In the summer of 2010, Jacob Baloul took a photo of a bowl of French onion soup he had just made and texted it to friends and family. Within seconds, he began receiving replies. Everyone, it seemed, thought that bowl of soup looked tasty, and most wanted to know how to make it.
It set Baloul to thinking: What if he could share photos of his culinary adventures not just with a handful of people, but with thousands? The idea grew into iMunchie (http://www.imunchie.com), the social network for foodies that has gone viral in the month since its launch.
Calling iMunchie "the Facebook for food, the LinkedIn for chefs, the Google for recipes, the Pandora for munchies, and the online version of the hit show Top Chef all in one," Baloul and his business partner, Bryan Pivik, have seen their membership explode right out of the gate. This is social networking with a niche focus.
"In the coming years we're going to see more isolated and specific social networks," Baloul explains. "Facebook has become the world of everything. A lot of noise goes on over there because people do everything there, but there is a large segment of people that want to get rid of the clutter. So we carved out the social network of food. Today it's iMunchie, tomorrow it may be a social network for doctors or sports enthusiasts."
Foodies, professional and amateur chefs, and home cooks have all embraced iMunchie. Members post pictures of the foods they make and chat about them the way they would across a cafe table. They get ideas for dinner or for their next party. They admire each other's latest creations. They engage in friendly competitions (complete with cash prizes) to see who can make the best holiday meal or fruity drink. They revel in food and friendship.
Those friendly competitions are a big part of iMunchie's rapid growth. Any iMunchie member can create a tournament and offer up a prize of $1 or more. Other members can compete for the prize by posting photos of foods they've made that fit the tournament's theme.
Current tournaments include "Most Decadent Dessert," with a $100 prize, and "New Year's 2012 Recipe Competition," with the largest iMunchie prize ever: $2,000.
iMunchie is not a traditional recipe site with calorie counts and step-by-step instructions. Nor is it a place where people have to fend off requests for help with virtual fish tanks or fashion empires.
iMunchie stands apart as a community of people making art with food and photos and sharing culinary inspiration.