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Conor ONeill

Opinions on structured recipes

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This post is mainly a copy of a blog entry I did on my blog at Conor's Bandon Blog

I am re-posting here in order to expand the potential number of feedback contributors. I would appreciate feedback on this in this forum (and if you have the time, on my blog too).

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A discussion had started on the structured blogging mailing list about creating a format for structured recipes. The idea here is that all those people who publish recipes on their blogs would hopefully move to using a common format which provides structure where appropriate but still allows for each person to do things their own way. This provides benefits to both recipe writers and those of us who read and use them.

There are two reasons for this. One is that you end up with a nice simple form to fill out when typing up your recipe which will help ensure that you don’t leave out anything critical. But more importantly it will enable a new breed of search tool or recipe web-site which can trawl all of the blogs out there and provide recipes to end-users which are a much closer match to what they want than typing “chicken recipes” on Google.

With any approach which applies structure where there was none previously, the critical success factor is finding the right balance between structured information and free-form information. Add too much structure and it inhibits you, add too little and it provides no gain.

So I am throwing this question out to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have written your own cookbook or have only ever read how to cook spaghetti from the back of the packet. What information do you think would be useful to have structured in a recipe on a blog or web-site?

To aid the thinking process, I have done some screenshots from a very nice Recipe Management Tool called Gourmet Recipe Manager. Even if you have no interest in this post, I recommend you check the tool out. The screenshots are of the windows it displays to enable you to enter a new recipe. So have a good look at those and let me know which fields you think are important to be kept “separate” from the main recipe description.

One way of thinking about it would be to imagine what you would search for if you were on a recipe search site. Is it “main ingredient” or “overall time” or “ethnicity” or “main vs sweet” or “ballpark cost” or “skill required”. There are a ton of possibilities but the idea is to find the really critical ones and work from there.

There are some techie aspects to this which I will only mention in passing. Skip this paragraph if you are not technically inclined: An XML format was developed in 2002 called RecipeML to allow different software packages to swap recipes. Unfortunately, it looks like it never took off but that should not detract from the technical quality of the idea. It may form a strong basis for the under-the-hood aspects of this discussion. Having said that, Troy Hakala (one of the original authors of the format) pooh-poohed the idea of trying to do anything with recipes scattered across millions of blogs back in 2003! He does this as a comment to a post on the OxDECAFBAD Blog. it is worth reading that original post and his reply to see how much things have changed in the blog world since November 2003.

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It is worth mentioning that I have received feedback from one recipe writer (which I will post here if she ok's it) who is not convinced that such a structured system with aggregators will do anything except to enable others to rip off her recipes more easily without attribution.

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In retrospect I should have suggested an initial idea and then asked for people to improve on it. I would genuinely appreciate any comments that recipe writers or users might have on the format below.

Here are my initial thoughts for "fields" that might be useful in a recipe. My starting point is the RecipeML spec plus fields from Gourmet Recipe Manager and anything else that popped into my head.

From The RecipeML Spec (renamed for clarity):

Title

Measurement System (U.S., Imperial etc)

Creator (Person)

Source (Book Title etc)

Date (Of Creation or Publication)

Rights (Copyright or other)

Summary Description (one liner)

Preparation Time (overall time)

Yield Quantity and Unit (4 pancakes or 5 servings)

Meal Category (Starter etc)

Main Ingredients Category (Pasta etc)

Cuisine Category (Italian etc)

Ingredients (each one a separate "item" rather than block text with count/amount/range/unit broken out too)

Description/Instructions (as free form block text)

Other possibilities:

Picture(s) (either on the blog/site or externally hosted)

Rating (how much you like it yourself!)

Difficulty Level/Experience Required

Notes (e.g. warnings)

Dietary Information (e.g. gluten-free)

Ones from the RecipeML spec which may be overkill:

Equipment

Variations

Recipe broken into parts (pastry vs filling etc)

Subtitle

Version

Breakdown of Preptime into phases

Nutritional Information

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Conner,

Funny you should post, now, as we're playing with writing a new website devoted to recipe storage with a web 2.0 approach. We've been thinking about the recipe format too, but think things should towards microformats. Maybe you should check out http://microformats.org/wiki/recipe-examples, a site we found yesterday. Seems to me like they're addressing your points there..... What do you think?

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Hi,

The topic I posted was actually kicked off on the structuredblogging.org web-site recently by someone else wondering if anyone was looking at using recipeML in this context.

The structured blogging people (like Marc Canter) work very closely with the microformat advocates like Tantek. All are agreed on the microformat idea but they do disagree on some of the implementation issues.

I really appreciate you pointing out the page on the wiki. I've been reading tons of that web-site over the past two weeks and somehow (along with everyone else involved in the recipeML discussion) managed to completely miss this :rolleyes:

I'll give it a good read now and see how closely it matches some of the things being discussed at StructuredBlogging.org . It will be interesting to see if they used RecipeML as a basis.

It also solves one problem I had - how to kick off a conversation about recipe microformat with the people on microformats.org :biggrin:

Thanks again,

Conor

Conner,

    Funny you should post, now, as we're playing with writing a new website devoted to recipe storage with a web 2.0 approach.  We've been thinking about the recipe format too, but think things should towards microformats.  Maybe you should check out http://microformats.org/wiki/recipe-examples, a site we found yesterday.  Seems to me like they're addressing your points there.....  What do you think?

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My pleasure. :)

Please keep me posted on any conclusions you come to. I wouldn't have know about that site but for our project. I don't read much and I might miss a post, so please pm me.

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I tend to feel that even RecipeGullet's Ingredient Wizard is way too much structure for me.

I like recipies to read more like short stories than chemical formulas.

SB :wink:

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Steve,

The problem is from the other direction, enabling you to find whatever recipe you want from your browser. Right now, we're limited to only one web site at a time... eGullet, or epicurious, or whatever. With microformats, or other structured languages, web developers are able to crawl or scrape other web sites to find recipes they might not otherwise recognize. By using a structured format, the web developer is inviting the scraping and saying "Hey, I have recipes here that I'm willing to share !".

The use of the structured format doesn't control what's in the recipe, whether it's a list of ingredients, or prose, but it identifies the elements of the recipe. For example, it tells another developer what the name of the recipe is, how many servings, who the author is, etc, in a way that would be uniform from web site to web site.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to search every recipe in the world (that was offered to be shared) with one search engine? It's a dream, but things like micro formats would make that possible.

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