SAN FRANCISCO There are magazines, television shows and books about food. So why not a social network?
That's the thinking behind online lifestyle publisher Glam Media's newest offering. On Thursday, the company launched Foodie.com, a social network devoted entirely to the gastronomic crowd.
The move represents an important expansion for Glam into the ever-popular, advertising-friendly world of food-related media, from restaurant reviews to recipes. In a change from its traditional practice of creating websites that showcase articles about fashion and health, Glam is betting that food lovers want a specialized social network to indulge their palates.
Users of Foodie.com can create profiles for the service with their existing Facebook or Twitter credentials. Once signed-on to the social network, they can follow chefs and food writers, share their own musings and dig through a recipe finder, among other activities.
Glam has enlisted more than 100 food writers and bloggers, as well as an advisory board of culinary experts including food critic Patricia Wells and Iron Chef winner Geoffrey Zakarian, to produce content for the service.
The launch of Foodie.com comes as Glam moves closer to an initial public offering. The seven-year-old company met with bankers late last year and is expected to file a prospectus for an offering in the second quarter, sources have previously told Reuters.
Facebook, the world's No.1 online social network, filed a prospectus last week to raise $5 billion in what would be the largest IPO in Silicon Valley history.
Glam Chief Executive Samir Arora said there was room for a specialized social network about food to live alongside Facebook. Most people will be active on three to four online social networks, Arora told Reuters in an interview.
People who are passionate about food will make Foodie.com one of their three or four standard social networks, he predicted. Other people will visit when they need a recipe or they're looking for a restaurant.
He noted that the demand from advertisers is especially high. In the first quarter of 2011, Arora said that food companies accounted for Glam's largest chunk of ad revenue -- a period of time before Glam Media offered any significant content about food.
"What that told us was that food brand advertisers really wanted Glam to create a food channel. And they did it by voting with their ad dollars," he said. Among the first advertisers launching campaigns on Foodie.com are General Mills, Betty Crocker and Dannon, Arora said.
The launch of Foodie.com is the first result of Glam's September purchase of Ning, an also-ran social networking service started by Netscape creator Marc Andreessen. Glam acquired the company for $150 million, according to people familiar with the matter.
Arora said he expected to create more specialized social networking sites devoted to specific areas of interest this year using the Ning technology.
And Glam will also take a step into the old media world: The company plans to offer printed guidebooks about food, such as compendiums of the top 100 restaurants for different regions or types of food.
That will pit Glam against the popular Michelin guidebooks and the Zagat family of guidebooks, which was recently acquired by Google Inc (GOOG.O).
Arora said the Glam books will be able to rank a broader range of restaurants and types of food than the competition by using expertise from food critics as well as social data gleaned on the Foodie.com service.
"There's a place for Zagat and Michelin, but they are not solving the real problem which is how do you fuse social networking and journalism," said Arora.
(Reporting By Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Bernard Orr)