The storm in my coffee cup – GRAM Magazine

Last Wednesday I received a phone call from Rob, the editor of GRAM Magazine wanting to discuss the publication of GRAM, my blogpost, and ongoing shitstorm. I had to feel for the guy. Their publication had been dragged through the mud kicking and screaming by the very people they had hoped would embrace it.

The reasons for this he told me were numerous: Poor communication; flawed assumptions; and a general failure to execute on their vision. But as the discussion continued I heard a general theme. The root cause of the mess was one thing. Cluelessness. They jumped into this without consulting anyone, telling people what was happening, using an opt-out policy rather than an opt-in and even then not letting everyone know they could opt-out.

I told him, that he should himself publish a blogpost. Tell people what they were trying to achieve, that they had missed the mark, and that they would attempt to improve the situation with the 3rd edition. I also agreed to meet him for a coffee and discuss plans for that edition.

An irrelevant photo of a coffee.The coffee (which he paid for) was good. Rob’s vision for the magazine is that it should more closely mirror people’s conversations about food and restaurants than the current mainstream media. He is acutely aware that they ballsed up the first attempts of this vision. To his credit, he’s not letting the negativity get him down and is forging ahead with an approach which provides a heap more value to the reader and the bloggers.

The core idea of the new magazine will be to pay bloggers for the right to republish whole existing posts – possibly with photos and create a magazine with repurposed content. To me it’s an obvious way of improving the magazine and getting the particular bloggers onside – of course it’s going to come across as trying to buy the love of the blogger’s scorned yet what other options are there

The mockups he showed me were great. Well designed and laid out. From a reader’s perspective I think it can really work. The 2d scanny codes are still there, and will link back to the specific article, the blog, or to some related links. The photos will exist, and depending on the layout will be either GRAM or blogger supplied (for $$$.)

I recommended the design focus more closely on the actual bloggers. I suggested leaving space for a small amount of text for a description of the blogger and perhaps a photo. This hopefully will let the reader learn who the actual people behind the words are and be more likely to go and check out the blog itself. I also recommended they use shortened URL next to the scan codes so that people don’t have to necessarily download the software.

I think the concept is great. Clearly it’s going to come across a little bit poorly after the rigmarole that has erupted but progress is progress. I’ve no doubt that the idea of buying/selling blogposts won’t go down well with certain parts of the community and that it ads a new dimension to the ethics involved but to some extent it is easier to handle. The posts will be sold after they have already been published and no content will be specifically commissioned. This leaves the blogger in a position where it is all off their own bat. They’ll be rewarded for posts that they have already and were always going to write.

Finally, he asked if I’d like to be paid for my content to be included in the next edition. My answer: send me the rates when you decide on them, and I’ll definitely consider it. Truthfully, I’ll be jumping at the chance to have my posts published in print. For my integrity’s sake, I’ll be donating the proceeds of the first few to StreetSmart. I think the money is nice, but the concept is great.

A Storm in a Teacup

I’m amazed that so many food bloggers (Fitzroyalty, Tomatom, Sarah Cooks, Confessions of a Food Nazi (2)) are outraged at the recent publication of Gram. People are crying foul. If you read the into the hysterics, not only has their copyright been infringed but they’ve been violated. It’s as though someone has come into their home, eaten the leftovers out of their fridge, left the toilet seat up and not cleaned up after themselves.

I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at what Gram is; what it isn’t; and exactly why everyone thinks it is such a bad thing.

First, let’s reduce Gram down to it’s first principles. It is 2 things, Advertising and a list of links to blogposts. Each of those links is manifested in the “real” world by a QR code and each link is supplied with a small quote. Clearly the links and quotes are used as what I like to think of as a “transfer medium” for the advertising. There’s no reason you would look at the ads without the content, the same way as you wouldn’t listen to the music without the CD.

I believe Gram creates value for it’s readers by curating the blogposts. They take each of the categories, finding some interesting blog posts, ad a photo and a reasonably nice design and distribute the list for all and sundry. That’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is something. Not only is it something, it is something no-one else in the community is doing. Brian @ Fitzroyalty goes the closest with his local aggregators. He doesn’t curate the actual content, just the list of blogs and I’m sure he prides himself in his open, “everything is welcome” policy.

Secondly, I think it’s important to talk about what Gram isn’t. Forget the hyperbole, there is every chance that Gram is not breaching copyright. I’m no lawyer but a quick perusal of the fair dealings legislation and the copyright obligations suggest that this particular is blurry and I would suggest that pursuing this in court would be a fools game.

So if it might not be illegal, the ethics are certainly worth examining. Are they acting ethically? Are they using a food bloggers work and profiting off it? (If you cast aside the fact they probably aren’t profiting just yet) Yes, they certainly intend to profit from it. Is it unethical? As with every discussion of ethics it isn’t black and white. Sure, they could have engaged bloggers more before quoting and linking to them, but they don’t really have to. I haven’t asked permission to do the same here and I wouldn’t remove a link even if you wanted me to.

In my eyes, the business model is almost identical to that of Google’s, albeit on a much smaller scale. The quotes are of similar length, the user is there looking for something of interest, and the advertising is reasonably separate from the content and both parties provide an opportunity to opt-out. Is Google’s business model wrong? Unethical? Are you willing to block Google from your website. It’s very easy.

Finally the arguments that it is a waste of paper have taken much different paths. The QR codes are stupid, noone will download the app. The quotes are crap. The writing is bad. The design is shit. It’s printed on dead trees.  Each of these may be true, but I think instead of poo-pooing the idea, it’s worth looking at it with an open mind.

Is it promoting the blogosphere? Is it validation that what what we as a community create is valuable? Done better, could it be awesome?

Personally, I think what Gram has created isn’t amazing but with a bit of a rethink, it could be great. More and more people will understand what a QR code is, more and more people will know who the featured bloggers are and more and more people might stop only reading the Epicure for their food news.

So, if I were to publish a zine. Would anyone volunteer any of their content? I’d reproduce it in full. I’d link to your blog. I’d write a good sized blurb about you as a writer. I’d use your photo and a photo of you. I’d sell advertising. If I could afford to, I’d pay you. Would you do it if I intended to make money? What if it was explicitly not-for-profit?

Test test test test

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Salford Lad’s Club, Port Melbourne

Salford Lad's ClubFor a place that was featured in The Age on Tuesday, it’s remarkably hard to find the location of the Salford Lad’s Club. There’s no website and a quick Google reveals very little. It’s on the corner of Fennell and Bridge St, Port Melbourne – a little bit of an oddball place between the freeway and Bunnings. That doesn’t stop it being a great little lunch location, and as was mentioned in the Epicure will probably be a popular stop for the weekend bike warrior crowd.

The fitout is great, it pays homage to the fact that the building was (and I suspect still is) a car workshop. On one wall there’s an assortment of bicycle odds and ends, a car hubcap and assorted other mechanical style bits and pieces. On the other, are some skateboard decks and some interesting but slightly out of place artworks. The requisite communal tables are lovely pieces, not over-the-top expensive and big enough that your copy of The Age isn’t in someone else’s dinner.

Apparently the lunch menu changes each day, but today was hearty stews – comfort food. We had a beef, mushroom and wine braise with a smashed potato salad and a tagined lamb stew with cous-cous. They were both $13.50 and perfect sized portions. If I had one complaint, it was that the potatoes weren’t well enough suited to clean the sauce from my bowl.

Finally the coffee – made from Coffee Supreme beans, our milk coffees were strong, very strong (this isn’t a problem, just a preference) and mine had a hint of unwanted bitterness, and a few stray sedimentary coffee grounds. Similarly, my espresso had the same bitterness and grounds. Neither was unpleasant, but there’s some definite room for improvement.

At $33 for a lunch for 2, not too far from home. I’m going to be going back; probably on my bike; I recommend you do too.

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Terroir.me – relaunched

Posting has been slow for the last few weeks, a combination of living it large over here in Queenstown and a huge amount of work on my pet project Terroir.me. If you haven’t been following along, Terroir.me is my dream that learning about wineries and wine regions shouldn’t just be about buying the latest James Halliday Wine Companion.

It is an interactive winery map with some cool travel planning functionality. It is a blog aggregator searching out blogposts from Australian wine and food bloggers and attaching them to the relevant wineries. It is a wiki – editable by anyone.

Call for help

I’ve spent a heap of time on creating something that I believe could be really useful and now I’d like to throw out a call for help. I’d like to ask anyone that has a blog or is on Twitter to help me spread the word. Anything would be really appreciated to help me get it off the ground – a quick blogpost; a Tweet; or if your Facebook friends might be interested, share a link.

I’d also love your help with contributions, feel free to edit the page about your favourite winery or region. Add a tag or edit the list of wine that a winery produces.

Phil Lees going postal

It’s a storm in a teacup. Phil Lees over at Last Appetite has thrown down his ethical gauntlet stating, “I’ve decided to go postal on any food bloggers accepting free shit from public relations folk.” Going postal means he is going to nofollow any links to your blog and mark on his list of Australian food blogs with a dollar sign if you have accepted “cash or other incentives” for comment.

It’s an interesting point he’s raising and there is some good conversation in the comments, some people are offended others are applauding. It’s interesting because Phil is one of the only paid food bloggers in Australia, a point he is very happy to make. So to some extent it’s all a bit of the pot calling the kettle somewhere between grey and black.

Personally, I believe the rule of full disclosure on blogs works and those who don’t disclose should be named and shamed. Readers deserve to know conflicts of interest and be allowed to make up their own opinion. I’m sure this is exactly how Phil sees what he is doing, an exercise in disclosure.

At the end of the day, its one man and his blog and a dollar sign and a nofollow link probably aren’t going to make a difference to any of the affected blogs. Each blogger has their own appeal to their readers and this isn’t going to change that.

In the interest of full disclosure, someone has paid me to use so many cliches in a blog post.

Aussie Food Blog Search – Forage.net.au

Posting has been a bit absent these last weeks. For me, Christmas is a time of eating and drinking in excess, but not necessarily elegance. I haven’t cooked anything too exciting, haven’t ventured out to too many bars and have hardly stepped foot inside a coffee shop or restaurant. All of this equates to very few blog posts for the regular food and booze blog, but that isn’t to say I haven’t been busy. I have, but busy where food blogger and computer geek meet.

As you may know, I’ve recently resigned my job and stepped out to self-employment. I’m earning my crust as a Internet marketing consultant, search engine optimiser and freelance web developer (If you need someone in this field, please contact me.) This has been great as it has allowed me to focus on a couple of different projects that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able spend quality time on.

ForageI’ve been spending a fair bit of time developing an Australian food blog (I’m really not sure about the capitalisation of that) search engine – Forage.net.au. This search engine is based around a list of Aussie food blogs and only gives results from sites in that list. The idea is that this should help foster the community, helping people find blogs they may not have found otherwise, find recipes they haven’t seen and read restaurant reviews from new and old bloggers.

It will also help expose the wonderful photos and content that the food blogging community is producing to people outside the blogosphere. Hopefully, people other than bloggers will begin to use it and benefit more from our hard work.

I’m always open to ideas, feature requests and ideas on how to improve the search. So feel free to email me or contact me on Twitter. First on the list is a sidebar widget so you can include a search form for Forage on your blog.

In the meantime, you don’t need to do anything special to be included in the index, it is open to any Australian food blogs, you just need to submit your site and start Foraging.