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Why 2010 is a great year for print

30 December, 2009 (19:02) | branding, social media | By: Shannon Clark

panorama

2010 is a great year for print.

I have been thinking about print in the age of the web for a long time, earlier this year I thought about (and still may) starting a print publication of my own, tbnl magazine, but three items from the past week really struck me as to why I think 2010 could, contrary to most opinions, be a great year for print.

Item 1: McSweeney’s Panorama.

Item 2: a gift subscription to the amazing cookbook series from The Canal House

Item 3: podcasts from the best new magazine of the decade, Monocle.

Item 4 (bonus): a whole bunch of innovative print examples especially from the comics industry but also from other places  in the past few months – DC Comic’s Wednesday Comics series in broadsheet newsprint among others as is Andrew Sullivan’s recent self-published book of photos from his reader’s windows.

Item 1: McSweeney’s Panorama

Panorama is a huge experiment in what can still be done in the broadsheet, newspaper format. All told it is 320 pages of newsprint (w/two magazine inserts) as well bonus posters and other materials. Approximately 350,000 words, 218 contributors, 10 sections, 120 broadsheet pages, 22 comics, 3 posters went into the publication.

In a very fascinating insert to the publication, McSweeney’s details the overall costs for Panorama. They had a print run of 20,000 copies at a per unit printing cost of $5.57. With just one part-time ad sales person (first time McSweeney’s has taken ads) they sold $61,000 worth of advertising from a combination of local & national advertisers. Their unit costs factoring in editorial & art expenses as well as printing costs were $7.98/unit.

Their payments to contributors was about $40,000.

All told they published Panorama with a total direct capital of about $235,000, most of which they expected to recoup on the first day of selling Panorama (~1500 copies sold at $5/copy, 18,500+ at ~$16/copy)  when they expect to net about $300,000. Along with the $61,000 in ad sales that means a rough expectation of around $170,000 in profits. This is likely a bit high as the few 1000 copies sold in retailers would have some margin for those retailers.

I have not yet finished my copy of Panorama – indeed so far I have just skimmed it, read a few articles and took in the overall design and layout. There are many sections I think are exceptional and many which I think fall a bit short – the magazine background of many of the contributors shows with many pages and sections reading more like an enlarged magazine than a newspaper (specifically they rarely if ever have multiple stories on the same page – a design model common in newspapers but uncommon in magazines)

That said the overall process which McSweeney’s demonstrated with Panorama shows that there are still the mechanical and structural elements capable of publishing an amazing example of newsprint publication (as well as supplemental magazines) including much of the distribution all at costs which could be manageable for a small team to publish on a regular basis – likely with a higher print run than 20,000 copies, fewer pages, fewer special inserts and thus a far lower per unit printing costs (and also editorial costs).

In short McSweeney’s is demonstrating that there could be a future for newsprint if groups of creative people come together to explore it. A future which would probably be far more niche than today’s dailies but less niche than small local neighborhood weekly papers. The Onion is, perhaps, an example of what this future could look like – a niche paper with a mix of national and very local content and so strong of an advertising base that they give the paper away for free.

Item 2: The Canal House cookbook

My sister and brother-in-law (well technically they aren’t married but have been living together for a very long time and just days ago had my niece) gave me a subscription to The Canal House cookbook as a holiday present this year. Eventually the website may be a great resource for foodies, but for the moment the focus is the self-published cookbooks with plans for 3 cookbooks a year.

The books are $19.95 each or you can buy (or gift) a subscription for three issues for $49.95.

The physical design of the books is beautiful, one of the two woman behind The Canal House is a world renowned food photographer and co-founder of Saveur Magazine. Prior to The Canal House her photography had been a part of many other successful cookbooks.

They could have probably sold a traditional cookbook to a traditional publisher. Instead they have decided to self-publish.

So why do I think The Canal House illustrates the future of print?

To start, consider the economics. Every 1000 subscribers they sign up for the three book series represents $50,000 in revenue.

What about the costs?

They print each cookbook in China, so are likely not using a print on demand service, thus they do have to balance inventory and print runs, but here are some rough estimates:

– per book printing costs: $5-7/book ? (I suspect this may actually be on the high side though their book is full color)

– shipping costs $5-10/subscription (my subscription included the first two books shipped in one package for a cost of $3.16 + the shipping envelope)

Say that the total (rough) costs for a three-book subscription are $30 for printing, shipping & packaging. That means $20/subscription profit or $20,000 per 1000 subscribers.

Very few authors get advances which are more than $100,000, in fact very few get advances which are more than $50,000. The Canal House has two co-founders so any advance would have to have been split between them.

Doing it all by themselves if they sell 10,000 subscriptions they will, roughly, net $200,000 in profit or $100,000 per co-founder.

If they sell more than 10,000 (or if my cost estimates are high) they will make far more.

And very likely, given how great the first two cookbooks are, they will see many subscribers renewing for future subscriptions. So instead of negotiating a new book deal each year (very few publishers would have expected to get three books from a set of authors in a given year) they are building a business which will be sustainable for years to come.

I think there are likely dozens (perhaps 100’s) of other food authors as well as active food blogs/communities who could adopt a similar, print driven revenue model. Take the best articles, the best recipes from a given period of time and print them along side of tested recipes and beautiful photography and sell them. Ideally mostly via a subscription model which allows you to very closely estimate the print numbers you need in advance of actual printing (allowing you to negotiate with the printer and take advantage of volume discounts, per unit printing costs go down very quickly with volume).

My sister’s boyfriend, Peter Meehan recently published a major cookbook (Momofuku w/David Chang). They went the more traditional route with a major publisher, a large advance and a well supported and well attended press tour. Their hard work has been rewarded with a cookbook that cracked the top 100 on Amazon (as high as #32) and which will likely sell out the initial print run of at least 50,000 books (for a $40 book – yes that’s $2M at full retail pricing).

However they are by far the exception – a cookbook by a non-TV chef rarely sees numbers anything like what they are seeing.

Most cookbook authors, like the vast majority of authors of any genre, make fairly little from their writing.

Thus in 2010 I would suggest that any food writer thinking about making a cookbook consider strongly the DIY route enhanced by leveraging the web & social media to generate pre-sales (and/or adopt a subscription model such as The Canal House has) and use that to lower production costs while retaining far more revenue than traditionally received under a usual publisher’s contract.

Of course to do this well requires that you have access to great photographers, editors, writer and recipe editors/testers. Many websites, such as the fantastic Serious Eats would seem well positioned to do just that.

Item 3: The Monocle

I have been a huge fan of The Monocle since I discovered it a bit over a year ago. In a year which has seen many magazines close and print publications around the globe scale back their ambitions and international coverage, Monocle consistently creates a compelling if also hard to summarize global mix of coverage with original reporting from across the globe. The mix of a strong focus on design, combined with global coverage of the world including interviews with world leaders, extensive photojournalism and stories which cover the globe in depth and with richness and depth makes Monocle a long, but very compelling read.

It is also a great argument for the power and value of great design and the print format to tell a compelling story all while also demonstrating a very 21st century business model.

The components of the Monocle business model which, I think, are worth noting as components of the future of print in 2010 and beyond are:

  1. A high value (and equally high priced) monthly print magazine. Monocle has a $12 list price in the US and subscriptions in the US are actually a bit more costly (75 pounds sterling) than buying the magazine at retail – depending on the variations of exchange rates
  2. By focusing on a global audience but with a definite luxury and high design focus Monocle attracts global, luxury advertisers whose advertising budgets are less impacted by economic shifts. Additionally these advertisers seek specific audiences over mass reach.
  3. Monocle has a retail component – with actual retail stores in London and LA as well as an international online store. In the store they sell design collaborations with select companies from across the globe as well as limited edition books and prints. These range from postcards to dining room tables to travel bags. Over the summer they had a pop-up store along the Mediterranean coast as well.
  4. A growing range of audio and video podcasts. Supplementing and enhancing the magazine the Monocle’s online audio and video content is of an exceptionally high quality. Their video series are often sponsored by premier sponsors via tasteful (and short) embedded ads while the regular audio series serve primarily to be an audio discussion of the content of the current and future magazine issues.
  5. Regular special reports and inserts into most of the issues of the print magazine. These special reports on Travel, Aviation and many other topics are both great original content and highly targeted publications which attract specific advertisers who might otherwise not advertise in the regular issues of Monocle.

Monocle may not be an easily duplicated model. It is certainly a high cost, high value publication with editors and reporters across the globe and very likely a very high travel and expenses budget along with very high production value. But at a time when many magazines claim hardship and are closing Monocle stands as a reminder that it is still very possible to build a great (and by all appearances successful) magazine even in the 21st century.

Item 4: Examples of innovative print experiments

Though I have always been a geek and was aware of trends in comics growing up it wasn’t until earlier this year that I started to semi-seriously collect comics. What drew me to comics in 2009 was a combination of new media (podcasts/video podcasts such as iFanboy and Major Spoilers) and an interest in looking at how the comics industry has been responding to the challenges of the 21st century.

What I have found in 2009 in looking at the comics industry is a range of lessons which offer, I think, much to be hopeful about the future of Print in the 21st century and especially in 2010. Yes there are fewer big hit comics (though more than you might expect – with some breakout graphic novels especially manga titles making bestseller lists this year as well as many smaller titles selling out and getting reprinted multiple times).

But beyond questions of volume of sales what I am most encouraged by in observing the comics industry is the range of innovations I see there – with companies large and small exploring different mediums, form factors and many different publishing schedules and business models. The physical products come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, at a range of periods (from “one-shots” to bi-weeklies to monthlies to bi-monthlies, quarterlies etc). In addition to the comics sold in any comics store the industry also has branches selling – very successfully – comics in large bookstores (graphic novels and especially manga) as well as at school book sales around the country (Scholastic sells millions of comics books in such book sales every year – the colored editions of Boned for example sell exceptionally well).

And while there are exceptions, for the most part the comics industry creates physical print products which explore the limits of print. This summer, in a prequel of sorts to what McSweeney’s has done with Panorama, DC published a 12 issue weekly series, Wednesday Comics. Each issue was printed on large format newsprint and told 15 different serialized stories each told one large format page per week. Overall it was a celebration of the history of comics – a return to a classic format which predates the comicbook as we know it today.

A few years ago there was a book published which reprinted the Little Nemo comics from the early part of the 20th century in their original, large broadsheet format. Earlier this year the second volume of those Little Nemo reprints was published, Little Nemo in Slumberland: Many More Splendid Sundays, Volume 2 which is also gorgeous.

As 2009 ends there are many other examples of innovation in print happening. One in particular which I have enjoyed observing the process around is a photo book which blogger Andrew Sullivan published this year featuring a collection of photos from his reader’s windows. To launch the book he put out a call to his readers to pre-commit to ordering the book, in turn this allowed him to place an initial print order of 3000 books sold to those who had pre-committed at the lower price allowed by printing so many copies at once. That print run having sold out, the current books are available as print-on-demand from Blurb for a higher per book price.

A last example of where innovation is happening in print – is in the art print business – 20×200 is an innovative gallery in NYC and website which makes art prints available at prices starting at $20 (200 small format prints of each work are typically made available at a $20 price point). When 20×200 launched they would typically have 200 prints of a work at $20 and 2 prints of the work at $2000. In the past year they have expanded the range of price points and print sizes and now for a given work they may have as many as 4 or 5 print sizes, always in limited quantities. Some works could net over $75,000 or more if all of the prints sell out – as they frequently do.

What makes 20×200 work as with many of the examples I have listed is the curation behind each of these projects. As I noted in 2008 and still believe today the future of media is curation.

 

Lunch with David Chang and other tales of SF

7 November, 2009 (21:01) | food | By: Shannon Clark

This afternoon I had lunch with Peter Meehan and David Chang at the Il Cane Rosso at the Ferry Building here in San Francisco.

Now the Full Disclosure bit – Peter Meehan is a very long time family friend, he’s been dating my sister for over 15 years and is the father of my soon to be born niece. So I’m biased – very much so – he’s family.

He and David Chang have been in San Francisco for the past few days promoting their new book, Momofuku here in SF. It is a great book full of well told stories and challenging yet makable recipes. Not easy recipes but ones which you can, in fact, make in a home kitchen. But testing that is for another, future post.

This is about my lunch with Peter and David and more broadly with some thoughts I have had about food here in San Francisco over the past few days, sparked first by their event at Cafe Du Nord on Wednesday and continued over lunch conversations this afternoon.

7x7 Momofuku panel7x7 and Momofuku at Cafe Du Nord

Observation one – Chefs & professional food critics do not eat or drink like I do

This isn’t a good or a bad thing, just a statement of fact. I have never been drunk in my entire life, not once, my heaviest drinking night ever involves having had multiple glasses of wine in the course of a single, long, evening. In the course of one evening if my rough count and the stories I heard later is true, I believe that the chefs and professional food critics at the 7×7 event – both before, during and later after the event drank more than I have drunk in my entire four years of living in San Francisco. Seriously, chefs (and food critics) seem to drink quite a lot.

Anthony Bourdain makes much the same point repeatedly in his books and tv shows – and it is a point echoed many times on various cooking related reality shows – something about working as professional chefs seems to lead to a lot of heavy, if also often quite friendly, drinking.

Observation two – chefs and professional food critics, at least when really hungry, eat much faster than I do

I am a slow eater – also a big fan of Slow Food but that’s a different matter – but I eat slowly, savor most of my bites and try to enjoy my food whether a quick burrito or the fanciest of tasting menus.

However, at least on anecdotal evidence, when chefs and food critics are hungry, like say after having flown across the country before a signing or as in today having not eaten anything for many hours and just completed interviews and a mass signing, they devour their food in rapid fire fashion. They order a lot and eat it even quicker.

At lunch today, for example, I ordered a single pork sandwich (which was amazing btw). Pete and David ordered two other sandwiches, the half chicken plate and the roast pork plate. In the time it took me to finish a half sandwich they had polished off most of all four dishes (Pete and I swapped halves of sandwiches so I had a half of a brisket sandwich first then finished with the pork). I had small tastes of most of the other dishes but they were finished and enroute back to their hotel and their next signing event this afternoon in Menlo Park long before I had finished my second half of the sandwich.

Observation three – San Francisco has great food and a food culture I’m only barely a part of

I take food seriously, my friends (and strangers and blog readers) rely upon me for food recommendations on a regular basis. I’d like to think that I steer them well and that I know the local SF food scene fairly well. However as I attended the 7×7 event this past Wednesday and as I observed the discussion which unfolded at Cafe Du Nord and today as I have been following some friends via Twitter, I realize that there are huge portions of the food culture of San Francisco and the Internet which I know very little about. This weekend there appears to be a Food Blogger conference happening this weekend here in San Francisco, though somehow I hadn’t heard about it until just recently and still can’t figure out how (if) I could have participated. There is also a conference/trade show relating to food on the Design Concourse this weekend, again I had only heard about it at the very last minute. Even more, there seems to be a circuit of restaurant openings and special dinners which I only occasionally hear about and almost never attend. Furthermore I’ve yet to make it much out of San Francisco or the near East Bay (Berkeley & Oakland and those only rarely) so I’ve yet to experience any of Napa or Sonoma from the wine clubs to the fine dining.

The conversation Wednesday night which was moderated by 7×7 magazine’s food editors was sparked by David Chang’s off the cuff discussion about the food here in SF – about the trend towards “just serving a platter of figs and calling it dessert”. In the discussion multiples times there was an assumption about a uniformity of the “diners” here in the Bay Area – about what they would/wouldn’t accept from restaurants and dining experiences.

A quick sample of some of the assumptions mentioned over the course of the evening

  • San Francisco diners will not pay premium prices for “ethnic” food
  • There is no late night dining (or drinking)
  • While the Alice Waters/Chez Panisse family tree is extensive and creates tasty food there is too much of that style and too little risk taking in recent restaurants
  • A trend towards both the “beets and goat cheese salad” and “specialty pizzas and pasta”

As I listened I found myself thinking about many exceptions to these assumptions. By itself the world famous Slanted Door restaurant and their newer locations are exceptions for most. A very high end, expensive, ethnic restaurant in Slanted Door and in the case of their newest restaurant, Heaven’s Dog a high end, open until very late (1am or later) restaurant serving high end, premium Chinese food.

And Heaven’s Dog is no longer an exception, there are a bunch of newer restaurants which have opened here in San Francisco in the past year which are offering more late night dining options. In many cases offering food which is not just in the Chez Panisse family of simple, local food  with mostly frensh inspired techniques but food which takes fresh, seasonal ingredients (in most cases) and combine it with a range of techniques and spices from around the globe. Radio Africa Kitchen, the twice a week nomadic restaurant here in SF for example combines spices and flavors from North Africa with techniques from throughout Europe and the best, freshest local ingredients of the season.

I write this as I sit in a great local cafe (The Cafe at Cafe du Nord), drinking local coffee (beans from Ritual Roasters) and nibbling on foods made from scratch, including a savory apple tart with apples from the chef’s own garden a few blocks away. In the past few weeks I’ve eaten many meals from local food carts and other new food businesses which have been starting up all over San Francisco – some as mobile carts, others as reinvigorated food counters and takeaway locations. I also dine frequently at inexpensive but cooked with seriousness ethnic restaurants in San Francisco and I shop and cook almost entirely locally. The SF I know has a vibrant food culture – but one which is very different from New York’s to be sure.

Building your brand by telling stories

31 August, 2009 (17:20) | branding, food, social media | By: Shannon Clark

cc licensed photo by Richard Soderberg

cc-licensed photo by Robert Soderberg
photo by Ewan Spence

photo by Ewan Spence

I am spending the afternoon at my friend Ross Dawson’s Future of Influence Summit here in San Francisco (it is also running simultanously in Sydney Australia) I will have much more to write about this topic in future posts, but as I walked here this morning I was thinking a great deal about how brands are built today.

Telling great stories is the best way to build great brands

Here in San Franciso in the past year the local food scene has seen dozens of innovative, small scale food related businesses being created. Many of them are broadly speaking food carts, others are chefs who only cook a few nights a week, or other new forms of food and craft driven businesses. At the same time dozens of more traditional food businesses have opened in San Francisco. However I have observed that there are some common traits to the new businesses which are emerging with strong brands compared to those which have only a minimal if any brand recognition.

A great example here in San Francisco, though far from the only one,  is 4505 Meats, which is a local food business started by aclaimed chef Ryan Farr. He is building a fantastic business making a range of locally sourced meat products – Pork Chicarronnes which are available for sale in cafes and specilized markets throughout San Francisco and he is growing in acclaim for his handmade sausages, hot dogs and when he makes them hamburgers. He sells these products directly at the Thursday Ferry Bulding Farmers Market as well as select food festivals around town, but he is also increasingly a supplier of choice for many other small scale, innovative local food businesses.

In the process he is building a great, local brand, one which I suspect will only continue to grow in value in the years to come.

And his blog as well as the design choices he makes, including selling limited edition lithograph prints, all tell his story – that of food products made from very carefully sourced local providers made with care, old faashioned skill and a great sense of taste and quality control. He charges fair prices boh directly to customers at the markets and clearly to the many local businesses who are gladly doing business with him. As a result his business is growing and his brand is growing as well.

Take a look at how he is using twitter – follow him at @chicharrones – he’s using it to promote his events & specials exceptionally well.

And here in the Bay Area he is far from unique, there are some dozen or more similar, small scale, innovative food related businesses who are using Twitter as in many cases their primary form of marketing and advertising to promote their appearances, daily specials and over time to build up their brands – often in no small part by helping to promote each other’s businesses.

A few notable examples – but look at any of their Tweet streams for more are:

@adobohobo – a local food cart that makes Adobo Chicken (and occasionally other dishes), tasty, fairly priced street food.

@eatrealfest – a local, first time Street Food Festival which drew over 60,000 people to Oakland for three days of street food and farmers markets. They promoted the event throughout the Bay Area via posters and postcards but also benefited extensively from the social media usage (especially Twitter) of so many of the businesses who were selling at the festival, many of whom sold 1000’s of dishes in a single day.

@cremebrulecart – a local chef who makes a range of flavors of creme brule which he sells in parks and at events throughout the Bay Area, I’ve yet to see him fail to completely sell out at an appearance, his product is very tasty and fairly priced and not surprisingly quite popular. In addition to using his growing Twitter followers to announce where he will be, he is also using Twitter to get people to come out to help keep a favorite local park clean through volunteer efforts.

@missionstfood – a local Bay Area business which started as a food cart, then moved to their current format where they take over a local Chinese restuarant in the Mission area of San Francisco on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Each evening a different guest chef creates the menu, much of the proceeds of the evening go to a different charity (chosen by that evening’s guest chef). They use Twitter to promote the menu and over the course of the evening to inform people about what they have sold out of at the moment. They draw over 200 people most evenings, many of whom gladly wait over 1 1/2 hours for a table and they almost never have an empty chair from the moment they open until just before they close for the evening (usually having sold every dish they were ready to make). Just a few weeks ago they expanded further to now have a regular daily business, Mission Burger, selling beef & vegetarian hamburgers and occasional specials from within a local Mission market.

All of these small businesses along with dozens of others are using emerging media, such as twitter, as a core part of how they tell the story of their brand, in many ways using these tools to help them build and define a brand as it emerges in partnership with customers. While many of the businesses I have linked to have active online blogs and websites and many are increasingly attracting the attention of the media both online and offline, they are also using tools such as twitter to help them tell their own stories.

Revisiting the Past – Lessons for Social Media – Boy Scouts and Social Games

27 August, 2009 (16:41) | social media | By: Shannon Clark

For SXSWi 2010 I have proposed a talk I have long wanted to give on Revisiting the Past – Lessons for Social Media. This is the first in a series of posts where I will cover portions of what I would cover in that talk, please add your questions and experiences in the comments here. Also, if you think this would be a good talk for SXSWi please go to the Panel Picker and vote for my panel.

So what can the Boy Scouts teach us about Social Games?

A bit of history first – the Boy Scouts were founded in 1907-08 in England by General Robert Baden-Powell (most of my notes here are extracted from the great history of scouting published by Troop 97 on their website) after he noticed boys using his book written for military scouts, he then rewrote his book and started what has become one of the largest global organizations on the planet, with scouting groups in 185 different countries (and in many countries multiple different related groups).  Baden-Powell started Girl Guides around the same time, in the US what grew to become Girl Scouts. Scouting differs slightly from country to country (considerably in many countries), the rest of my discussion will focus mostly on the Boy Scouts of America (and since in many ways the Girl Scouts follow similar patterns lessons from them as well).

I followed my father as a boy scout for many years as a child, starting a cub scout when I was younger, then as a Webelo and finally as a Boy Scout, acheiving all but the final rank of Eagle Scout (which I’m sure was/is a disapointment to my father who was an Eagle Scout and considers it a major achievement of his youth).

As an Atheist I have serious issues with the Boy Scouts historically and currently, the current Boy Scouts of America is heaibly dominated by the Mormon Church whose troops make up some one fifth of BSA membership and their highly conservative influence runs deeply in the structures of the current Boy Scouts.

All that aside, this is a look back at the past of Boy Scouts and at the structures which were in place from nearly the very beginning and what lessons they have for social games of today.

Imagine the following – a group gathers, at first everyone is the same, low rank, following a series of detailed instructions many involving large scale group activities they start to rise in rank. With each rise in rank they recieve tangible rewards and group acclaim. But they are not isolated, from time to time they encounter other groups who have been following the same sets of instructions and in those cases their ranks are respected across groups. Individual activies and events evolve to have special rewards unique to those groups, as well special organizations form within the framework of the larger group which require invitation to join. Over time the achievements evolve adding new achievements as the times change…

That is not a description of the current Social Game, rather it is a description of the earliest days of scouting (and in most respects still is true to this day). What the global scouting movement captured, which is being replicated many times over by social games and social applications across the web, is the power of many small achievements and rewards which can be displayed to others who are participating all in the context of a larger, highly social set of activities, activities which bridge a tight, close social network with a far larger shared social context.

While it may seem that the evoluation of badges, achievements and even the applicaiton of levels is somewhat new in the past few years of online social applications and games it has its origins nearly a century ago with the early days of Scouting. In turn Scouting was adapting lessons about the power of medals and badges to motivate which had been learned within military organizations for many decades dating back at least to Napoleon.

It is important to look at what is working today within social applcations, to learn what makes Mafia Wars and other similar games so successful and engaging but it is useful and important to look beyond just the short term, immediate examples from other online activities and to look further back at pre-Internet examples of similar social activities and movements.

What Scouting shows is that there is a great deal of power and engagement from a large scale standard for achievement coupled with a mostly local and tight knit social group. The Global framework provides standards and contexts as well as rewards in the form of shared respect, respect which can in the case of achieving Eagle Scout status extend long into the future. The large gatherings and the badges and patches which arose from them while not the same as Merit Badges offered another form of incentives and engagement. They also formed the opportunities for cross troop groups to form.

Online games such as FourSquare are starting to learn some of these lessons, they emphasize your circle of friends over the larger game context of a given city, while having achievements (literally badges in this case) which are tied to in most cases a given city). Over time I would guess they will evolve further shared social achievements and rewards.

In future posts I will look at other very early examples of social activities which offer lessons for the social media of today. I will also trace some of the early history of the Internet and the evolution of those early online activities and applications in to the modern, post-Web 2.0 world of today.

Please leave your comments and feedback here!

So Shannon can you cook brunch for 40 tomorrow?

24 August, 2009 (01:01) | food | By: Shannon Clark

That was the question my friend called to ask me Saturday evening as I was walking home in the Mission. I thought for a bit, then said, sure, could we meet up in a bit and buy all the ingredients.

So in less than 24hrs I sourced everything for a brunch for 40+ people, cooked most of it the evening before the party and had almost everything else prepped and ready to go for the brunch as people started to arrive (thankfully many arrived a bit late).

Here’s the menu which I came up with and sourced everything to make in less than 3 hours.

Appetizers:

Country Bread from Tartine w/olive oil

Baked Ling Cod w/whole, large salt cured caper berries – this disappeared quickly and was incredibly simple to make. I bought about 5 lbs of large Ling Cod fillets (two fillets in this case), made sure they were cleaned of any scales and placed them in a large glass baking pan. I then washed the salt off the caper berries and sprinkled them liberally over the fish. I finished the dish with some of the salt which I had washed off the caper berries. I put the pan into a preheated over at 325 and let it cook for about 30 minutes (until the fish flaked easily). Very simple but exceptionally tasty – the caper berries added just the right flavor & salt.

Salad:

Mixed greens w/heirloom tomatoes and fresh figs in a simple Balsamic dressing – I made this salad four times over the course of the brunch as it was eaten quickly. To keep everything simple I used a prewashed, packaged selection of organic mixed greens and a package of mixed heirloom tomatoes from Rainbow Co-op. Alas, as it was organic I did have to check the tomatoes carefully and some of the larger tomatoes in two of the packages were spoiled (so I discarded them) and I made sure to wash the others carefully. I took the stems off the cherry tomatoes and sliced the larger tomatoes into thin rounds (having a very sharp, high quality knife was key here). I then washed a handful of fresh mission figs and sliced them lengthwise into thin slices. The dressing was very simple – great quality olive oil, Balsamic vinegar (in roughly 1 to 1 proporation), salt, fresh pepper all mixed in a jam jar I reused – the trick being to reseal the jar and then shake it, the shaking mixing the dressing perfectly. I drizzled it over the salad and then tossed it.

Entrees:

Slow scrambled farm eggs with sauteed sweet onions and Shitake mushrooms – a simple dish but one that does take some time to get right. I first sauteed a finely diced sweet onion in some olive oil, then sauteed sliced Shitake mushrooms also in olive oil. When each were finished I put them aside in a bowl. I then took a small pat of butter and melted it on the bottom of the largest pan I could find (ideal for this is one with large, deep flat sides). I then cracked a dozen eggs into a bowl, broke the yolks and mixed them vigorously (but briefly) with a fork and poured that into the pan, I then mixed in the onions and mushrooms and cooked the eggs over low to medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The goal is to cook slowly enough that the resulting eggs are light and fluffy, a far cry from the scrambled eggs of my childhood. I cooked this dish three times and it was never on the table long

Roasted dry rubbed Duroc Pork loin w/homemade apple sauce and quick pickled onions – I roasted the pork loin the night before the brunch. I rubbed the pork loin with a spice mixture I made (I started with a base of a dry rub from the Salt Lick BBQ in Texas but added dried lime peel, powdered cloves, Indonesian cinnamon, salt, fresh pepper and maple sugar in powdered form). I rubbed this generously over the fat side of the lion and the ends. I placed the loin in a roasting pan, fat side up the roasted it until the meat reached 150 degrees uniformly. While it roasted I rotated the pan a few times to ensure even heating.

To make the apple sauce, I halved 3lbs of apples, put them in my largest copper pot and added some Indonesian cinnamon and then simmered them with the lid on the pot (very important) on low heat until they broke down naturally. Very simple, no added sugar needed and amazingly tasty. You could then pass this mixture through cheesecloth if you had it, but I didn’t so just trusted that people could eat around the cores, stems & seeds.

For the quick pickled onions, I peeled and sliced one large purple onion into very thin slices (again having a very sharp knife helps a great deal). I put the onion slivers into a large tupperware style container, poured rice wine vinegar over the onions and added generous amounts of course salt (Kosher salt would be ideal, I used a coarse rock salt I had on hand). I then sealed the container and let it marinate in the fridge. Again a very simple dish but also quite tasty – the key is to use very thin slivers.

Roasted Leg of Lamb w/fig-mint sauce – a reprise of a dish I made for my Fig & Olive dinner last weekend. With the only (albeit somewhat important) difference being that here I used boneless legs of lamb which my butcher prepared for me (the bones which I asked him for I’ll use in a lamb stock I’m making tomorrow). I also didn’t have the butcher’s twine which I should have used to tie up the roasts as they cooked. I rubbed the lamb with olive oil, then inserted garlic clove slivers, whole fresh rosemary and fresh mint. I then added salt and chopped fresh mint to the outside of the lamb and put the 10lbs+ of lamb on my roasting rack (the rack is a key factor in why my roasts tend to be very good – it allows the fat to drip down as the meat cooks and to then be out of the way. I roasted the lamb along with pork until the lamb was at the right temperature as well (which ended up being almost the same time as my pork but that was unintentional and a bit surprising).

To make my fig-mint sauce I followed much the same recipe as I did last weekend. I took fresh figs (Mission Figs in this case) choosing the ripest (overripe would actually be ideal for this dish) and then very thinly sliced them. I put them into my small Le Creuset sauce pan, poured in apple vinegar and fresh mint (which I quickly cut with a very sharp knife into course slices) and added a small amount of salt. I simmered this on low temperatures, stirring occasionally until the figs softened and mixed with the vinegar. I then added this mixture to a large glass container (reused) and added more apple vinegar to fill the container (about 1/4 more of the container being the additional vinegar. I then let this cool in the refrigerator. The sauce was sweetened by the figs but not overly sweet and complimented the lamb very well.

Roasted baby carrots w/fresh ginger – another simple dish which I could make while my meats roasted. I took bags of pre-cut and cleaned baby carrots and fresh ginger which I julianned and tossed them with a small amount of olive oil and sea salt in a large mixing bowl so that every carrot was lightly coated with just a hint of olive oil. I then put them in a single layer onto a chef’s pan and roasted them until the carrots were soft (and generally a bit crinkled). For the brunch I served the carrots cold, for past meals I have served them hot and sometimes added a hint of Balsamic to this dish.

Dessert:

Roasted Mission Figs – another very simple dish. I washed fresh mission figs then put them in a glass roasting pan, taking care that no figs touched. I then roasted them in a 350 degree oven until the figs were glossy and their juices were just running. I served some of these with a drizzle of Balsamic which I think adds a great contrast to the sweetness of the roasted figs.

Maple Madelines – the only dish I make regularly for which I always start with a recipe from a book (though I almost always modify it). The recipe I use is roughly 1/3 cup of flour to 1/3 cup of plain, nonfat yogurt to one large eggs and a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. To this I then add either savory or sweet flavors, today I added maple sugar (in powdered form). In the past I’ve often made this with herbs, occasionally with cheese. The other key to making Madelines is to use the right baking pan, I have an amazing Madeline pan which is metal but nonstick. I cook at 450 degrees until the tops are a bit bubbly (and the bubbles are just breaking) usually just a bit under 10 minutes. I then cool and pop them from the pan (which thanks to the nonstick coating is easy. These didn’t last more than a few minutes. Very simple, light, flavorful and not too sweet.

And that is my menu, most of the big dishes I prepared ahead of time and the others I cooked on site but had designed them to be easily done multiple times over as more guests arrived. If I had had a bit larger of a kitchen and slightly more time my plan was to have made a variety of Madelines, probably with some savory flavors evocative of the meal such as rosemary and mint.

While many of the dishes I made were not vegan friendly quite a few were – the carrots, salad and apple sauce were all entirely vegan as were my roasted fig dessert. The fig-mint sauce was also vegan albeit with little to serve it on top off in this case. I also made a couple of roasted portabella mushrooms w/Shitake mushrooms for some of the vegans who wanted them.

All together for 40 people this meal cost my friend about $500 for everything we needed to make the meal and while there are a few leftovers for the most part people ate nearly everything I had been prepared to make. We ran out of pork, apple sauce, carrots, salad, fish and figs. I could have made another batch of the eggs and we had a few lbs of the lamb left over as well, along with one whole loaf out of the four loafs I bought from Tartine.

My Figs & Olives dinner

15 August, 2009 (23:27) | food | By: Shannon Clark

This evening I had 9 friends over for a formal, multi-course, plated feast to celebrate the Fig season here in the Bay Area. Many photos were taken, alas not by me, so I will hopefully update this post with some photos from the meal in a few days.

The menu arose out of an email from the CEUSA (who run the wonderful Ferry Building Farmers Market here in San Francisco) which noted that this weekend at the market would be a celebration of figs. With that as a theme I set out crafting a menu from ingredients which were in season, local, fresh and I hoped tasty.

After I sent out the invitations multiple who were coming (though in the end did not) were vegans so I did make some choices which resulted in a nearly entirely vegan meal and as I’ll note below, I had dishes planned for the vegans as alternatives to the few dishes which involved meat (or dairy products).

My menu:

Appetizers

Roasted seasonal organic local figs w/Cowgirl Creamery marscapone – for this dish I used medium sized figs which weren’t overripe. All I did was place them on a chef’s pan into a 350 degree oven until they looked done (juices started to flow out)

Sauteed Patron & Shiso peppers in olive oil w/gray sea salt – local peppers from a farm that specializes in peppers. Patron peppers are a Spanish pepper, Shiso are a Japanese. I sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil (very thin layer on the bottom of a pan) turning them occasionally until they were crinkled, I then transferred them to a platter with kitchen tongs & sprinkled with sea salt (if you choose to wash the peppers make sure they are completely dry before cooking them in oil to prevent splatter) This takes only about 5-6 minutes.

Local bread w/pepper infused olive oil – I chose a very simple, basic sourdough bread from a local bakery. I then sliced it into about 1cm thick slices which I then trisected – i.e. to get to about a few bites sized portions. The olive oil was the oil in which I sauteed the peppers which I let cool then transferred to a small glass bowl. The pepper flavor was infused into the oil.

Salad

Fig & Tomato Basil salad – this was a very simple plate, intended to be a great mix of flavors without an overly large portion. I used two types of organic tomatoes from the farmers market. In the center of the plate I put a large, orange colored heirloom tomato, cut in a single circular portion. Around the edges I placed one small dry farmed Early Girl tomato which I cut into small wedges. I also selected two varieties of small figs and quartered them, placing a half of each fig on each plate. I then added torn leaves of Lemon Basil as well as more traditional Italian Basil (all from the farmers market). Finally I drizzled the plate with a splash of a local Californian Balsamic vinegar (also from the market) and finished with sea salt.

Pasta

Fresh pasta w/roasted heirloom tomato sauce w/olives, mixed mushrooms and figs – Earlier this afternoon I took a selection of heirloom tomatoes and quartered them then roasted them with a few cloves of garlic in the oven. After they had roasted I transferred them into a large, copper pot (taking care not to use an aluminum clad pot as tomatoes react with aluminum) and added to that pot a can of Italian tomatoes for additional color and flavor. I then let this simmer on the lowest temperature for a while. After about 30-45 minutes I added to the pot slivers of Kalamata olives (taking care that no piece of pit remained) and then continued to let the pot simmer. To finish the dish and sauce I cut a variety of large figs into thin slivers and also sliced up some mixed mushrooms also into thin slivers. I put both in a pan, sprinkled it with a light, local olive oil and sauteed it for a few minutes, adding in the roasted tomato & olive sauce until it formed a thin layer in the pan. I then cooked the fresh pasta – I used a fresh, eggless pasta from the market, my guests described it as a bit like Italian Udon noodles. I put a small portion of pasta into each bowl then spooned a small portion of the sauce onto each. The goal again was to have a great mix of flavors without an overwhelming portion size. The result was quite good, if I do say so myself. My intention was that the Kalamata olives and the roasting of the tomatoes would add depth, the figs a layer of sweetness and the mushrooms some unami as well as other earthy flavors to counteract a bit of the sweet. I did add a little bit of sea salt the sauce as it cooked but mostly the salt in the sauce came from the olives. The pasta being fresh was a great complement to this sauce.

Entree

Bone-in Leg of Lamb over roasted Purple, baby red and baby yukon gold potatoes w/a fig-mint sauce – The first part of this dish I made was the sauce. I selected the ripest figs I had purchased, the ones that were almost overripe and very soft to the touch (even already splitting). I quartered the figs and then put them in a small Le Creuset saucepan I have (their smallest size). To this pan I added apple vinegar, finely ground sea salt, and roughly cut (but in small pieces) mint. I simmered this on fairly low temperatures mashing it as it simmered to meld the flavors. Once it had all come together I transferred it to a reused jam jar to which I then added more apple vinegar (about the remaining 1/4 of the jar’s worth). Cooled this resulted in a tasty, very minty, slightly sweet sauce.

The second part of the dish was the legs of lamb. I had two legs of lamb, each about 3lbs. I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, then added ground course sea salt & ground fresh pepper. I inserted julianned cloves of garlic into the hollow in the middle of the leg of lamb cut. I also added a half stick of rosemary into the same hollow. Then I added roughly cut fresh mint to the outside of the meat. I placed each leg of lamb onto my roasting rack and put them into my oven which I had preheated to a bit over 400 degrees. I check them with a meat thermometer (taking care to check each leg in a variety of places) and removed when the meat was uniformly at (or over 140 degrees) as I like my lamb a bit medium/medium rare. The lamb finished earlier than I had expected, taking only about 1 1/2 hours.

The third part of the dish was very simple, I took the three varieties of small potatoes I purchased at the farmers market (from a farm that specializes in potatoes) and put them into a large bowl (I quartered the larger purple potatoes but kept the baby potatoes whole). I then drizzled a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, course sea salt and fresh pepper. Using the bowl I tossed the potatoes making sure that each was lightly coated. I then put them onto a large chef’s pan and roasted in the oven at 300 degrees.

As the potatoes (and the lamb) had finished long before we were ready for the entrees, after the potatoes finished cooking I turned the oven off but returned the lamb and left the potatoes in the oven to heat back up a small amount.

To serve I put a small selection of the purple & baby potatoes into the middle of the dinner plates. I carved a leg of lamb and put two slice of lamb sufficient to just cover the small amount of potatoes. I then drizzled a small spoonful of the fig & mint sauce over the lamb and potatoes. I finished each plate with a sprinkle of Hawaiian Black Volcanic Salt both for the flavor & the color contrast.

Again not a huge portion for each guest but everyone, even the guests who don’t usually like lamb enjoyed it.

Planned vegan alternative – since the vegans I expected did not actually attend, I did not make this dish (but will probably make it later this week). My plan was to make roasted portabella & miatake mushrooms over potatoes. I would have cleaned and trimmed the portabella mushrooms and put them and whole miatake fronds onto an oven suitable pan (probably one of my trusty chef’s plates). Then i would have drizzled a bit of olive oil over each mushroom. I would then roast them in the oven. To serve I would have plated the mushrooms on the side of the plate with the potatoes on the other side and would have finished the potatoes with the fig & mint sauce (which I might have also added to the roasted mushrooms depending on taste)

Dessert

Figs two ways with fig ice cream and olive oil shortbread – I made the olive oil shortbread entirely from scratch and from a recipe I made up myself.

Olive Oil Shortbread

  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 5 oz extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pastry flour (I used a whole grain organic flour)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • seeds from one whole vanilla bean + additional generous pinch of vanilla powder (which I buy from The Spice House and prefer over using liquid vanilla as the powder imparts the flavor without the alcohol)

I mixed the sugar and olive oil, then added the vanilla, sea salt and flour. I used a medium sized metal mixing bowl (which I highly recommend, metal bowls are quite useful) once fully mixed and dough like (I mixed it with just my hand) I put the metal bowl into my freezer. I left the dough in the freezer for a bit over 30 minutes. I then spooned the dough into my Madeline pan after first adding a few grains of gray sea salt to each. The dough had a similar texture to a Madeline dough, though the results were a bit flakier and crunchier than Madelines. I baked them at about 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. My pan is an excellent one so the cookies just popped out (I did not use any spray or the like – my pan is a non-stick specialized baking pan. I then let these cool on a rack while I cooked the rest of the dinner. The resulting cookies had some sweetness, but tempered by the olive & salt flavors.

For the dessert I mixed two roasted figs with two fresh figs, taking care to ensure that every person had at least two varieties of figs (over all I purchased 5 different varieties of figs for this evening’s dinner) I scooped a small scoop of fig ice cream (from & made by a local shop) and layered the cookie on top of the ice cream in the middle of the bowl.

My original plan was to buy Fig Sorbet instead of fig ice cream. Had I managed to do so, this dessert would be an entirely vegan dessert. The sweetness of the figs contrasted well with the olives and salt of the shortbread.

And that is the menu. I ended up making a second portion of the pasta and as people arrived in two main waves of guests, I made two batches of the peppers for the later arriving group. Over the course of the meal we drank two bottles of Musketal (both excellent), a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of sparkling apple cider and with dessert a half bottle of a very good port.

All in all a very successful experimental meal – an experiment in that I plated each dish for all ten people (myself included) for every course and experimental in that most of these recipes I made up on the spot (including the shortbread)

Great meals in Santa Cruz – my first visit

13 July, 2009 (00:51) | food | By: Shannon Clark

This weekend I have been in Santa Cruz for a family wedding, before leaving I emailed some friends who have vacation homes in the area for suggestions and I did a minimal amount of research online but I wasn’t able to do as much as I might usually have done before visiting a new town as I also had to prepare for the TechCrunch/August Capital party Friday evening and figure out how to get from that party to my family in Santa Cruz.

Thanks to the kind folks from NextSpace and 12Seconds.tv as well as the wonders of Twitter I was able to get a ride back to Aptos to the rental cottage by the ocean my mom had found for us.

Being a foodie I sought out great meals & shops while I have been in the Santa Cruz area, this post is my report on the best of my finds. I’m sure there are plenty of other great hidden gems I should try on a return visit – please leave suggestions in the comments and I am definitely going to be trying to come back again in the future, i’ve really enjoyed this my first visit to Santa Cruz and am just sorry I had so little time (and still haven’t managed to get into the water since I moved to California now 3 1/2 years ago!)

Best Dinner especially for large groups in Santa Cruz:

Saturday evening I was in downtown Santa Cruz my parents, aunt and assorted cousins were all going to meet me somewhere for dinner a few hours later, all in all we were 9 adults looking for a great meal with just a few hours notice on a Satuday night.

I had scouted downtown Santa Cruz and hadn’t found any place I liked, so I searched a bit further and found The Cellar Door Cafe at Bonny Doon Vineyard. I called and though they were sold out of the Prix Fix menu for the evening they were able to accomodate us at 8:00pm. I made the reservation, passed along the address to my relatives and made my way there via the Santa Cruz bus line from downtown.  I also noted that both the vineyard/cafe & Randall Grahm the winemaker are on Twitter.

As it turned out the meal at The Cellar Door was exceptional in all respects. The perfect space & table for party of 9 people, amazing food, fantastic & varied wines and truly exceptional service. Oh and a real bargain as well.

I should have taken photos, every dish we ordered was a work of art – presented beautifully – and each dish was eaten down to bare plates quickly.

As I perhaps too often do, I did all of the ordering for the group, ordering most of the menu, starting with multiple orders of the small “snacks” – house cured olives, boccarones (white anchovies), fingerling potatoes in an exceptional aoili. The boccarones were so exception I quickly ordered us a third plate.

For the rest of the meal I ordered at least one of almost every dish on the main menu, leaving out what I’m sure were a great salad and a dish which included a fried farm egg (as sharing those would have been hard). We enjoyed every single dish – each was unique, expertly prepared and truly memorable. My favorite dish was the hallibut which I had almost not ordered, the tri-tip was another winner, but so too were the baked goat cheese crustinis, the smoked mackeral, the light but excellent pizza, the german style housemade pork sausage over spatzle and everything else.

For dessert we had two orders of the cornbread with a sauce of red wine soaked blueberries – sweet but not too sweat with bursts of flavor and sweetness both from the blueberries as well as the few whole kernals of yellow corn in the coarsely ground cornmeal of the cornbread.

And then we shared a double order of the cheese plate featuring three excellent cheeses – an Italian goat cheese, a local cheddar and Rogue Ale Blue Cheese accompanied by fantastic bread, apricots and golden raisins.

Over the course of the meal we shared three bottles of Bonny Doon’s wines – starting with a white then two reds, each were a suggestion of our waitress and matched up to each stage of our meal perfectly.

The table we were seated at was in an extended oval shape with partitions styled as a wine barrel surrounding us on three sides, most of were seated along a curved bench which wrapped around most of the oval table. The result was a table that allowed for easy sharing of dishes amongst all nine of us, while also making it easy for everyone to see and talk to everyone else at the table – with the high surrounding walls also providing privacy and quiet.

in the end with a generous tip & tax our bill for nine people was $340.

So as I said initially – both an amazing meal, great space & drinks and a bargain. Highly, highly recommended.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room & The Cellar Door Cafe is located at 328 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz CA. They are open Wed-Sun, serve dinner only Wed-Thur (though the tasting room is open in the afternoon) but serve food all afternoon Fri-Sun starting at noon. For dinner I’d suggest a reservation especially for a larger group – call the cafe at 831.425.6771.

Best Coffee (and tea) in Santa Cruz

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I am a serious coffee person. After exploring downtown Santa Cruz fairly extensively I found a few cafes and stores of note, though there are a few others I need to try on a future visit.

Lulu Carpenters (2 locations just blocks apart)

In the course of a long day spent in downtown Santa Cruz I stopped into Lulu Carpenter’s twice. First I had a fantastic cappucino at Lulu’s at the Octogon in the early afternoon, then I researched dinner options over another fantastic cappucino at their Pacific Ave location. At both locations I really enjoyed the seriousness and skill with which they made their coffee and the care which showed in how they roasted their beans. The Octogon Room location specializes in single orgin coffee and has some truly amazing coffees (as well as some of the best equipment of any cafe anywhere in the US). This is serious coffee and I really enjoyed myself at both locations. If I had had my laptop I would have gladly worked all afternoon from either location – as many other people at both were doing each time I passed by. I take my coffee seriously – Lule Carpenter’s is good enough that if I were to spend more time in Santa Cruz, I know I ould be a regular.

Santa Cruz Roasing Company

Before I found Lulu’s I stopped by Santa Cruz Roasting Company to pick up whole beans for my parents to enjoy good coffee as they have a lifelong habit of making a pot of coffee every morning. I was impressed by the wide selection of well blended beans including a large selection of organic, fair trade beans – both single origin and nicely balanced blends. All for reasonable prices with friendly service. I had a single cup of one blend and picked up a small amont of fresh beans for our rental. The service was friendly, the space spacious and were Lulu’s not right up the street I’m sure I’d be a regular – and I probably would still frequent Santa Cruz Roasting on a regular basis. At a farmer’s market we went to on Sunday I had a single cup of freshly made coffee which was a blend from Santa Cruz Roasting and it was a great cup of coffee, especially while shopping the farmer’s market.

Chaikhana Tea Culture – 317 Cedar St Santa Cruz  (831) 423-4200 (no website but the owner mentioned that they are launching one very soon).

While I am a serious coffee drinker (though unlike my parents I rarely drink coffee in the morning or make it at home) I am also a very serious tea drinker and fan. I have an extensive collection of teas on home – literally dozens including what are now I’m sure extremely aged Pur’h teas – bricks I bought nearly 15 years ago and haven’t yet prepared). I have blends of teas I treasure and which have intense personal meaning.

For one, a blend which was the blend I shared with my most serious girlfriend of the past on our very first date, which was at a tea shop in Chicago – we shared a high tea, a pot of tea, then moved to a table outside and had a second pot of melon tea which the owner recommended to us. A date which moves onto a second pot of tea is, I think, a very good one – certainly worked out well for me.

But I am not a collector or a serious fan of Pur’h teas but my friend who lives in Santa Cruz had insisted that I stop by Chaikhana. So as I walked towards the boardwalk, I stopped in and ended up spending nearly an hour browsing the small but packed store, smelling teas, and sampling teas which were being poured by David the owner – mostly for the benefit of the other, even more serious tea fans who were also in the store at the same time, but I was happy to try the teas myself as well. I ended up buying a 2009 green tea from China, a premium grade Yellow Tea (also from China and a type of tea I’ve never previously seen – even in my many visits to world class tea shops across the country) and also bought a few other smaller items to try.

Chaikhana is a store which if you are a tea drinker could rapidly become a mecca, I picked up their old catalog, but am looking forward to the website launch. Even if you are not a tea drinker, if you are in Santa Cruz, give yourself some time to stop in and explore, smell a few teas, taste othes and most likely you will walk out with some teas and a great experience.  You can spend as much or as little as you want to spend at Chaikhana – I spent $14 on an oz each of two different teas as well as few balls of black tea to try but he also has some aged teas which are $100’s of dollars an oz which he has collected from frequent trips to China and purchases of private collections.

Best BBQ – better even than my last trip to Austin TX!

After the wedding and reception we returned to our rental cottage and my mom, aunt and I took an extended walk up the beach here in Aptos for a bit. On returning to our cottage I was a bit hungry but my parenta and aunt weren’t up for going out to a restaurant. Instaed I suggested that we find a nearby restaurant and just pick up something. I looked at the collection of menus provided to us by the owners of the cottage (if you can call a 2 level, 3 bedroom house a cottage) and one in particular stood out.

It was the phrase “real smoked BBQ”

I was hooked.

We called, they were open, we called back and placed an order to pick up.

Where? Aptos St BBQ at 8059 Aptos St in Aptos Village.

This is serious, slow smoked, prepared with skill, care and attention to detail BBQ. I suggested it because I was hungry – my parents & aunt were not – they ended up eating nearly 2/3’s of the order – which was only a single full slab of ribs. The ribs were better than any I have had in years – perhaps the best I’ve ever had – so good I’m quite seriously seeing when I can come back to get the ribs – and to try the rest of their menu.

They slow smoke their ribs – no grills, no broilers (certainly no boiling) just slow steady smoke over many hours. The result is amazing flavor – meat candy for a BBQ lover like myself.

Years ago I made an observation – which Aptos St BBQ lived up to – you can tell a great BBQ place by their coleslaw. I’m sure there is an exception somewhere – perhaps a BBQ place that doesn’t serve any coleslaw – but it is a simple dish that many places get wrong (if they don’t make it themselves but instead order it in bulk – they clearly cut corners and you have to wonder what corners they cut with your meat).

But if they make a great coleslaw, which Aptos St BBQ does, then it means that they care enough about the smallest details of the food they sell to do so. Coleslaw isn’t why I choose a BBQ place – but when it is great I’ve rarely had bad BBQ.

Unfortunately Aptos St BBQ is closed on Mondays – otherwise I would insist that we stop there on the way out of town and pick up a slab (or two) for my dinners in the week to come. I suspect my next visit to Aptos I will place a large order on Sunday night just to have leftevers to enjoy back in San Francisco.

So those are a few of the great finds I found in my time in Santa Cruz. I’m certain I iwll be back – though when I don’t know. Please leve comments if you know of places I should try on a future visit.

I will try to update this post with photos & more URL’s.

Coffee in San Francisco – my current favorites

10 June, 2009 (02:34) | food | By: Shannon Clark

San Francisco Coffee is among the best in the world.

I am a serious coffee drinker, I started drinking coffee seriously in high school, spent many hours in college in cafes throughout Hyde Park. However in College my focus was cheap, free refills, and a good working environment, I was less concerned that the coffee was really high quality.

But I was always passionate about local, independent cafes and while I lived in Chicago I grew to know and love many great small local cafes, spending most of my time in the ones that had great atmospheres and great coffee. Including among these was the amazingly high quality Inteligentsia Coffee which I was a customer of from their first cafe which opened up in Boystown and then later their locations downtown in the Loop. In the years since they have expanded to a cafe in LA and are among the growing Third Wave of cafes and local coffee roasters which have spread the serious coffee movement throughout the US and indeed around the globe.

I have now lived in the Bay Area for 3 1/2 years, in this time I have seen an explosion of great coffee roasters and cafes, led by a group of local coffee roasters and a growing and large coffee culture here in San Francisco. In this post I will write up some of my current favorite cafes in San Francisco, from time to time I will update this post as new places open or old places close.

As a frequent cafe customer I look for a few things in cafes I frequent on a regular basis.

  1. Great coffee. This should perhaps go without saying, but it makes a huge difference. There are some cafes whose space & location I love, but which I rarely frequent because the coffee does not match the space.
  2. Big tables. I have a theory of cafes. Small tables (think the tiny bistro tables of the traditional French cafe) make it hard to share a table with a stranger and make working on laptops awkward. My favorite cafes have always been the ones with large, oversized tables that promote sharing tables with strangers and allow for easy working with laptops.
  3. Free Wifi & Power. Though here I am will to make exceptions. Serious coffee trumps wifi – I just use my time in those cafes in different ways – for conversations, for time to catch up on my reading, for time to write offline. Later this year I expect I will have a portable data card (or tether my iPhone 3GS) so wifi will be less of an issue. Power too is easy to work around and it isn’t the worst thing to get up and move after 4+ hours in front of my laptop.
  4. Happy employees. The best cafes have happy, passionate employees. Employess who are treated well, who do their work with attention to detail and passion for quality.

There are many other factors I look for in great cafes. Good food is always welcome especially if locally sourced. And being open late fits my lifestyle well. Thankfully in San Francisco I have many options.

My not so short list of great cafes in San Francisco:

  • Blue Bottle – The coffee of choice for most of the top chefs in the Bay Area Blue Bottle is one the best coffee roasters I’ve ever tasted and their cafes are among the finest I know of anywhere in the world. It all started with their Kiosk in Hayes Valley at 315 Linden St and at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Markets. Now they have an amazing new space at 66 Mint St, a full cafe inside of the Ferry Building and a new location in the rooftop garden of the SF MOMA. At their full cafe on Mint in addition to great coffee prepared with serious attention to detail and more methods of preparation than any other cafe I’ve seen, they also have a small but great selection of food options which change during the course of the day. No wifi, but one of my favorite spots for business meetings, especially around conferences at the nearby Moscone Center.
  • Ritual Coffee Roasters – Ritual is rapidly overflowing their storefront location at 1026 Valencia St in the Mission where they removed couches and many tables to make room for their roaster and coffee storage in the back. They don’t have any power outlets, but still manage to almost always have full tables and a line for their fantastic coffee. With only a small selection of food (albiet tasty baked goods) Ritual is a destination for coffee drinking and a spot where many people sit and work. I’m the Foursquare mayor of Ritual on Valencia as a result of my many times a week visits. Ritual also has a smaller cafe inside of Flora Grub Gardens in Bayview at 1634 Jerrold Ave and a new cafe inside of the Oxbow Public Market at 610 First St in Napa. Ritual coffees are served by many great restaurants and cafes as well.
  • Four Barrel Coffee – Before they opened their well designed space at 375 Valencia St which features a large onsite coffee roaster and furniture built from reclaimed lumber, Four Barrel served coffee from the rear of their space via a kiosk open to the small alleyway. Founded by serious coffee people, Four Barrel is an example of a cafe that is all about the coffee, they have only a few baked goods and do not have wifi, yet are usually full until closing. They have a few wholesale customers here in SF and are a fantastic addition to the local coffee scene.
  • Epicenter Cafe – another new addition to San Francisco, Epicenter Cafe is located at 764 Harrison. They are not a coffee roaster but take coffee and food very seriously. Their beans are from Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara (who also provide coffee to Google – a company that takes food and drink fairly seriously). The coffee here is fantastic, what I love about the cafe is the space, high quality food, lots of tables, power outlets and free wifi. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in SOMA to work and have meetings.
  • Coffee Bar – Probably my favorite overall cafe in San Francisco. Coffee Bar is located at the corner of Mariposa & Florida in Potrero Hill. The coffee here is from Mr Espresso in Oakland (one of the owners is part of the family that runs Mr Espresso) and is prepared with great attention to detail both as espresso shots or on their reasonably priced Clover machines. But it is the space and food which is why I so love Coffee Bar. They have a great menu of food and drinks including wine and beer and a multileveled space which has been designed with great attention to detail. They have a long bar with underbar power outlets perfect for working alone as well as many oversized tables perfect for groups or for sharing with others. On Thursdays and Fridays they turn the kitchen over to Radio Africa Kitchen which offers some of the best food in San Francisco at extremely reasonable prices. I find the location, food, and ambiance combine to make Coffee Bar one of my favorite cafes and a highly productive space either for working on my laptop or for having great business meetings.
  • Philz Philz coffee is a family run establishment here in San Francisco which has been expanding rapidly in the last few years, going from just a few locations when I first moved here to a growing number of locations throughout the Bay Area. Philz does not make espresso, instead they make coffee one cup at a time from their 20+ custom blends. Blends whose exact mixes they keep secret, but which are each unique and quite tasty. This is a $3+ single cup of coffee which is worth every penny. They have free wifi and a small selection of baked goods, but the main attraction is the amazing and very unique coffee. Coffee which is quite unlike any cup I’ve had anywhere else. Philz is a unique and welcome addition to the coffee culture in San Francisco and now the greater Bay Area.
  • Haus Coffee – a very new addition to San Francisco, opening just weeks ago, Haus Coffee is located at 3082 24th St. A beautiful, if minimalist space which soon will have a fantastic back patio, Haus serves coffee from Ritual Roasters. They have free wifi, large tables and very bright and airy space, with a fireplace for cool San Francisco evenings. One of my new favorite spots. note – I can’t find a URL for them, if you know it please leave a comment and I’ll update this post
  • Velo Rouge – Velo Rouge Cafe is a small cafe just blocks from Golden Gate Park at 798 Arguello Boulevard. They serve coffee from Ritual Roasters expertly prepared along with a great menu featuring local foods. Tasty food, great drinks and a fun space with a small be welcome set of tables outdoors. One of my favorite cafes in the Richmond district of San Francisco and a frequent stop on long weekend walks.
  • Hollow – by far the smallest cafe on my list, Hollow is a tiny space in the Inner Sunset at 1435 Irving St. In a space smaller than my first studio apartment, around 400 sq ft nestled between other retail shops,  coffee from Ritual Roasters compliments the small but carefully selected products for sale. They have two tables inside with seating for only a few people, but the coffee is fantastic, the shopping excellent and owners friendly. A small gem of a cafe & design shop. Later this summer they will add a table outside. I spent a wonderful afternoon on a recent weekend drinking coffee and chatting with the owner.
  • Mojo Bicycle Cafe – A cafe in the front, a bike shop in the back, Mojo Bicycle Cafe at 639A Divisadero St is a cafe and bar, serving a small selection of food and coffee from De La Paz & Ritual Roasters. Great coffee, good drink selection and you can buy a bike or get your bike repaired while you hang out. A small but fun space with a devoted customer base.
  • The Cafe at Cafe Du Nord – Another fairly new addition to San Francisco, the Cafe at Cafe Du Nord is a small cafe which opened up earlier this year next door to Cafe Du Nord nightclub & the Swedish American hall event space. Located at 2168 Market St the cafe features coffee from Ritual Roasters and very tasty food. The sandwiches are particularly good and go well with the great coffee. The free wifi is nice, though the space is a bit small and tables slightly crowded together, I have worked here but it isn’t ideal for long working sessions.
  • Cafe Du Soleil – A French cafe at 200 Filmore, just a block off of Haight St, has good but not fantastic coffee which is more than made up for having great food and a very French atmosphere. This is an adult cafe where you can enjoy great food, wine and coffee along with the free wifi and large communal table. The baked goods are exceptional and the ambiance makes this one of my favorite places to work in San Francisco. The coffee is good, but not as serious as at most of the other places on this list.
  • Samovar Tea Lounge – And to end this list a place that does not serve coffee at all. Samovar Tea Lounge has three locations in San Francisco (297 Page Street at Laguna, Yerba Buena Gardens at 730 Howard St above the Moscone Center, and 498 Sanchez St in the Castro). Samovar is a place for serious tea and great food. I love coffee but I also am a serious fan of Tea, Samovar has the best tea I have found in San Francisco, served with patience and food that compliments the teas exceptionally well. The Yerba Buena Gardens location is another of my favorite spots for downtown business meetings but also for first dates. It transitions well from a relaxed environment for long conversations and relaxation to a great place for a first date.

There are many other great cafes in San Francisco, cafes with loyal fans, friendly staff, tasty food and beverages but these are the places I return to again and again, the spots I take out of town guests to, the places I plan my day around visiting.

What are your favorites? What are places I should also try?

Make it easy for others to promote your brands online

5 June, 2009 (00:50) | branding | By: Shannon Clark

I was recently invited to the private Beta for Linkaholix (follow this link for my referral if you want to join). Linkaholix is a site dedicated to indicating things that you like – from brands to books to albums, restaurants and more. While entering in a range of things I’m passionate about, I have been struck by a simple yet puzzling observation.

Even many of the biggest, most popular online savvy brands do not make it easy to find their logos online or to refer to them in an authorative manner.

So a short note to suggest that when you think about your Brand presence online, don’t neglect some of the absolute most basic elements, adding brand collateral in a uniform manner online and making it very clear where your presence is based (i.e. which URL a fan should link to directly when referring to your business) as well as making it easy for an individual or a business to find the right logos and other related photos – such as of your retail businesses, your brands in use, your packaging etc. Consider as well making all of your brand marketing and advertising available online in easy to link to or embed formats.

I would much rather use the right logos and images when I’m promoting a brand I enjoy via an online service. This isn’t just a matter of following a brand on Twitter or joining a fan page on Facebook, though both of those actions are also relevant signals. Instead this is a matter of when I am blogging here on this site, or when I’m using a great service such as Likeaholix to capture short notes about why I like the things that I like, I would like to present those brands in the best possible light and to use the most accurate and correct images and videos possible.

As a challenge to you, try to find the logo for Revision3’s show Co-op which is a show I love on gaming.

They have a truly great logo for their game – 8 bit icons in a logo type font that captures a great deal about who they are and what they are about. A great image that I can’t easily share here as I still haven’t found a image of the logo online as just the logo in a form I can copy & use elsewhere.

Defining a publisher – the myopia of Ad:Tech

21 April, 2009 (16:33) | branding | By: Shannon Clark

I am at Ad:Tech San Francisco all this week, my third Ad:Tech SF I have attended, I’ve also attended multiple Ad:Tech’s in NYC.  I attend as a blogger and journalist, as well as an interested analyst, consultant and entrepreneur. Every year i seek out who is, in fact, delivering really innovative and valuable services and every year I find myself puzzled by most of the exhibitors. 

This year I have had a bit of an “Aha” moment this morning and early afternoon, namely that for the majority of this show the definition of what is a “publisher” is stuck in a model of about a decade ago, a model which in turn is based on a fairly simple modeling of non-Internet media properties to the web. 

Namely that a publisher, in this context, is a company which offers up lots of media content – usually text (with links) but increasingly also video (pure audio is another approach but one which gets only minimal coverage). This model plays mostly into a volume game – where “content” is stretched over multiple pages, each page is layered with more or less well “targeted” advertising (in a variety of formats) and where “traffic” is in turn generated in large part via ad buying – where the name of the game is to pay less for the traffic than is generated via revenues from that traffic. Organic search traffic is vital as other than the costs associated with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that traffic would usually be lower cost than nearly any other form of traffic. 

Into this model of publishing with little variation (minor for sites which are video versus textually based) steps most of the companies who exhibit at Ad:Tech. 

  1. Traffic businesses – whether Search Engine Optimization i.e.SEO firms or platforms on which ads can be run to generate traffic often these firms are search engines – Google is one example. To be fair, many of these businesses are here for a number of reasons, Google for example is also showing off their Website Optimizer and Google Analytics products. 
  2. Ad server providers as well as Ad Networks who offer to serve up ads for the publisher. The ad server providers provide mostly raw technology to serve the ads, the ad networks also in theory provide ads to serve. Targeting companies may help or be partnered with these providers to help determine which ads to show to whom. Ad Optimizers (such as my friends at Rubicon Project) offer services for publishers by optimizing ads from multiple sources (directly sourced, various ad networks) including ads of multiple forms. Some ad networks offer ads of only one type – common variations are Cost per Thousand Impressions or CPM – usually banner ads or other visual ad formats such as some video ads, Cost per Click or CPC – often seen in text link ads though occasionally also banner ads, Cost per Action or CPA – generally paid after some transaction is completed such as filling in a form or registering and a few Cost per Lead or CPL – which are similar to CPA ads but generally represent further qualification of the individual completing the actions to define that person as really a true lead for the business.
  3. Affiliate Networks – in some ways similar to ad networks but with an important variation. Where an ad network usually offers a rane of creatives, sometimes priced in a variety of ways, an affiliate network offers a series of offers which a publisher can share and for which the publisher will be paid based on transactions completed. These transactions can be newly registered users, purchases online (or occasionally purchases offline), subscriptions ordered etc. The archetypal example of an affiliate program is Amazon.com’s Associates program but there are literally hundreds of programs as well as dozens of networks of programs.
  4. Service providers to publishers – exhibiting here this year are a number of companies who offer payment processing and other services for web publishers, in most cases intended for websites who might be using online advertising to generate traffic but then need additional services to close a transaction and get paid. 
  5. Service providers to ad agencies (and the occasional direct brand) – there are a number of companies here who are showing off tools to help manage advertising campaigns from the ad buying perspective, tools that might, for example, help decide where to place ads across a number of networks and at what price points and to manage the spending. In most cases they may also help track results from the online advertising such as clicks and other metrics. 

And those are the majority of the firms exhibiting here at Ad:Tech San Francisco 2009. There are a few exceptions, the occasional digital agency, law firm, magazine or industry organization and there are a few variations of firms in the mobile and video spaces who offer specific tools or additional functionality. 

What most share, however, is a myopic view of what is a Publisher.

Publisher, as assumed by most of the companies exhibiting here at Ad:Tech,  is a website which has lots of “content” across a number of pages. In most cases this “content” is text and around that text (or before/after it loads or via modifications to the text) a range of ads and offers can be presented. Most publishers are defined as having some amount of traffic, measured in page views (and often in unique users in a given month) where the unit of a “page” is generally an HTML page. Video sites may talk in terms of the videos viewed and occasionally the number of minutes spent viewing those videos. Most of the publshers are assumed to have sites which are crawled by search engines and in turn in most cases are assumed to generate a great deal of traffic from search engines (though the best publishers also have a lot of natural or direct traffic – i.e. actual people who go directly to that site on a regular basis. 

What is mising from this view is a world of new media, the worlds of applications and services where increasingly more and more of the time and attention of Internet users is spent. 

The majority of so called Web 2.0 companies, for example, would not be considered a publisher by this definition, much of what occurs within such applications is opaaque to search engines, it requires someone to be registered and logged into the service and is usually customized for that individual user. Her content, her friends, her last move, her family’s finances. 

Many Web 2.0 businesses do work with Affiliate programs, whether on a one off basis or via an affiliate network. To the extent that the applicaiton they offer leads naturally to transactions by their users this can be a natural and productive fit – and indeed many of the affiliate networks offer some degree of hooks into their systems which web applications can utilize. However this is not a good match for all applications. 

What I do not see, or at least haven’t seen often, are ad network designed to accomodate the needs of really dynamic, rich applications. Networks which accept API calls in place of embedded Javascript, and which accept with that API call information about the user – or better yet group of users – to use to customize and target the ads to be shown.