Chowing Up

Homebrew snackie cakes! But where do you buy bags of polysorbate 80 these days? In one of the grander experiments in Web 2.0 (or maybe Web 1.8) post-consumer recycling, CNET's eatable megasite Chow has pretty much launched. The "portal" (cringe) is made up of two main components stitched together by the power of CNET's deep pockets. First, there's defunct foodmag Chow, which closed down in 2005 as a print magazine; now it's back in online-only form, complete with editor-in-chief Jane Goldman once more at the helm. The other piece of the newly giant robot is Chowhound, the old-school food-forum digs of legendary restaurant critic Jim Leff. How's it all hang together, you ask?

Pretty well, actually. Goldman is clearly running the show editorially, bringing her print-media sensibilities to the quality assurance angle. Though her print version tanked, she knows the boom-bust routine from olden times, when she plowed the rows at Industry Standard during the best/worst of the Internet bubble. With CNET's army of skilled geeks handling the tech, Goldman doesn't have to fret about the nuts and bolts; the web side of things clearly caused her anxiety the first time around, when she was worried the website might distract from the print mag. Solution: Ax the print mag! Problem solved.

Distinguishing one food magazine (online or off) from another is tiresome at best, so the short version: Chow's recipe and cuisine editorial maneuvers for the fun, simple, and practical, or put very broadly, "the pleasure of food and drink." Hence articles like the snackie cakes mentioned above. This kind of thinking fuses well with Chowhound, a message board and food site created by the gleefully omnivorous Jim Leff and his legions of devoted fans. Imported pretty much whole cloth from its previous incarnation, Chowhound is now simplified and better organized for easier browsing and searching among the thousands of restaurant reviews, cuisine discussions, and so on. Leff himself, now apparently cut loose entirely from everything but writing duties, turns in his usual reviews, board posts, and dispatches from the road. Despite the relatively seamless marriage of Chow and Chowhound visually, it's hard to imagine many Chowhounds will bother clicking over to the Chow features. There will likely be considerable traffic the other way, though.

Beyond the tech stitching, there are a few gee-whiz features grafted on to make up the rest of Chow proper (podcasts, video, custom views, etc.). Potentially most novel is the Grinder, a "food media" blog that could easily be toothless filler but instead has a few interesting media angles (plus, it introduces the phrase "banana deep throat-off"). Worth watching. Whether or not Chow has the chops to compete with Food Network or other online culinary heavyweights remains to be seen, but either way, it's an intriguing example of cherry-picking thematically similar properties and sewing them together into a new combo-mutant.

Chow