Foodspotting: I’ll Have What She’s Tagging

As a foodie, I was really excited by the idea of Foodspotting: take a photo of your meal whenever you’re out to dinner, and share it with the world; then, browse photos of dishes other people have tagged to see what looks good around you. There are plenty of websites and apps that aggregate reviews of restaurants’ decor, service, atmosphere, and general food quality, and mini-reviews of the menu items themselves should complement this nicely.

Unfortunately, the Android app has a few flaws that keep it from living up to its potential. Read on to find out what they are, and whether that’s a big deal.

Overview

Upon first opening the app (which is completely free), you’ll be greeted by a food photo taken somewhere near you. I saw this Masala dosa from a nearby restaurant:

Masala Dosa

This is a great first impression, showing off what the app is about without insisting that you log in first or tap to let it find my location or whatever. And this is actually just the first photo of a list, which is easy to scroll through, or to sort by “Latest” or “Best” using the tabs at the top. The little globe button lets you see the snapshots on a map, with the usual panning and zooming controls, and you can tap any of them to find out more:

The Map View

After tapping the “more info” button that appears, you can view how many people want to try the dish and how many recommend it, and also see what others think of the submitters photography skills and ability to search out such cuisine. Sometimes there’s also a short review of the dish, or a summary of what’s in it.

More info about a particular dish/photo.

Foodspotting sticks to its position of being about the dishes rather than the restaurant. Tapping the name of the place brings up a tiny Google map of its location (with the option to load it in the Maps app) and, occasionally, some other details, like the URL of the restaurant’s website. There’s no star rating of the restaurant, no link to it in Google Places, and no listing from review sites like Qype or Urbanspoon. Curiously, there’s also no easy way to get from one dish’s photo to a list of other photos taken at the same restaurant — although you can at least search for the restaurant on a map to find out what else is there.

That covers looking at other snaps. What about adding a new one? For this, you tap the little camera icon, which gives you the choice of taking a photo live or uploading one you took earlier.

I first tested this out by adding a photo of a meal I’d eaten a few days earlier. The app takes this photo and crops it to fit in a square; it’s a little annoying — the rest of the image is truly lost; it can’t be revealed with a pinch-to-zoom-out — but keeps everything consistent.

A photo I took, automatically cropped to a square.

After adding the photo, you’re asked where it was taken. The search looks for places near you, which makes sense, but I took this photo at a chain diner some distance away (meaning there were several entries with the same name in the list), and unfortunately the app seems to ignore any street or town names you enter in the search box. I just added a new location; since the app doesn’t offer a way to narrow a photo search by location, it doesn’t matter if the same place is in there twice, right? This lets you enter the address of the place, or find it on another of those tiny Google maps.

The two screens to help you pick a location.

Later on, I tried this “live” at a different restaurant, taking the photo from within the app and using GPS to locate me. The process is virtually identical other than not having to enter an address; you just leave the pin in the map.

Next, you enter the name of the food (or pick from a list, if someone’s eaten there before and entered the menu items), and enter a short review (with optional hashtags). You can also “nom” the food (the equivalent of a Facebook Like or a Google +1), and of course share it on various social networks.

At this point you’ll be asked to log in; you can either use your Facebook account or create a new one. Personally I find it a little irritating not to be able to log in via my Google Account on my Google Android phone, but it’s no big deal; creating a new account only requires name, email, and password.

That’s it! The review is in the Foodspotting database, and can be found on the website. All good, right? Well… not quite.

Lack of Polish

The app looks nice, in general — and since its focus is on food photography, it should! — but there are a few places where its presentation falls down.

For instance, it supports landscape mode, but not very well:

Landscape mode. Doesn't really fit.

There’s also no ability to do any post-processing on a photo; you can change brightness, contrast, flash and the other standard camera options before snapping a picture, but can’t rotate or crop it afterwards (other than the auto-cropping the app does to make it a square). I actually saw a few photos in the system that were on their side — and of course I couldn’t rotate the phone to look at them.

The map search is also wonky. There haven’t been many photos taken in my local area, so I searched for “Chicago”… and got a deep-dish pizza around 200 miles from me, in the UK. That’s not what I intended, but it does make sense. Next I tried manually zooming out, panning the map, and zooming in on Chicago; I tapped “Scan for foods in map area” and nothing came up. Eventually I realised that the search for “Chicago” was still active, and the app will only search for local foods; in other words, you can’t do a search and scan for foods in the visible area at the same time.

But, to be fair, while these are all examples of a sloppy UI, none of them are major problems. I can just hold the phone upright to avoid landscape mode; I can take a photo with a separate app and process it there before uploading it; and if I really need to look for photos of pizzas in Chicago, I can just use the web app.

Unfortunately, there’s one big flaw I can’t dismiss.

The Geotagging Doesn’t Work

After I uploaded that photo from the Little Chef, I eagerly loaded the website on my computer to see it appear on the map. I had entered the address (copied from the Little Chef website), but it did not appear. Hmm. Maybe it just takes time?

I looked at my profile, and could see it there, though, with the address:

The location *is* there. Clicking that link takes me to it on Google Maps.

…but in my dashboard, it’s listed as having “no location”:

Whoops.

On my phone, the image is correctly listed as being taken at the Little Chef on the Black Cat A1, but tapping the link places it in an empty void:

Location not found?

Hold on… that’s still a map. Let’s see:

Pretty sure I didn't go here for dessert.

Pinch-to-zoom reveals that, actually, it’s not in a void, it’s just in the middle of the ocean (presumably some default spot for dishes without a location). Tapping the button marked “Black Cat A1″ does take me to the correct location in Google Maps, though, further confusing things.

And, yes, the same thing happens with the photos I tagged using my GPS, even though the little Google Map on the upload screen pinpointed my location exactly, and gave me no indication that it would forget about this and assume I meant “in the ocean vaguely near the Gulf of Guinea” instead.

This can’t be a problem that affects everyone. I suppose all the photos snapped near me could have been taken by an iPhone or uploaded via the web app, but that doesn’t explain the great reviews this app is getting on the Android Market (though there are some that complain of the same issue). Maybe the geotagging just doesn’t work in the UK? Maybe it’s an issue with my specific handset and Android version?

And Yet…

Obviously the broken geotagging is a huge failing, but the app isn’t a complete bust without it. It’s still a great tool for browsing through photos of food taken near you, which can be a much more appetising way of deciding where to eat than sifting through reviews. (Some will find flicking through these images a great way to while away time even if not planning to eat out.) And the app still lets you keep track of what you’ve eaten and what you thought of it, and share that with your friends, even if it forgets where you were.

Maybe you’ll be lucky, and the geotagging will for for you. In that case, this is a great app that you’ll enjoy (barring minor UI issues), assuming you’re a foodie. Being able to see actual photos and opinions of dishes you haven’t tried feels much more useful than gaining points for turning up at the same place over and over again.

Even if the geotagging is broken for you, I recommend checking the app out anyway; you can still get some use out of it, and I dare say they’ll fix the problem in a future update.


Summary

Snap photos of dishes at restaurants, and look at what's served nearby. A great idea, with a disappointingly buggy execution.

7
  • http://www.foodspotting.com Ted Grubb

    Hi Michael,

    First of all I really appreciate your honesty and the level of detail in your post. So many reviewers write without really digging into the application. You have some great points and expose some missing features and bugs that we’re currently working on. We’re a development team of 4 so we have to pick and choose what we work on carefully.

    1. Place pages are coming to Android

    Currently it’s just a small map, but it will become more of a visual menu for that restaurant with a personalized view of what your friends are recommending or what we think you might find interesting.

    2. Photo Cropping

    We crop photos into squares because we see it as a good fit across multiple formats (web, mobile). Many others (like Instagram) have adopted this format as well. We will be adding a zoom/crop tool to the android app to let you define how you want your photo to look within that format.

    3. Landscape Mode

    We added landscape support in our 3rd beta release for those devices with physical flip out keyboards. I agree it looks like shite in landscape, but we thought it was more important for those users to be able to search without tilting their heads. We will revisit the layout problems in landscape or figure out a way to only support landscape when the keyboard is out.

    4. Search vs Setting Location.

    In our iPhone app you have the ability to search by keyword (dish/restaurant) or location (city, neighborhood, country). Our first goal for Android was to make sure the “local” experience worked well. Location search will be coming to Android very soon.

    5. Geocoding

    We use several of the top geocoders for forward geocoding so when a location can’t be found it’s most likely because the geocoder can’t give us a definitive location based off the address given. When this happens we save what the user typed in, but set the latitude and longitude to 0,0 (somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea).

    We are constantly working to improve place matching and geocoding. And sadly the geocoders we use don’t have great coverage outside of the US. In the future if you have this problem you can flag it as “Wrong Location” and someone here will take a look at it and try to correct it.

    Again I really appreciate this post and would love to hear any other feedback you have. You can always email me directly (ted at foodspotting dot com) or use one of our support channels (www.foodspotting.com/about/contact)

    Cheers,
    Ted

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      Hey Ted, thanks so much for commenting! And sorry it’s taken me so long to reply; I went on holiday and missed this comment.

      Oh, I realise that you have to prioritise and having some bugs is inevitable — to be honest, most of them didn’t annoy me. Place pages sound like a great addition, but the lack of them wasn’t a huge problem. Photo cropping is not a big problem, but I’m glad you’re including a preview. And I assumed that you were prioritising local search; frankly, I’m not really worried about looking up photos that are of specific types of food and in a specific country when on my mobile :)

      What you said about landscape mode is really interesting; I will bear that in mind for other apps we review that have odd landscape modes.

      The one big problem is geocoding: the real issue is that the app gives no indication that something’s gone wrong. If it said, “There are several results for that address. Did you mean…”, or “We couldn’t pinpoint you via GPS. Please type in the address instead,” or even, “Oops! Something went wrong. We’ve automatically flagged this location and will try to correct it shortly,” then it’d still be irritating, but at least it wouldn’t feel broken.

      Anyway, good to hear you’re working on all this :) I’ll definitely keep an eye on the app!

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