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Lunch.com

A social sharing network fueled by your curiosity

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Slowly withering on the vine.

  • Dec 14, 2011
  • by
Rating:
+2
This is a review that I have been contemplating for quite some time now and one that I certainly take no great joy in writing.  But after spending more than three years contributing to Lunch.com I have finally come to the realization that the high hopes that I had for this site are probably never going to be realized. The clarion call to "Feed Your Curiosity" is what attracted me to the site in the first place.   The prospect of engaging other members in writing and reading about a potpurri of interesting topics held great appeal for me.  I relished the idea of learning about all kinds of new things from people who were passionate about them.  Likewise, in addition to reviewing books and CD's as I had done for so many years on amazon.com I was intrigued by the idea of being able to review almost anything here on Lunch.  Over the years I have written reviews about interesting people, public policy issues and some innovative new products.  Clearly, the ability to review virtually anything was what seperated Lunch from any other site I had ever encountered before.   It always seemed to me that the basic concept behind Lunch was a very noble and sound one.  But as is so often the case the problems arose in the implementation. 

When I was invited to join Lunch back in the Fall of 2008 I took a look at the site and was extremely impressed.  The only reservation that I had was that the site had the potential to turn into just another pop culture site.  If I was going to invest my time and energy into this project I was bound and determined to post content that would be of interest to a wider spectrum of potential members.  And so that is what I attempted to do.  Everyone at the Lunch office was very supportive.  There were times when I really believed that the site was on the precipice of breaking through.   New members came and went but I thought the site was really beginning to take off in early 2010.  But one thing troubled me all along the way.  It seemed to me that Lunch was being dominated by a handful of topics.  This totally frustrated me not only because I had absolutely no interest in most of this stuff personally but also because I felt it discouraged lots of potential new members with wider-ranging interests from hanging around.  Frankly, I found the subject matter to be rather depressing.  For the life of me I simply cannot understand the fascination with death and darkness, vampires and zombies, Satan and evil.  I expressed my concerns to the Lunch staff from time to time but wondered how they could go about correcting the problem.  Perhaps they did not view this as a problem at all.  In any event, to this very day I honestly believe that more than anything else this is what has held the site back.   Furthermore, it has always boggled my mind that from the get-go there has been relatively little interest in music, sports, politics and notable people on the site.  How can that be?  I have always found this to be rather bizarre.  As a result there is very little content on Lunch anymore that even remotely interests me.

And so at the end of the day I believe that what we have wound up with is a site that is dying a slow but sure death.  To some degree it has evolved into  the pop culture site that I feared it would.  There are far fewer people contributing to Lunch.com than there were a year ago.  Furthermore,  I have noticed that Lunch founder J.R. Johnson has not been around at least five or six monthsand that the staff has dwindled in number.  This speaks volumes to me.  Frankly, I just don't know how you fix it at this point.  It appears that lots of good reviewers who had something to say have given up and left the site.  It was such a marvelous idea!  It is really too bad.

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January 05, 2012
I see a clear contradiction in this evaluation. The first being that if you have assumed correctly and the majority of the people who contribute to Lunch and read reviews on Lunch are only interested in vapid aspects of pop culture, and one takes a look at the current trends of pop culture of which vampires and zombies are a huge part of, then if anything Lunch should be sailing in the winds of success.
Secondly, if a site allows for any subject matter to be reviewed, then as would be the case in any good democracy, the direction that the site moves in will be determined by the majority consensus of popular opinion. So, one cannot truly hold that against the site.

I do agree that Lunch had, and I think still has, great potential. It was the first site of it's kind to allow for members to explore the world of reviewing outside of strictly commercial topics and it was the first site where user generated content was then utilized by the users for both entertainment and expression.

However, there are undoubtedly problems which arose about two years into the site's development. Primarily, the site was commercialized too early on before it had developed its over-all atmosphere. Billboards, advertisements, commercials... these things don't belong in a classroom and would not only distract from the primary goal "Of Feed Your Curiosity" but also make it hard in a lot of ways to maintain objectivity. It presents a conflict of interest to have ads for movies that you're writing negative reviews for show up next to your review.

Exacerbating the commercial conundrum of the site was the "Lunch This" button. This was a mistake as it allowed anyone to create multiple duplicate topics for the same subjects. With not enough staff members to research and review which topics should be merged and edited and which should become the primary topics due to the most accurate and complete information, the job of handling duplicate topics went to people who didn't know enough about them to see the important distinctions. Then the ability to merge topics was granted to select members on the site as well and this again escalated the issue since most members who review books or movies are motivated by opinions and not factual obligation to the creators of said books and movies. Ultimately, too much control was given to members in regards to adding, editing, and merging topics. This should have been more exclusive and more selective based upon a display of who had familiarity and/or extensive knowledge of those topics. Nobody would buy a set of encyclopedias from a man who who took all of his information from unreliable sources. And I'm sad to say that many of the members that contributed to the topics were unreliable sources.

And I would also agree that the type of content has become limited, narrow-minded and even to an extent stagnant. But again, this isn't really Lunch's doing, so much as a failure of the members on Lunch to attract new members and generate interest in the site from elsewhere. We decide the content of the site, hence we are the ones who attract new members and thus newcomers to reviewing. It's essentially a spiral effect. It will either expand upward and outward, growing and progressing, in a constant evolution, or it will do the contrary and become more streamlined and limited in its appeal.

Part of the problem is that if you're going to have truly academic or intelligent discussion, it becomes immediately apparent that you cannot simply apply a -5 through +5 rating to things. This right off the bat becomes a divisive issue which stands in the way of the site's other goal of "bring people together".

Adding to this already potentially divisive matter is the similarity rating. The similarity rating, while in theory may have seemed like a good idea, what it fails to acknowledge are the inherent contradictions in humor nature. Two people on opposite sides of the country (take myself and James for example) may have similar interests in films and contemporary literature, however, we may appreciate those things for the exact opposite reasons and be diametrically opposed in all other matters. If the goal is to really bring together people of all walks of life in spite of their differences, then such emphasis on superficial similarities should not have been placed. People, in order to unite as individuals, must learn to welcome differences of opinion and embrace their distinctions as well as their similarities. To embrace one and not the other leads to certain groups of people being stigmatized by other groups.

Furthermore, Lunch has made the site too American and too interested in California. Note the majority of the featured topics and featured reviews have to do with American pop culture or American political and social issues. I had some friends from other sites who are either currently located in or originate from other countries and they loved the idea of a user generated content site that gave reviewers complete control in what they reviewed. But after looking the site over they were immediately turned off by it because the site failed to acknowledge the cultures and issues of the international community, thus making them feel that they would have been fish out of water and unwelcome.

So, in conclusion, you can't blame the fact that a small group of people have been reviewing vampires or zombies or other similarly macabre subject matters. First off, there is social and historical significance to these subjects as I tried to emphasize within my community "The Vampire Historians", but unfortunately that idea devolved and the community became nothing more than a movie, comics, and book community.
But more importantly, there have been other topics that were heavily reviewed which have also managed to turn people away from the site. For a long time over the past two years, there have been numerous political rants (from both the right and the left) which were in no way bridges of communication to bring people together and unite them. They were mere pieces of propaganda advertising one-sided extreme political and social positions. While I absolutely feel that anyone who contributes to the site should be able to do so at their own discretion, the number of these kinds of reviews were for a time overwhelming and would easily be off-putting to many people who wanted to avoid controversial or stressful reading. Other topics were also heavily focused on such as beauty products, strollers, and the latest technology (most of which became obsolete within a year or two of its inception). These kinds of topics, while perhaps helpful to keep informed about for the sake of being a knowledgeable consumer, also meant that the reviews and topics that covered profound material and more education material were being buried.

In the end, what hurt Lunch the most was the idea of statistics, similarity ratings, and ratings altogether. Look at sites like Blogger or Wordpress. These sites aren't covered with advertisements. They don't have similarity ratings or force you to put an evaluating number at the head of whatever you wish to write about. What makes those sites work, and what has really been the main defect of Lunch, is that they focused on opinions and information, writing and reading. Lunch has put so much emphasis on trying to get people to write on the site, they failed to focus on how to attract readers. Lunch focused so much on trying to get people's opinions, they failed to provide accurate or fair information from which people could form their opinions.
 
January 05, 2012
I agree with you on many fronts. JR Johnson is probably busy with his other baby now :) As for the other staff whom I had really enjoyed reading they are probably gone for good! This site is fast becoming the Movies and Readers site. Not that I've any problem with that since I do read books and watch movies but personally, that's not where I feel I've that much to contribute in terms of improving myself and life at large.

I'd still write on other areas (which is why I actually contributed to Lunch to begin with) as I feel these are materials that are lacking on the net. May be they are being read by others who are not "residing" on the site; at least that's what I choose to believe by looking at page views of each review. Otherwise, we are merely wasting our precious time!

I'm not online so much these days as there are other more pressing and practical matters to attend to. There is no free lunch in life and we all do what we can. Neither is this a free site as far as the operators are concerned. So, reviews that don't yield income or traffic one way or another are not Lunch's priority. That's how I've come to see this site.

Yes indeed, it was a marvelous idea. But it takes more than an idea to make it a success in anything we do!
 
December 14, 2011
Quite a thought-provoking piece. Though I have to say, ultimately a site like this will definitely go forward into what its members steer it towards. It is a community, and a community is directed usually by a whole. I mean, there is freedom in the site and to expect certain things and steer something towards what others may feel more interesting can be disastrous too. It  may hamper the freedom the site do promote. I have to admit, it isn't that I am not interested in politics, social issues and other things, but for me, I stay within my realm of knowledge. Ok, I stay away from political write ups too, because as with my family, we do not talk about religion and politics...I guess I am programmed to be like that. Even when I read about politics, I usually don't comment but merely rate. I also have no interest in writing about popular people, since I feel that such a write up may feel more like passing judgment or something that gives undue praise. I do on occasion, but it would be a minor QT, I am just not built to praise the achievements of one individual when there are harsher realities in the world. I guess this is where we may be different. It is not about right or wrong, about which topics can make a site fail, but just different.

You have brought forth some interesting views, some I agree with and some I am not sure what to say. It isn't that you're wrong, but I guess it is all about expectations. Pop culture is something that entertains people, and I have to admit I read reviews here so I can escape the hectic days I have at work. Perhaps I am guilty of tending to reviews in my COL first, but I feel that it is my responsibility to tend to those first. Robert (a friend) brought about an interesting point, that people need to read other's writings in a site like this, in order to be read. Not really sure how this fits, but I am making an example. I see a lot of reviews under music and your community is the most successful for it, so on this area, you should have not issues about finding things that interest you.

I guess, Lunch is a social site as well as a review site. People tend to do this for fun and entertainment, and different people means different types of interest; different reasons for writing and different reasons to read, different ways to be entertained. My hits go down whenever I review something other than mainstream movies, but I still review Asian cinema even if I get less views or hits.  People are just complex and so who can say just what would make a site successful or not.

There are a lot of good reviewers who went away, but we also gained some good ones too. People tend to do what they wish, and even my reviewing has slowed down due to personal matters that demand my attention. Who really knows why people slow down or not write as much? Is it lack of reads or is it lack of content? Why did they leave? We would never know. My own reads have been reduced due to my friends being busy, I don't let it bother me much.

I am not sure what else to say, maybe the site is dying as you say, maybe it isn't. Epinions took sometime to take off while another site I know of caters mostly to moms and housewives now because that is what the people there are more interested in. I will not say that that site that caters to moms is not successful, it is just different, but it is just more successful when it comes to cooking tools and recipes.

Let's just wait and see then...one thing I like here is the ability to write about anything...even vampires and zombies, God and religion, or anything else one wants to. That is a plus....Freedom to review should mean freedom (it is a right and not a privilege), as long as it is not made to promote bigotry, rascism, and other evil. It may be that it happens that there are more movies, books and sports to write about, that more people may be passionate about. People like what they like, but I havent seen any write ups about the Devil yet. Did you find some? I'd like to know what you are referring to.

Sorry the site's content is frustrating you, but I guess sometimes we just need to remember why we like to write and why we review. This usually keeps me from getting frustrated. I do hope you keep writing reviews.
January 05, 2012
Give me a tinkle if it's on its death bed! I've got some preparations to do, LOL!
January 05, 2012
hah. in a nutshell, People drive a website and content that may bore me may not be necessarily bore others and vice versa. It is all about what people want to contribute and say, as well as read. I never complained or to be precise frustrated when the site had more focus other than books, movies and music--there was a time when there was a lot of content on things similar to wiki, cars, sports (sorry I lost my interest in the NBA), politics, healthy blogs and food. I was content to be in my little corner with my movies. But I checked them out anyway...so I learned some things. So why can't vampires and zombies be interesting since the NBA certainly isn't interesting to me... ?

As for knowing when a site is on its way down, I wouldn't know. Paul may have a better idea. I am still in a small corner.
 
December 14, 2011
I'd like the site to catch on in academe, as well as the general public at large. That's why I started "Supercontents" which treats topics like the Artificial Sun, The Continent of Plasticsis, Saturn's Moon Titan and other complex topics which the major media covers rarely in depth.
January 05, 2012
Academic? I don't think movie goers (esp. the many who go for horror and action movies) are the academic type and they don't really mingle well. I'd be happy to see some regular folks stay around for it is!

No offense to your peers and reviews. Personally, Lunch.com is not where those people gather! In fact, it's a miracle to see you around Lunch.com for as long as you have! :)
January 05, 2012
as for academics, Sharrie, I do think it is subjective. I like movies in general, but I do have a college education. I mean someone well-educated in other things may not know the things I know--educated in the school of hard knocks and vice versa. Now if you are talking about people like the guys in the show THE BIG BANG THEORY then, nope they couldn't mingle. :)
January 05, 2012
Whole classes and groups of people could use this site to debate thesis topics of interest. This site would be perfect for academe because it could get important inputs from both the general public of readers and the college/university educated people on this site. And there are a lot of university people on this site already . i.e. JR, Arianna, Tunguz, yourself and many others.
 
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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Lunch is a social sharing network fueled by your curiosity. It's a community where you create and discover genuinely useful information with people who share your interests. Lunch is based on the idea that you'll have the most meaningful exchanges with people who get your sense of humor, taste in books, love of snowboarding or penchant for Pac-Man.

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