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Going by the numbers

July 13, 2011

This evening, I’ve been playing around with a few numbers to try to get a better sense of how features are being used on the site.  I figure these could be interesting data to cross-reference with some of the trends that will shortly be obtained from the user survey that went out on Monday.  In the spirit of openness, and all around reader curiosity, I’ve decided to share some of these numbers.

Rather than focusing on raw success metrics of the site (how popular it is, user growth, how often the average user comes back, etc) I’ve decided to make this a post on raw feature usage.  The idea is to help decide which features should be done away with and which features are worth looking at in further detail.  Enjoy!

Percentage of users who use the shopping list: 13.8%

This metric includes the percentage of user accounts who currently have at least one item saved in their shopping list.  This doesn’t include users who have previously used the shopping list, but currently don’t have any items stored.

Percentage of users who use the calendar: 6.1%

This is the percentage of users who have recipes saved somewhere on their calendar (either in the past or the future).  This is a pretty good representation of the calendar’s popularity (or, lack there-of) since very few users will go remove all their recipes from the calendar and right now, I don’t automatically clean up old entries.

Percentage of users who use the pantry: 10.3%

Currently, this is the percentage of users who have at least one ingredient saved in their pantry.  Again, it does not include users who have used the pantry in the past but currently don’t have any items saved.

Percentage of users who have recipes in their cookbook: 16.6%

This percentage of users has at least one recipe they’ve liked enough to save it to their personal cookbook.

Percentage of users who have blacklisted ingredients: 1.4%

Only a small fraction of users have decided to blacklist an ingredient.  It could be that this feature is very hard to discover (it only appears in the account profile page), or perhaps people just don’t find it very useful.

Percentage of users who have commented on a recipe: 2.0%

Leaving a comment on a recipe is definitely quite easy to do; perhaps users just don’t really care enough to share their feedback, or they don’t quite get a sense of community when using KitchenPC.  For all I know, this is the same percentage on major recipe websites.

Percentage of users who have rated a recipe: 2.0%

This is one statistic I’d really be interested in improving.  I spent quite a bit of time working on features that take the user’s previous ratings into account while finding other recipes.  The “Suggested Recipes” on the home page does this, as well as the meal planner.  I would for sure be interested in finding a good way to encourage recipe ratings.

Average recipes in calendar: 3.5

The average user who has used the calendar has an average of 3.5 recipes.  This is at least a little encouraging, as it suggests people have actually given the calendar a shot and tried it out with a few recipes.  The top calendar user currently has 35 recipes on their calendar.

Average pantry items: 7.2

The average user who has a pantry has around 7.2 ingredients stored.  What’s interesting about this is the range of this number, which goes from a single item up to 88 items.  I’m very curious as to who’s using the pantry feature to store 88 different ingredients and amounts.  Perhaps they have a use-case for this that I haven’t really thought of.  I might dig more into these “anomalous accounts” and see what they’ve been up to on the site.

Average blacklisted items: 3.8

Though this feature is almost entirely not used, it’s interesting to see that the average user stores 3.8 ingredients they want to avoid.

Average shopping list size: 10.2

The average active shopping list has 10.2 items, which I would guess positively correlates with the average number of ingredients in a single recipe.  For those of you who are curious, the biggest shopping list in the database is 120 items.

Top 10 most popular ingredients in a shopping list:

This is a list of the top ten most popular shopping list items, and how many users have each item on their list.

  1. Eggs: 60
  2. salt: 58
  3. all-purpose flour: 50
  4. onions: 49
  5. olive oil: 40
  6. garlic: 40
  7. black pepper: 40
  8. granulated sugar: 38
  9. chicken breasts: 36
  10. unsalted butter: 34
Obviously, these ingredients correlate to the popularity of the ingredients across recipes.  This means that users are mostly generating shopping lists based on recipes they plan on cooking.  It also means that users probably don’t bother to remove ingredients they already have, since a lot of these things (such as salt, flour and sugar) are things most people have sitting in the pantry.  Perhaps the average user prints out the shopping list and just crosses things off that they already have.  It could be argued that people cannot be bothered to check their inventory while on their computer, they just want to tally up what they need and don’t really see the shopping list as a “master list of things to buy” as the name suggests.  I did allude to this behavior in one of my survey questions, so we’ll see if my theory can be strengthened by those results.
Top 10 most popular pantry items:
  1. All-purpose flour: 25
  2. chicken breasts: 24
  3. white rice: 18
  4. eggs: 18
  5. granulated sugar: 18
  6. light brown sugar: 17
  7. pasta (spaghetti): 15
  8. soup – cream of mushroom: 14
  9. olive oil: 14
  10. garlic: 13

This statistic strongly argues how misunderstood the pantry feature is.  Almost every item on there is a fairly common ingredient, many appearing in shopping lists as well.  Furthermore, ingredients such as flour, rice, sugar, pasta, and olive oil are ingredients that have a pretty long shelf life.  These are not ingredients users would want to purposely create meal plans against to use up.  I think users still feel that the pantry is intended as an inventory management solution, and I get the feeling that users are simply “trying out” this feature rather than using it for anything too serious.

Top 10 most common blacklisted ingredients:

  1. crimini mushrooms: 3
  2. whole turkey: 2
  3. blue cheese: 1
  4. pink salmon: 1
  5. smoked bratwurst: 1
  6. guacamole: 1
  7. raw shrimp: 1
  8. baby zucchini: 1
  9. turkey legs: 1
  10. chicken breasts: 1
I almost didn’t include this list, since it’s probably not statistically representative of any sort of user trend or behavior.  However, I look at it and find it rather humorous.  With the exception of perhaps “raw shrimp”, none of the ingredients listed are really things you’d want to “blacklist” for any legitimate health reason or allergy.  I was expecting these things to be things like nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, etc.  It could be that this list simply represents a set of users trying out this feature to see how it works.
What does it all mean?

I think the first thing people will notice is there’s really no “killer feature” of KitchenPC.  It still appears to be a playground that a few curious early adopters are toying around with, but not using for anything seriously.  This could mean the site really doesn’t address any valid user scenarios, or it could be the user experience is lacking and no one has really taken the necessary time to figure out the site.

To me, it means I can feel a lot more comfortable making bold decisions or major architectural changes without the risk of annoying too many customers.  It also means the meal planning aspect of the site is either not very useful, or too difficult to use and doesn’t really convince any users to change their habits.

I also think there are some improvements I can make around “closing the loop” on the meal planner.  Right now, it seems scheduled recipes get somewhat lost on the calendar, and the user has no accountability to report back on whether they made those things or not.  Services such as NetFlix really take advantage of this loop, as they can email users after watching a movie to comment on it, rate the picture quality, or provide a rating on the movie itself.  I need to think of a way to do the same with recipes.  I’ve talked in previous posts about scrapping the idea of a calendar in general, and providing an “upcoming meal queue” that would have an associated real-time shopping list.  When the user gets around to making one of these recipes, they’d simply “de-queue” the item from the list and right then and there I could ask them to rate it or provide feedback.

I hope to really be able to drill down into the survey feedback to get a sense of what users think of the site.  I think reading the free-form comments left by each user will be very enlightening.  I do expect to easily pass 100 user responses in the survey, which is plenty of data to make some business decisions based on.

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