This week chef to the stars Niall Harbison launched a social network aimed a food lovers, iFoods.tv. They're touting it as "Facebook for foodies." The site is basically a social network formed around a library of video tutorials produced in the familiar TV instructional style. In the press release we were sent, iFoods.tv made a big deal of all the famous people Harbison had cooked for, dropping names like Victoria Beckham, Bill Gates, Bono, and Mariah Carey.

But of course, there are only three things that really matter for this site: the quality of the video instruction, the quality of the social network, and, of course, the recipes.

iFoods.tv begs two comparisons: Rouxbe, a professionally produced video cooking channel we reviewed in June, and Open Source Food, which is a popular and well design food social network.

On the video side of things, iFoods.tv stacks up pretty well. While they don't have some of the bells and whistles that Rouxbe provides (like a custom flash player that has a chapter breakdown by recipe steps), Niall Harbison is a very charismatic host who knows his way around the kitchen. The videos are very well edited, easily digestible (pun completely intended), and well shot. Only complaint: they need to get a better light kit -- some of the videos tended to be really dark.

What started as a hobby blog on Blogspot in February for Harbison, who runs a high class catering service (as alluded to more than once in the press release we received), turned into a full time job over the past month with the launch of iFoods.tv. The site has 80 videos that run 4-10 minutes each. 25 of the videos are free and 55 are behind a subscription wall (about US$55/year). iFoods.tv plans to add new videos to their library on a constant basis.

The social network, on the other hand, is less impressive. I'm not sure "Facebook for foodies" is a very good pitch, and there appears to be very little like Facebook in iFoods.tv. The social networking aspect of the site feels more akin to MySpace (sans the HTML editing), with simple profiles, a comment wall, and friends. There doesn't appear to be any very good way to hook up with people, say for example find people who like to cook the same cuisine, or who live in my area and might want to attend a cooking class together.

The most promising part of the social networking side of the site is that they encourage people to share videos -- standard fare on many social networking sites, though presumably the idea here is to share cooking instruction videos. It's not clear if they would be added to the main library, however, and there seems to be little incentive to do so.

On the video blogging front, iFoods.tv definitely holds its own with the competition, but when it comes to social networking, it falters. Open Source Food, a social food site where people share recipes, excels in that area. People are encouraged to share and rate recipes (though not video recipes) on that site with the incentive of earning certain status badges. Though it does not even have specific friending features, communication between member on OSF is a lot more fluid than it is on iFoods.tv.

Conclusion

iFoods.tv should stick to what it does best: an excellent, informative, and entertaining web cooking show. They should build a social network of fans, and not a social network of chefs (amateur or otherwise). Make the site more about promoting Harbison's videos (and driving fans toward paid subscription) than getting people to share and post their own videos.

Embedded below is one of iFoods.tv's videos released on YouTube.