SousChef: When is a native app worse than a web app?

Thanks to John Gruber’s post, I went and downloaded SousChef, a recipe file for the Mac that has some interesting new features:

  • it lets you “Tap the Cloud” – you can search for recipes other SousChef users have shared. Like flickr, sharing is enabled by default.
  • it lets you search your recipes based on ingredients you have on hand
  • it has a “10 foot mode” that shows you your recipes fullscreen so that you can keep the computer a good distance from your cooking area and still read the recipe. Furthermore, the 10 foot mode supports reading the recipes out loud and speech recognition.
  • it makes it easy to export formatted HTML to your favorite blog
  • an import facility to make it easy to convert recipes from unstructured text into structured recipes (title, ingredient list, cooking steps, etc.)

SousChef costs $30, but there is a free download that you can use to try things out before you buy. The tryout version is limited to 25 recipes, shows limited search results, and doesn’t allow blog export. I downloaded the tryout version because I do have a library of recipes in text/word/pdf format on my computer that I wouldn’t mind getting into a nice format. One bug or additional limitation is that the import feature doesn’t seem to work in tryout mode: you can drag the little boxes around, but when you click the Import button the imported recipe doesn’t include any of the text you just imported. Because of this bug, I did most of my testing with the supplied sample database instead of using my own recipes. I hope they fix this bug soon.

I really wanted to like this application: it fits a real need, it had a nicely designed UI (albeit not as sophisticated as Delicious Library which was a clear inspiration), its from an indie developer, and it takes advantage of Mac features like speech recognition. But the program is hamstrung by its business model: cloud-based features depend on large numbers of customers to work effectively, and there will never be sufficient volume of Mac users willing to pay $30 to make these features effective. Furthermore, the developers chose to cripple the cloud-based feature in the free version, in the hopes that it would make more people cough up the $30.

Furthermore, there are large numbers of websites around today that will let you do similar things for free (the best of which seems to be bakespace, though none seem really great). I’ve heard of several people who are trying to build the ‘corkd’ of the recipe world. Guess I’ll wait.

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~ by Andrew Shebanow on 29Sep08.

6 Responses to “SousChef: When is a native app worse than a web app?”

  1. Hi Andrew – thanks for mentioning BakeSpace in your post. We appreciate your support.

  2. Hi. I’m the developer of SousChef and wanted to respond to a couple of points in your post.

    First I want to apologize for the import bug. I’d love to get a copy of the recipe you were trying to import so that I can get this bug resolved. SousChef’s import interface is one of my favorite parts of the app’s UI, personally, and I’d like it to be rock solid.

    In regards to your comment about the recipe cloud, I think the cloud idea is something that scales well. With a small group of people you have a small cloud and with a large group a large cloud (obviously :-). As I’m sure you know, just having a huge number of search results isn’t necessarily a positive thing, think about the times you can’t find the exact thing you want and there are 500,000 results. Having search results that are appropriate is the important thing. Most, if not all recipe sites I’ve used go for the lots of results over good results. SousChef really focuses on finding good results. Also I want to point out that, the cloud is growing–it has grown by ~100 recipes in the last day and a half. This leads me to believe that a small user base *can* build a potentially significant sized cloud, particularly if they are dedicated and Mac users generally are. My goal is for SousChef’s cloud to be in the thousands of recipes, not necessarily the tens or hundreds of thousands like some of the major online cooking sites.

    Lastly, I don’t really think everything can be free. Most web applications value the mass of data over its presentation or ease of accessing/using that data. They often favor a known, somewhat workable business model (ad revenue) over value added feature sets (highly usable UI, hardware supported features, etc.). I personally value software that lets me access data quickly, and that doesn’t interrupt or hinder my use with ads. I rarely, if ever, have seen a web app that does this that isn’t venture capital funded (e.g. they don’t actually have to make a living, just procure users) or subscription based. I have chosen not to go the venture funding route and therefore had the choice of either going the ad revenue route that I personally don’t like, or sell software. Obviously I chose the latter. Perhaps I chose the wrong features to limit in SousChef’s trial, I don’t know. All I hope is that I’ll be able to keep working on SousChef full time and make the best of breed cooking app on the Mac.

    Again, thanks for the thoughts. I think they’ll make SousChef better in the future.

  3. Ben, thanks for commenting.

    I certainly wasn’t suggesting that the ad-based model was the only way to go. There are a number of other monetization models out there, both on the web and for platforms like the iPhone.

    I look at apps like twitterific which have both free and paid versions and see a model that would work a lot better for you than your current model: make the cloud feature free, but put in other features that will get people to either buy the app or pay a monthly subscription fee.

    Switching to such a model would make it much more likely that you could build a critical mass of recipes that would make the cloud/social stuff much more compelling.

  4. The corkd of the recipe world? Corkd has been abandoned for over a year, i wouldnt want to build the corkd of anything!

    However, the rest of the article made sense, just sorry you drew such a bad comparison.

  5. Fair point, John. 🙂

    I was referring to corkd more in terms of its design than of business success. But the corkd folks did manage to sell off the product and presumably did make a profit. Its unfortunate that the Wine Library TV folks have let the site turn to vinegar since purchasing it.

  6. Andrew:

    Just wanted to drop in an update on all this. SousChef’s recipe library has grown faster than I expected and now contains 1600+ recipes. We’re about to do a promo that should grow the user pool even more. I think a cloud with around 10K recipes is quite attainable.

    Also, I should note that twitterific’s revenue model is just an amalgamation of the two, free with ads *and* paid without ads. The only other monetization model that I know of that has gained much traction is the free for personal use/sell to businesses model that Google uses for Gmail and which wouldn’t really work with SousChef. The other revenue model out there is the free to acquire but pay for support/services model which has failed pretty much across the board.

    Lastly, thanks again for the bug report. The import features in SousChef are much improved in the 1.0.1 update due out later today (after I sleep).

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