Live Video App Nom Wants to Harness the Hivemind for Better Cooking

YouTube co-creator wants you to live-stream your cooking for an audience of commenters.

Gregory Bourolias

For those who like to watch those one-minute Facebook and YouTube food recipe videos for hours, there’s now a new live streaming platform for home cooks, professional chefs, and foodies who want to share their experiences in the kitchen called Nom.

The site and iOS app, which has been available for download since Thursday, allows users to share live video of them cooking and interacting with viewers asking questions along the way. It’s like Periscope, Facebook’s new live-streaming, and the game streaming app Twitch except for cooks.

On Monday, Chen and Karunamurthy sat down with senior editor of Epicurious Matt Duckor at the South By Southwest conference in Austin to talk about taking what they saw at YouTube to develop Nom.

Imagine watching Bobby Flay prepare fish tacos from your laptop or iPhone and being able to type him a message about how long you should let the fish marinate or send a picture of how your dish looks if you’re following along. Right now on Nom, there are a few active live streams and channels of chefs giving demos of julienning vegetables or of simple pizza recipes.

Screenshot of a Nome livestream by HellthyJunkFood

Nom founders Steve Chen (who co-founded YouTube) and former YouTube Engineer Vijay Karunamurthy noticed that YouTube users were using the comment section to interact with video hosts, which inspired them to create a platform that allows for more natural back-and-forth conversation.

Chen introducing Nom at SXSW.

“Food ended up being a lot bigger than we thought,” Chen said Monday. “We think that food is a very small vertical, but every time we get together with family or friends, the conversation ends up being about food. I think there’s a lot more to food that people can identify with.”

Undoubtedly, people are obsessed with sharing food experiences. Karunamurthy’s Instagram feed is filled with posts of his friends’ meals. When they first started thinking about creating a live stream platform in 2009, Chen and Karunamurthy realized that a lot their tech ideas came about in Google’s cafeteria.

“Live video was something we were just getting our minds around, but we realized we were talking about the food we were eating as much as we were talking about tech ideas,” Karunamurthy said. “Food is such a part of our lives that we get inspired by what’s the next thing we’ll be eating.”

However, live streaming is still a new technology. “The world of live streaming feels a lot like when YouTube started,” Chen said. Duckor asked about YouTube’s early years, revealing that Chen had told him YouTube’s first iteration was actually an online video dating site.

“That’s what I told you, but I didn’t think we would talk about it on stage,” Chen laughed. “We started thinking, ‘what would be the actual practical application?’ And we thought dating would be the obvious choice.”

After five days, and zero uploads, the developers knew they needed to change the approach and decided to, “forget the dating aspect of it and just completely open it up to any video.”

Chen at SXSW.

Similar to YouTube’s early days, live streaming is still a bit awkward. People don’t really know what they should say during a live stream or how long they should be, explained Karunamurthy, which leads to more raw and improvised videos. But that’s what Chen and Karunamurthy are most excited about for Nom’s future.

“Just watching the few interactions on Nom, during the Nom cast itself a user was making asparagus soup and it takes an hour and a half to make this,” Chen said. “When she first made the soup, it was still runny. She asked the audience what she should do and there were actually chefs in the room who told her to add cornstarch. She didn’t have any cornstarch and eventually added in garbanzo beans.”

It’s like a choose your own adventure, Chen said: “You’re not just leaving a comment for others to see, but you’re also changing the outcome of where this video will go.”

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