a week, that will be the reason...
  • Hi @friederike: to create Cookbooker initially took a lot of work, but most of that was learning to program and creating features and solving problems. It runs (as it is now) with almost no input from me at this point. If you were to take it on, it could take as much time as you had to put into it developing new features or fixing various bugs. You could also slowly work on increasing your knowledge and time on the site over time.

    As it's set up, the general site runs itself. Reviews going in, email notifications, the lists on the home page, that sort of thing, it's all automated. If someone else (or several people) wanted to take over the blog/articles, that's not highly technical as it's based on WordPress.

    Happy to talk more with you when you're back from your trip.
  • It would certainly be my preference to have cookbooker keep going. If friederike took over the programming aspects, I would be happy to contribute to the blog/articles.
  • As would I
  • I agree with QS that would be my preference as well and I'd be willing to help in anyway I could.
  • My only concern would be if it became too much for friederike, and we ended up losing everything. Friederike, I am not doubting your abilities, I just know that over time, some responsibilities turn into burdens. So I am glad you are really thinking it over carefully.
  • My husband is a computer programmer and has said that he would be happy to take over the programming responsibilities. Then the rest of us could share the other jobs.
  • Oh Beth -- your husband is amazing!
    We do need to consider how to raise the $$ for the server?? and associated costs?
  • I would be happy to help -- and to pay an annual membership fee or a one time fee--whatever would work
  • I think that going forward we do need to consider raising some funds so cookbooker can pay it's bills.
  • If the server cost is roughly 300 a year, I guess we need to know how many of us there are who could/would pay a membership fee--and there are a few ads which must provide some small bit of income--tho obviously not enough to pay the bills--perhaps some of us can become co-owners and share obligations--and see where it goes from there
  • Great to hear there's some interest and a potential programmer too! Here's a basic rundown of costs and technical info that would be required to keep Cookbooker going.

    Single point of contact: You'll need a single point of contact - a person or collective who will cover the hosting bills, receive any advertising fees and be in charge of the domain name and email. This will require a certain amount of trust from the community, as well as some risk. I don't know if there's any easy way to form a group to do this, but it is worth considering as @kateq suggests.

    Server hosting: Currently it's $25 per month for a virtual server at; this includes a $5 per month backup fee. However, there are cheaper options out there. I've heard good things lately about which has plans starting at $5 per month that would probably do for Cookbooker's currently modest needs. This would also have the advantage of making Cookbooker free to run, as it makes about $10 per month in advertising!

    You would need someone familiar with setting up and running a LAMP server, however. Simple maintenance is not hard, but setting up a new virtual server with Linux, Apache (or Nginx) and MySQL and moving all of Cookbooker's files and databases requires a fair degree of comfort in a Linux environment. Plus I've installed various modules in order to let Cookbooker access Amazon search results, get images from LibraryThing for book covers, etc.

    Domain name: I'd have to transfer the domain name and email accounts to someone. The advertising is through Google adsense.

    Programming: I learned as I went with Cookbooker, made lots of mistakes, and have created a site that a professional programmer will look at and shudder, because it's 'spaghetti code' under the covers. @BethNH - your husband might have some work to do if he is to take this on, just to figure out what I did.

    I recommend those of you interested in getting involved in some sort of governing group connect and work this out. Maybe start a new topic for this? If you want to share email addresses privately you can all let me know once you can decide on this and I'll send a group email out to you with everyone's Cookbooker email address listed.
  • I'd be happy to pay a membership fee. I know nothing about programming, webhosting, or servers, and am brand-spanking new to the community, but would be open to suggestions as to how to help.
  • SundayC., we are so happy to have you here.
    I will also contribute financially, but I have too much on my plate to take on a leadership position. Thanks to all of you!
  • Even though I have been insanely busy with other less fun things for the last year, I love Cookbooker and stop in to read reviews a couple of times a week, usually on a work break, even when I'm not able to cook or post often. I'd be happy to pay a membership fee to be able to continue doing so.
  • Hi everyone, turns out the place we are now has wifi - hooray! Beth, it's so great to hear your husband is a programmer and would be willing to take over the programming responsibilities - that's vastly preferable to me learning to program first!!

    I'm with you guys, I'd also be happy to pay a membership fee, and I'm also happy to contribute in other ways wherever possible.
  • Friederike,
    I didn't want to step on your toes so if you'd prefer to take things over please let me know. Otherwise my husband will try to look at some of the code this weekend to see if it's something he's willing to tackle. I'm really hoping he will.

    I'd love to see a more collaborative cookbooker going forward so we could implement some of the ideas we had for growing the site.
  • Hi Beth, no, I think it's great - I was thinking a lot if it would be doable at all, and this leaves me free to explore other options as well, so I think it's a clear win-win situation for all of us.
  • I'm totally willing to support whatever you suggest. @BethNH, let me know if you want to send an example of the code to your husband.
  • Andrew, that's a great idea. I will send you a personal email with my husband's email.
  • I am probably not alone in wondering how things are going for Beth, Andrew, and Beth's hero of a husband. I'm hoping that no news is good news!
  • Unfortunately I have not heard anything since the last communication on this. @BethNH? It's a fairly significant amount of work to take this on, so if it's not going to be possible for someone to manage it, it may end up being worse than merging with EYB. As before, I'm open to talk with people, for the next little while at least.
  • Andrew, Did you not receive my email? I thought you were going to send my husband some code to see if he could tackle it. I will send you another email right this instant.
  • Sorry, Beth - I didn't get it at all. I did get your recent one, so I'll reply to it directly. Sorry, I should have noted after a week or two, but I thought perhaps you'd been taken busy...
  • I'd be very sad to see Cookbooker close, but appreciate the upkeep is costly and very time-consuming (maybe there should be a 'support Cookbooker' PayPal donation button on the homepage? :)

    If it meant retaining all our data then I guess a merge with EYB would be the best option. I'm hoping the 'private notes' would transfer across as I have quite a few! Thanks again for all your hard work here, Andrew!
  • My husband said he will make a decision tomorrow after looking at the code more closely. I'm hoping he agrees to take it on but would hate for him to do so if it's not something he can commit to.
  • Beth, it is very wise to have him consider it carefully! Thanks for the update.
  • Fingers crossed!!! And you should know I and others will be happy to help/take on some responsibilities. But QS is right--he needs to feel good about taking it on.
  • I am very, very sad to say that my husband feels that taking on Cookbooker is a bigger challenge than he is up for. He feels that he could need to devote too many hours to understanding the code and that it would be better not to start at all than to start and fail.

    I am very disappointed but understand his decision.

  • I would much rather have him realize that before hand, than have it crash and burn.
    Maybe going with EYB would be for the best.
  • Thanks so much for checking into this, Beth. It's a big job, and I totally understand why he is not going to take it on. Especially since it is a volunteer thing.

    I won't be doing anything before the holidays, but in the new year I'll chat with EYB and see if they'll actually be able to do anything. They'll want to look at the database and see if it's compatible with their system.
  • Thank you, Andrew. I will make use of my holiday by transcribing all my reviews into the margins of my cookbooks! Not even close to as good as cookbooker, but ...

    And Andrew, thank you. Cookbooker really turned me into a much better cook. I learned so many new things! And recently I've been cooking without a cookbook, a rather liberating (if not risky) adventure -- happily my turkey pot pie was a huge success.

    If there is anything we can do to help you in your future endeavors, please let us know.
  • Andrew, could you provide a way for us to download our data (books and reviews) in a readable format like XML?
  • One member has approached me, asking me to hold off a little while, while they investigate something regarding the site's future. Nothing will vanish for a while, in any case. I'll give lots of warning before anything changes. But yes, making notes yourself is a good idea.

    @kaye16, you've always been able to export a CSV list of your books and recipe reviews, suitable for opening in Excel or related programs, possibly even importing into other websites. Just go to your bookshelf and look for the 'tools' tab.
  • I will be really sad to see Cookbooker go but I totally understand if it comes to that. Andrew thanks for all your hard work and for looking into other options for us. Some people would have just shut it down without a word. As Quezzle Sister said I too learned many new things and dug into some cookbooks I might not have cooked from otherwise.

    Also thanks to BethNH and her husband for giving it some serious thought and I do understand why he decided not to.

    I also want to thank Kaye16 for asking the question about downloading our books and reviews as I was wondering the same thing and now I know how, thanks to Andrews answer.

    Thanks to everyone who did reviews,shared photos and participated in the forum. I really enjoyed reading the reviews, seeing your photos (we have some talented photographers) and getting to know some of you a little better through the forum.

    Finally thank you to the anonymous member who is still doing some investigating about Cookbooks future and Andrews willingness to let them.
  • Adding my thanks and good wishes Andrew -- not only for all the hard work but also for setting the tone -- the community here is one of the nicest on the Internet.
  • I'll add my thanks to everyone, especially Andrew, and Beth & her husband. I'll really miss cookbooker and the good community here!

    Andrew, is it possible to also download additional data such as tags, date of posting and private notes?
  • I also will really miss Cookbooker. This has been one of my favorite internet communities. I love reading everyone's reviews and have enjoyed the challenges, lots of learning, and good ideas.
    (I did tag a review for the dumpling challenge, but I see I'm the only one. :-)
    Hope everyone's holidays are filled with loving fun and good food!
  • I just discovered this discussion and didn't even realize this site was close to being shut down. Have all the issues been resolved? Is shut down still imminent?
  • It seems that Andrew has come to our rescue and decided to keep things going...a very happy circumstance.
  • The advertising seems to have disappeared. This is what allows cookbooker's maintenance - I hope all is OK.
  • As @kateq said, I'm keeping it running still as it doesn't take much to do this, but can't really make any new features or do any major maintenance. And I'll look into the advertising. Thanks for noting it!

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