The best time to start blogging is now.

The Flickr Curve.

Something I discovered pretty early on in managing social media is that the lifecycle of most social media channels follow the Flickr curve. There is the same shape to search volume on Google over time: 3 years of growth followed by slow decline.

Even successful ones, like Facebook

They do so for different reasons. Flickr boomed and died, Facebook boomed and then moved into an app. Nobody is googling for the Facebook login page any more because they’re always already logged in on their phone (and every other device). With the benefit of hindsight, search behaviour for any social network looks cyclical. At the time, you have no idea where on the curve any social network is.

There’s weirdo outliers like tumblr. You should buy tumblr and work out why.

Blogging has followed a similar trend with an imaginary golden age from 2004 to 2007 followed by a slow decline.

Visits from Google once mattered for blogs and now it’s much harder to reach those people who no longer search for blogging as a genre. The search engine has recently announced that it prefers to show restaurant reviews from “reputable publishers” rather than from smaller fry which is as good as a death knell for small review blogs.

Blogging (and especially food and travel blogging) has returned to the state where it is as unpopular as it once was when I started a decade ago for three reasons and it’s both amazing and kind of shit.


As the mainstream food and travel media has collapsed in on itself, the mainstream blogging that has replaced it is as tone-deaf as before. Half the fun of my early days of blogging in Cambodia was taking the piss out of travel journalists parachuting in for the weekend, who filed the same food story about spiders and then retreated to cooler climes. Now journalists can no longer afford a parachute and land on the ground in a fine pink mist, the food and travel bloggers that have filled the airspace are more amoral than simply misunderstanding the cultures they cover.

Whether it’s video-blogging on behalf of the North Korean government or the Thai military junta, we’re left with as Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson puts it

…content creators so determined to deliver an upbeat, brand-friendly message that the uncomfortable truths of the world—personal and political—go mind-bogglingly, witlessly ignored.

This is where we were a decade ago.

Nobody is going to make any money

In the medium- to long term, there’s only three ways to make decent money out of writing your own blog posts without using it to bring in links to some other business.

These are:

  1. Gather a team with an obsessive focus on a single vertical (e.g. Skift, Digiday, Food52, Lucky Peach) and build something that looks literally nothing like personal blogging.
  2. Con other bloggers to work for you for free (e.g. Huffington Post, Medium, tumblr).
  3. Con other bloggers into believing that they too can make money with their blogs and then sell them ebooks/courses/nomadic lifestyle.

If you get in now and aren’t prepared to do any of those things, it’s for the love of the game and not to make any form of remuneration. Around ten years ago there was no real expectation that any money could be made from it until people started posting $100,000 cheques from Google, and then expectations began to change. There’s a chance that blogging will never again be profitable which leaves the field open to the committed amateur.

The end of the blog influencer market

Even though I’m a firm believer that influencer marketing does next to nothing for most food and travel businesses, the last five years has seen a change in the way that businesses measure the initial value of influencers. Now, businesses look at their social media following first and not their written work on their own sites which ends the market for blog influence.

If you’re the sort of person who wants to be Instagram-famous and wallow in the spoils that come with that fame then you’re no longer likely to be evaluated by your blog, because you don’t have one. This has the positive effect on blogging in that it keeps image-obsessed wankers away from writing more witless listicles and instead focussed on which VSCO filter to use. It’s like watching the shallow end of the pool recede in favour of the depths.

Early on, bloggers never expected to be influential because there was a fair expectation that nobody would read your blog. Most of the time, nobody did. Now they’re no longer seen as influential because businesses have picked a different arbitrary and pointless metric to value online work.

The conditions of the early-2000s are back. Nobody looks for blogs actively. There’s a mounting ressentiment with the state of food and travel media. There is zero chance that bloggers will earn any money or wield any degree of influence.

I used to tell people that the best time to start a blog was ten years ago when the conditions were identical. I’m beginning to think the best time to start is now.

Journalist in the streets, blogger in the sheets: Food journalists, food bloggers, food marketers.

It’s high time to reframe the food bloggers versus journalist debate.

Food blogging hasn’t been separate as a form of media from journalism since Conde Naste started food blogging in 2006. That’s the point that I argued that food blogging had died as a separate medium a few years ago. People like me who started as bloggers became journalists and got paid. Journalists tried their hand at blogging. Save for a few Luddites who write in the absence of the Internet, food blogging and journalism as practices have since been inextricably linked since the mid-00s.

The relative number of searches on Google for “food blog” is in decline. That peaked in 2010 which seems to suggest that for most readers, they’re just another form of web publishing, indistinguishable from any other online food media. If people are doing fewer specific searches for “food blog”, their relevance as a separate medium – one that readers value as something different from a newspaper or magazine website – is deteriorating. After just five years of corporate publishing, major publications are beginning to divest from food blogs.

Even though that shaky wall between food blogging and journalism as practices collapsed long ago, the debate about what divides food bloggers and food journalists as identities never ended because a third category of online food publisher grew: food marketers.

Food marketers write promotional copy on behalf of the food industry or to promote their personal brand in hope of remuneration from the industry. These are the people who attend the “make money with your blog” conferences, who are concerned with their brand; who want to build traffic to their blog to sell more of themselves. There is a fair degree of pride in the marketing work. They have media kits, show off successful collaborations with events and public relations agencies, ask for free meals, flights, hotels and airport transfers.

Much of the animosity between food bloggers and journalists is really between food marketers and journalists. Prior to the rise of food marketers, bloggers had little or no interest in getting paid; journalists drew a living wage. The decline of paid food writing work coincided with the willingness of food marketers to fill the content hole for next to nothing. Where being a journalist was a calling and a profession, being a food marketer was an aspirational lifestyle.

Like most marketing, food marketing is about an almost relentless positivity, happy words bleeding into the soft-focus cake shots; never eating a bad meal. Journalism is about truth and writing things that somebody doesn’t want to see printed, to paraphrase William Randolph Hearst’s maxim. It’s not to say that journalists have a monopoly on objectivity. The view from that particular tower is often the view from nowhere.

The big divide is around ethics. Journalists generally subscribe to an externally enforced code of ethics; marketers don’t because it could limit the size of their market or how they receive remuneration. Where journalism had a wall between editorial and advertising, food marketers are editorial and advertising. Food marketers also became the mould into which journalists are increasingly pressed, with the new demand to write “native advertising” alongside editorial work; and the idea that journalists themselves should be a brand.

The animosity between the remaining food bloggers and food marketers is that blogging seemed like more fun when there was no pressure for a success that was defined by traffic or cash or free meals; and that somehow food marketers are to blame for the cultural shift. Or at least, the expectation now on food bloggers from the rest of society is that they are all food marketers rather than a different sort of unique practice.

Food bloggers: celebrity endorsers or journalists?

Something that I haven’t really considered and more of an aside to remind me to talk about this on Twitter, maybe food bloggers shouldn’t ever be judged through the lens of being journalists, even though they publish like real food journalists did back in that early-2000s era when journalists had jobs. It might be more useful to look at them like celebrities: primarily, product endorsers for hire.

I ate the sponsored food: Why disclosure isn’t enough.

I was at a blogging conference, throwing cats amongst some pigeons by discussing ethics, public relations and why I don’t mix public relations and my own blog in a panel with Cyn from The Food Pornographer, who does. I ate the sponsored food, which I’ll never review. Here’s why.

Blogging was a very different place when I started in 2005. I felt like it spun off from independent publishing and zines, and the blogs that inspired me to start were all writing stories that nobody else had ever thought about writing before. It was a reaction against a media that wasn’t covering the food stories that I wanted to read and not treating food with the same journalistic rigour applied elsewhere.

I also started writing in Cambodia, where the travel journalists that were parachuted in covered the food in the country with undisguised disdain, flitting between luxury hotel and Angkor Wat with naught but a sneer for what locals eat. Local food wasn’t part of the hotel- or tour group sponsored freebie and most of the people who cooked Cambodian food didn’t speak English, so journalists could write it off as too hard and get away with the same repeated platitudes from every other journalist before them. Everyone loves that eating spiders story.

Cambodia is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Anything can be bought. When one of my near neighbour’s house burnt down, I found out that to make the fire engine turn up, you need to bribe them and the first person to call is responsible for gathering that bribe. If you see your neighbour’s house on fire, people are forced to do the cruel calculation: do I let it burn and hope it won’t reach me or do I risk a year’s wages having it put out, just in case?

It’s a society where trust in any institution eroded to a point where all but the family unit and village of birth were suspect. I decided early on that I wouldn’t accept anything in exchange for writing posts on my own site, just to prove that not everything in Cambodia has a price. The responsibility that I felt for my audience, however small, was that my favour couldn’t be bought. It took a few months before the PR offers started rolling in. At first, I kindly declined then ignored, then blacklisted their domains in my email so that all future communications landed in my spam box.

There’s a huge range of ethical positions to responding to requests and freebies from PR people, from openly appealing to PR folk to ensure a more “passionate” review to naming and shaming any PR company that dares contact a blogger. There’s a range of positions in between that disclose their material relationship to what they write about, or not disclose that relationship at all.

Since 2005, the interest of the public relations industry in blogs has changed. The mass food media is sinking, leaving both PR people and bloggers to sift through the flotsam and form their own cargo cults. In food, blogging has become the mainstream media. Worldwide, there aren’t many salaried positions left to write about nothing but food and blogs are left to fill the yawning gap. The interesting thing about the modern food media is that the successful new print publications are also the most brutally independent with the clearest editorial agendas, from Lucky Peach to Gastronomica.


Food is the least objective topic that someone can write about. Writers bring their own inexplicable biases to the table which is passed off as taste and taste is so subjective that you can convince other people what something tastes like just by mentioning it to them. You can’t be objective about something that becomes a part of you like food. Apart from lists of ingredients, a restaurant’s location and opening hours, everything else is personal. It’s hard to argue against this backdrop that getting something for free will affect the objectivity of a reviewer.

However, if you get something for free, most people who aren’t sociopaths will respond in kind because the norm of reciprocity is powerful. For bloggers that accept freebies, this is compounded by the general aversion to publishing criticism – it seems common for the bloggers that accept free things to say that they knock back most of the offers that they don’t like – which means that they’re only publishing broadly positive sentiment about what they receive for free.

For the audience, this looks like this positive sentiment can be bought.

Google hates sponsored posts.

Blogs rely on Google for a huge portion of their audience, and Google’s Matt Cutts has mentioned in the past that Google will penalise sites that link to other sites via advertorial or sponsored posts.

A small part of Google Plus is the ability for authors to claim ownership of their work, by adding a few lines of code to their website and then verifying them with Google. If I could make one prediction for the future of ranking in Google, it’s that Google will begin to look at the authority of individual authors alongside the websites on which they write. My guess is part of the benefit of claiming an authorship for Google is that Google is building an index of the quality and credibility of authors as individuals. If an author is writing sponsored posts or advertorial, and Google penalises them in the same way that they penalise sites, then this will be hard to remove as a black mark against an author’s credibility on a subject.

Google has a memory that lasts forever.

Why transparency is not enough.

Part of being independent is paying your own way and if you’re not buying food or travel with your own funds then the underlying message is that what you’re writing about isn’t worth doing with your own money. The appeal and success of blogging is closeness to your audience and community. If you wouldn’t pay to do something, why would you expect them to do the same?

PR will always have a bias towards whoever can pay to make the most noise or the most appealing approaches: large industrial producers over small business; supermarket duopoly over smaller markets; established restaurant groups over new upstarts. When you write about something given to you from PR, it’s most likely a vote for the incumbent and an endorsement for the food system that already exists and not one that might be. We write about the world that we want to live in (or at least, I do) and the status quo food system is broken. The stories that most need to be told about food are the ones that public relations agencies are hired to nullify rather than promote.

Finding posts near the user using Geo Mashup

If you’re not someone using WordPress, this post is not going to be of any interest.

Brian over at Fitzroyalty asks whether it’s possible to order content on a blog relative to reader’s location. It is. Here’s how, or at least here’s how to add a button to the sidebar/menu on a WordPress blog that:

  • Detects a user’s location
  • Finds a list of posts that is closest to the user’s mobile location using the Geo Mashup plugin

I know that this is a terrible hack to get something done quickly. I’m not much of a coder and I’m sure that there is a better way to get this done using Geo Mashup, but as far as I can find, nobody else has done this before.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Get the Geo Mashup plugin, enable and geotag your posts.

2. Get a PHP plugin that lets you execute PHP in posts and enable it. (You could of course, write your own custom template and put the PHP straight in, but as I said, this is a quick fix).

3. Go to Pages > Add New and add a new page. All you need on it is:

[geo_mashup_nearby_list near_lat="<?php echo ($_GET["near_lat"]); ?>" near_lng="<?php echo ($_GET["near_lng"]); ?>" limit=10]

4. Name the page whatever you like and save it. It won’t work yet. Copy down the URL.

5. Go to Appearance > Widgets. Add a Text widget to your menu wherever you want the “Find Posts Near Me” button to appear.

6. Give it a snappy title like “Nearby”, then in the text box add this code:

<script src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
function initiate_geolocation() {
function handle_errors(error)
case error.PERMISSION_DENIED: alert("user did not share geolocation data");
case error.POSITION_UNAVAILABLE: alert("could not detect current position");
case error.TIMEOUT: alert("retrieving position timed out");
default: alert("unknown error");
function handle_geolocation_query(position){window.location ="" + position.coords.latitude + "&near_lng=" + position.coords.longitude;
<button id="btnInit" >Find my location</button>

Replacing “” with your URL and with the location page you made in step 3.

7. Press “Save” to publish the widget.

8. Enjoy! In theory, if anyone has a browser that runs HTML5 (pretty much every modern browser) when the button is pressed it will read the user’s location, ask for permission to use it, and then send that to the map page, listing the posts nearby in order of distance (as the crow flies). This doesn’t store the location anywhere.

Feel free to use/improve this code. If I was a better coder, I’d build it into a plugin. Don’t contact me for any suggestions to add to this. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Goodbye, Rosemary

Goodbye, Rosemary

I pulled out a rosemary hedge that’s been growing down the side of my house for a few decades, in about two hours. Not even the keenest lamb cook can eat that much rosemary and I still have a massive plant in the backyard to attract bees to pollinate more desirable food. It’s somehow emblematic of the life that I’m interested in. Where in the past I was probably more interested in whatever food flowed past the front of my house, over the past months, I have become more absorbed in looking inwards. Staring towards my backyard is more fulfilling than writing about eating outside.

Pulling out the rosemary had nothing to do with food, it was to enable a team of hazmat-suited asbestos removalists to back a truck down the driveway and give the impression that my house was cooking the largest batch of meth in the Western suburbs. If you live in a house built between 1920 and 1960 in Melbourne’s west, there’s asbestos in it, which isn’t a problem until you need to knock out a wall or drill some holes. Asbestos sheets sit dormant under the eaves, surrounds sagging sheds and provide structure for the mid-50s lean-tos that creep across Melbourne’s backyards.

It’s distributed across Melbourne in a map that reflects mid-century poverty. Being a cheap building material, the poorer a suburb was in the postwar era, the more asbestos is in it. Rich people only built their beach house with that cheap grey sheetrock. As the wave of gentrification sweeps across Melbourne’s inner suburbs, so too does asbestos removal. The garage and bungalow in my backyard were reduced to grey rectangles of cracked clay spotted with a veritable trove of zinc roofing nails, construction aggregate and broken shards of glass that my daughter calls “treasures”. A backyard in readiness for architecture.

I think this is why people quit food blogs, not so much because they’re less interested in food, but because their inward lives become more enthralling and less explicable. Work, kids, health, sex, politics: they’re more consuming than what you eat or at least, what you publish about what you eat. There’s bolognaise sauce bubbling on the stove while I’m writing this. As much as I know you want to pin it on Pinterest, nobody pins beige food. I’m not going to take a decent photo of it because people who style their own food aren’t worth knowing. I’d add nothing worthwhile to the world by publishing my vision for the perfect meat sauce but also I’m not at all interested in presenting some perfectly curated version of my new domesticity.

So how do you food blog an imperfectly curated life?

Part of the nostalgia for the blogging days of yore, before food blogs died, is to do with its low fidelity, the technical imperfections that made it seem more authentic. Apart from the dopamine bursts from endless information, this is what draws me more to Twitter and less to blogging. When you follow any group of people, it’s riddled with idiosyncrasy and when you know virtually nobody is paying attention to you most of the time, it gives you freedom to write a sentence about anything. It the past I would have written a few sentences of blog post about an interesting link; now it would be 120 characters of a tweet. Something was lost when this happened.

Like Steve Cumper has decided to embrace lo-fi in his food, I’m going to do the same with my blogging. More paring back to the things that I’d otherwise tweet about, like pulling out hedges and short-form, short-lived criticism, less 600 word missives like this one.

How to make money with your food blog in 2013

Selling eggs near Psar Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Selling eggs near Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I’ve been trying to update this post for about a year. My first attempt ended in me saying that you shouldn’t bother trying to make money from your food blog, or at least, you should not feel entitled to recompense for your creative endeavours.

It’s pretty hard to find a food blogger who makes a living from it who started food blogging after 2007. Google tends to favour those with a deep history. It’s also hard to find one who’s not in a partnership with somebody who makes or has made a decent income elsewhere. Any food blogger (or journalist for that matter) can look wealthy with the backing of a generous benefactor or understanding partner.

When I talk about making money, I mean making a living wage, not just a few dollars to pay for your web hosting or the occasional pint of bitter. You could do that by signing up for Google Adsense or Amazon Affiliates.

Most food blogs never plan to make any money, but if your goal is to make money online, the best thing for you to do would be to quit food blogging and start writing about something which is more lucrative and has less competition. When you blog about food for money, you compete with some of the world’s largest and best resourced media organisations for visitors. I’ve worked for a handful of these: a TV station, newspapers, magazines and a state tourism bureau. Most of them know what they’re doing online and while they have no monopoly on audiences for food, they do tend to have the lion’s share.

Bloggers can certainly pick over the carcase of the food media and occasionally hit some rich marrow but it is a very occasional and unpredictable feast.

While not the only source of income, the biggest problem for selling advertising with a blog now is scale. As the web keeps expanding so to does the potential advertising inventory, which makes advertising ever cheaper. From the blogger’s point of view, this means that there is incrementally more work that needs to be done to make the same amount of money over time from advertising. Bigger websites tend to win. They have the sales staff to work directly with media buyers; bigger audiences to segment; deeper inventories.

While in 2007, I might have recommended a handful of different ad networks or affiliate sites for your food blog, online food media has matured. If you want to work alone, it’s almost impossible to compete for a huge audience. At this point, I think that there are only two broad strategies to make a living by writing a food blog. They’re not mutually exclusive.

1. Going alone.

Get a job that you love in a related field.

No writer starts out as just a writer. Everyone has worked in the employ of others, attempting to do the work that enables a writing habit. The difference with blogging is that there is a variety of fields that contribute to being a better blogger. The direct path to this is somewhere in the web industry: writing editorial content for websites, and if you’re lucky enough, one that keeps you in touch with food.

There is no shortage of the types of roles that fit into the broader spectrum of jobs that train you to be a more rounded blogger: community management, analytics, search marketing, the digital side of public relations. There’s plenty which are almost impossible to break into, but where your blog is a calling card: food journalism, photography, styling.

This is how I make most of my living: variously, managing websites, social media, copywriting, SEO, analytics. At least over the last ten years, all of my work has contributed directly to the way that I write and much that I’ve learnt from writing a blog can be fed back into much larger websites. Often my blogs have become testing grounds for ideas that I’ve had for far larger projects. It’s a lot less costly to fail quickly on a blog than it is on a huge corporate budget.

Start a food business, not a blog.

I shouldn’t need to say this but the easiest way to make money is selling something. Blogging doesn’t do that directly but can act as a proof that you can build sorts of communities to whom you can sell. I’m in no position to tell you how to start your own food business and having worked in a few from farm gate to factory floor didn’t convince me that it was an altogether good idea.


There are no shortage of bloggers tracing a path in this direction. Tammi Jonas (and family) started a free range rare breed pig farm, which is a complete extension of the food philosophy that she espouses on her blog. Jackie Middleton from Eating With Jack started EARL Canteen, serving some of the best luxury sandwiches in Melbourne. Aun Koh from Singapore’s Chubby Hubby started his own PR firm with a focus on food and lifestyle.

2. Going together.

You need a lot of people visiting a website that doesn’t sell anything to make an amount that approaches a living wage from affiliate sales and advertising. Not only do you need many people, but increasingly, those people need to be homogenous: same country, same demographic, same purchasing power. To some extent, this dictates the sort of blog that you’ll need to write. One that is mostly inoffensive and advertiser-friendly, low to middle brow, easy on the eye. A blog wherein you will know the exact demographic of the reader just by glancing at the design.

To get to an appropriate size, you need to publish more than your average food blogger. Plan for at least three posts a day, every day, forever. Unless you’re prepared to burn yourself out within a scant few years (or publish vast seas of utter shit), you can’t do this alone.

If you’re looking to make money from it, this starts to look much more like a business than a hobby. You’ll either need to convince other food writers and photographers to ditch what they’re doing and join you in partnership; work out some way of compensating others for their work; or take the Huffington Post model, where authors mostly work for “exposure“.

If you were to head down the path of starting a group blog:

  1. Write some objectives for the blog
    1. Why are you doing this?
  2. Work out how you’re going to compensate people. Or not.
  3. Write some editorial guidelines.
  4. These don’t need to be huge, especially if you’ve already got a good relationship with a small number of other contributors. One of my favourites is this gaming blog’s guide – they’re short and easy to understand. At a minimum, I’d include:

    1. Objectives for individual posts on the blog
      1. What is each post supposed to do? Is it to keep people reading and subscribing, or is it to make people click ads?
    2. Describe your audience: who do you want to read the blog? And are there enough of those people to be valuable to advertisers?
    3. Style guide: Is it a free for all, or are there minimum standards to adhere to? Images? Video?
    4. Write a linking policy: can authors link anywhere? Can they link back to their own writing elsewhere?
    5. Copyright terms: Can writers republish/resell what they’ve written? Who owns the work?
    6. Position on gifts/freebies. Can writers whore for swag?