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Monki See Monki Do

August 6, 2010

Recently, I ran across a brand new web site called Kitchen Monki.  This site offers a one-stop shop for meal planning and recipe management, and I have to say at first glance it looks like they are off to a fantastic start.  For meal planning, their grocery list generation really works well and combines ingredients correctly.  As someone who’s implemented this functionality, I have to give them kudos for making this work so well.

It’s pretty apparent that they ran across a lot of the same design challenges as I did.  For example, being able to work with multiple recipes at the same time requires some sort of mechanism to generate temporary lists.  On KitchenPC, I call this the clipboard.  Users can add a bunch of recipes to the clipboard, then work with that clipboard as a whole; create aggregated shopping lists, drag some on to the calendar, etc.  Kitchen Monki implements something similar called the “queue.”  When viewing a recipe, you can enqueue recipes or “de-queue” them.  Both the queue and clipboard are intended to solve the same problem; allow the user to browse the site collecting recipes, then work with that set using the site’s meal planning tools.

They also have a meal calendar.  It only shows a single day at a time, but each day is organized by section (breakfast, lunch, snack, appetizer, dinner and dessert.)  I had considered this approach but decided a more freeform solution might be more popular.  From the meal planner page, you can drag recipes from your queue onto one of the sections.  This seems to be designed for planning a single day at a time, rather than my approach of planning an entire week at once.  Based on my survey, about 65% of people will plan meals days in advance.

Kitchen Monki also agrees with my decision to support custom ingredients.  When typing in an ingredient, it attempts to auto-complete the ingredient for you.  If no matches are found, it displays what you typed with the word “Custom:” in front.  Coincidently, this is nearly identical to how mine works.  Ingredients don’t have different form types, which makes me curious how they aggregate ingredient amounts across forms.  I have a feeling my ingredient aggregation still might be a little bit more accurate, but I’d have to dig in to their site more to find out.  This probably doesn’t matter too much if all the user does is print out a list for the store, but since I have some more advanced meal planning tools lined up, super accurate ingredient aggregation is a higher priority for me.

It’s apparent that Kitchen Monki is more geared towards managing your own collection of recipes, as recipes can be made private or shared only with certain people.  These are features I’ve been considering, but probably won’t be introduced until I find enough user demand.  Right now, all KitchenPC recipes are public.  Kitchen Monki also plays well in the Web 2.0 world, allowing users to share recipes on social networking sites.  They also have solid Facebook integration, allowing users to login with their Facebook account and “Like” a recipe.  The latter feature is something I’ve been meaning to do.

I do really enjoy the branding efforts behind Kitchen Monki.  It’s a bit more playful of a site, using a cartoon monkey clad in a chef’s hat and oven mits.  They carry the simian theme throughout the site, also using bananas to rate recipes.  I think one drawback of the name is the misspelling of monkey.  When talking about the site verbally, you would have to explicitly point out, “Yes check out KitchenMonki.com, that’s monkey with an i at the end.”  However, domain names are hard to come by these days so there’s probably not a lot to be done there.

I also find the user interface a little bit cluttered.  Performing simple actions (such as adding a meal to the calendar or generating a shopping list) takes multiple mouse clicks or spans multiple pages.  Working with the recipe queue is a bit cumbersome, even I have a few ideas on how to get rid of the need for my clipboard.  Hopefully they’ll get their UI ironed out over the next few revisions.  Good UI design is not an easy task.  I think they have the features users want, so long as those users are willing to learn how to use the site.

Though Kitchen Monki is competition, I’m glad I ran across the site.  It shows that other entrepreneurs are thinking about the need for better online meal planning tools, and the success of Kitchen Monki means that there’s a viable market demand for this sort of site.  I would much rather face other competitors in this space than face defeat through complete lack of demand for my site.

One area that I think KitchenPC will stand out over Kitchen Monki is helping cooks maximize their ingredients and minimize waste.  Kitchen Monki has no concept of a pantry, it doesn’t know what ingredients I have and am trying to use, and it doesn’t have the ability to help me generate a meal plan that will focus on using my available ingredients and analyzing my trends and ratings to come up with recipes that I’ll like.  I think these features put me in a slightly different market than Kitchen Monki.  Whereas Kitchen Monki is more of a data management tool for organizing your recipes (the author equates himself to the “iTunes of recipes”,) KitchenPC is more of a meal planning tool designed to help you figure out what to cook.  This means the recipe management tools of KitchenPC will not be as well developed because, well, that’s not my goal.  It also means the meal planning tools of Kitchen Monki will not be as well developed because, well, that’s not their goal.

It’ll be interesting to see where Kitchen Monki goes, I wish them tons of success.

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