Family Cookbook Guru Warns of Risks When Using Online Recipe Storage Websites

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Cookbook guru advocates keeping control of cherished heirloom recipes and cooking secrets on a private home computer with frequent system backups.

It is true you can always cancel, but why invite the aggravation in the first place?

Storing cherished family recipes using free online recipe websites may not be the best way to keep control of family heirloom recipes and family cooking secrets. According to cookbook software guru Erin Miller, keeping family recipes on a home computer offline is safer and provides greater personal control over who has access to them. Consequently, Miller's Idaho-based company, The Cookbook People( has created Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software for home use.

"We advocate keeping personal control of cherished family recipes by using an easily accessible cookbook and recipe management software stored on a home computer," says Miller. "The chance of losing control of family recipes by using an online digital recipe box is greater than most recipe enthusiasts realize."

Miller suggests that anyone considering online recipe storage ask the following questions before hitting the "I agree" button most websites require to register:

1. How long has the company/website been operating?
In these shaky economic times, businesses can quickly come and go, Miller cautions. What are the prospects of this company being around in a month, or years from now? A company storing your recipes online should be investigated as thoroughly as a job candidate, she says. "You may spend 100 hours typing in your favorite recipes. You don't want to lose all that work if the company vanishes."

2. Is free really free?
Although most online recipe storage websites are free, be sure to read the fine print before accepting the site's terms of agreement, Miller advises. Many online recipe storage websites can use a subscriber's recipes at will, even creating and selling cookbooks for a profit using family recipes without any compensation.

For example, here is a small excerpt from the actual terms of service from one popular online recipe storage website: "…By posting your content on or through the services, you are granting us a royalty free license to use, distribute, syndicate and display publicly your content, in whole or in part, in connection with the promotion and operation of the services and for any other legitimate business purpose…."

"That language is pretty scary if a subscriber is collecting recipes to create a cookbook for profit one day," notes Miller. "It is difficult to trust that a virtual entity will protect anything but its own interests."

Also, although the service may be free or inexpensive now, they may decide to charge much more later after the user has built up a recipe collection. Or they may decide to drastically increase the amount of advertising.

3. Is the website really a social network?
Many online recipe storage websites are social networks linking people with similar interests together. Sometimes there is subtle pressure to make friends via email messages from other subscribers. "If that is not your motivation for joining the site, think carefully before registering," Miller adds. "It is true you can always cancel, but why invite the aggravation in the first place?"

4. Does the website offer "public" or "private" options?
Do subscribers have the ability to choose to share recipes with the general Internet world, or to keep them password protected? When recipe searchers find a good recipe, they often copy and paste, without crediting their source. Miller asks: "Do you really want to see your Aunt Martha's prize-winning green bean cookie recipe appear on a major internet home page without proper credit being given? It can happen."

5. Can recipes be retrieved if they suddenly disappear?
Horror stories abound regarding recipes that have gone "poof" after hours of typing them into an online recipe storage website. Miller admits this happened to her before she created her own home-based cookbook software. She recommends that subscribers make sure the website has backup systems to at least recover yesterday's work. "Keeping family recipes on a home computer is much more secure," she affirms. "We emphasize using back up systems on most computers, as well as saving files off the hard drive."

6. What is the website's policy in case of a subscriber's death?
Miller suggests asking how online recipe storage websites clear accounts that have been deemed inactive. "Will a deceased subscriber's heirs need to show a death certificate to gain access to the family recipes -- assuming they even know about them?" she poses. "Is there a time limit on gaining access to a deceased's account? When does the account go dormant and is shut off?"

Many of these issues reflect the problems with a major new trend in software: cloud computing. Companies like Google are building applications that perform in the internet "cloud," without storing any information or programming on the user's computer. Cloud computing may provide word processing, spreadsheets, contact management or in this case recipe management. The recurring theme, however, is that the user gives up control over the data in exchange for an online service. In many instances, cloud computing may make sense. But users should always remember that when data is stored for them by a company, they lose some control of how they access that data and how that data is managed when they are not looking.

Admittedly, Miller says that it is hard to walk away from online recipe storage websites if subscribers already have a huge collection of recipes online. However, Miller's cookbook software makes it possible to regain control of cherished family recipes without any outside involvement. "That's because I believe the best way to manage your family recipes is from your own computer -- off line and in control," she affirms. "I could've just as easily started an online recipe storage website like all the others. I didn't."

Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software® 4.0 features easy-to-use cookbook templates for adding family recipes, stories, addresses, birthdays, and photographs; an automatic formatting system with 27 design options to get professional-looking results; and the ability to do it all on a home computer and printer without the cost of outside cookbook vendors or losing control of recipes online.

Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software® 4.0 CD is available through or at the family cookbook site The software is available at both websites for $34.95. A software CD plus cookbook easy binding kit is also available for $39.90 through, as well as a free video demonstration of the software's features.


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