A bunch of my friends will occasionally post pictures of their meals on facebook -- either because they're eating out somewhere particularly awesome or because they've cooked something themselves which they want everybody to see. I can't imagine anyone wanting to photograph everything they eat just for the sake of keeping track of it, though.
Definitely need an iPhone/Android/whatever app. Email is too much effort.
Also, a facebook app. Once food photos start showing up in my newsfeed with "Posted from eat.ly" under them, I might start checking it out.
I'd de-emphasise the "health" and "calorie counting" side of things and play up the "food porn" side of things. I don't want everybody to know about the boring healthy salad I had for lunch today, but I do for some reason want everybody to know about the delicious foie gras risotto I had at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon the other night (as proven by the fact that I just found a way to brag about it in this very comment. nom nom nom)
Maybe provide a way to rate things by delicious-looking-ness? (You might want to think of a better word than delicious-looking-ness.) People could compete to have the most delicious-looking food on the entire site (like hotornot but without quite as much potential for ego shattering).
The app wasn't entirely appealing to me until I saw this. If you did this, I'd use it. (not sure if there are other players in this space)
The problem with them is that counting calories is too damn much work, so adding an extra step, where you take a photo of your food and then count the calories in it, doesn't seem like a huge gain. On the other hand, I suppose if you had photos of everything you'd eaten you could more easily count the calories only once every couple of days.
Still, I think you'll need to decide between "food porn" and "healthy eating" rather than try both, since they're pretty much opposed.
Before you change your vision, have you considered reducing the friction to use the site? Having to email photos and put in the name of the restaurant is cumbersome compared to opening a phone app and taking a picture that automatically gets posted to the site with your location from the phone's gps.
What sets this site apart from the other food photo based sites?
When I go to Yelp to search for a restaurant, the filters I have available are type of restaurant, proximity, rating and price. My next step is to either sort by those filters, or individually click a restaurant. Looking at an individual restaurant, my options for consideration are photos of the restaurant, consisting of either interior/exterior or images of the food, and user reviews. The user reviews consist of reviews about the service, atmosphere and food, but I have to chug through each review to get this type of specific information. And with a task of choosing a restaurant and having to repeat these sets of actions is immensely tedious.
A way to discover restaurants near me that I can discover by their actual dishes. The user flow would be this -> I'm in the mood for a burger. Show me restaurants that serve burgers. I get a range of places from diners to more high-end to delis and more, but instead if getting a list of joints, I get a sortable grid of user's burger photos from places near me. Then, all I need to do is say, that burger is the one I want and, barring other misc info such as price or needing reservations and what not, I will go there and get the burger that I saw with my own eyes.
The advantage you will have over Yelp is that While Yelp provides a way to discover restaurants by very general filters, you will provide a way to directly discover restaurants by the actual individual dishes.
As a side note, think about when you go to a restaurant and get a menu that has pictures. It gives so much more reference to choosing a dish, because the mystery is taken out of the equation. Your service would do exactly this. Remove the mystery of what you're going to a restaurant for.
Also, while you can see some food items on Yelp in the individual restaurant pages, #1 they come with no context and #2 I can only access these photos on these individual pages which is tedious.
There you have it.
So with the above idea, I would recommend the user need only simply 3 things: 1) photo 2) restaurant 3) whether they liked it or not and an optional 4) description.
If it's an iPhone app then you automatically pull geolocation, but if it's through email, I'm not sure how this would be done and you'd have to explore what you can do.
Food is pretty hard to photograph well, we tend to have overly high standards for what a good food photo looks like because of all the food porn around these days. Just like regular porn, the real thing is going to look a little different. If your users hate the pictures they're getting when they take pictures of their food, they're never going to upload them. They'll probably give up completely after a couple of attempts.
- Android/iPhone app indeed seems like a must, maybe not even so much for ease (tho that would help), but for branding of Eat.ly as a legit product in the consumer's eyes.
- I wouldn't be into the health aspect personally, but I would be into the food porn aspect. It seems too complicated guessing calories etc. BUT maybe you can have two "modes". Turn on "Food Porn" and that is what you get, switch to "Health Porn" and that's what you get. I probably would peek at both.
- This is probably not doable, but if you could integrate menus (like menupages) and calorie counts from restaurants, people could take the picture, pick the food (like on foursquare you pick the venue) and post. Food numbers would come along.
- Single player mode would work better in health mode than food porn mode. You could have numbers to strive for, but then why would you post pictures really? You could just post food.
- Multi player mode could work for sexiest looking food, or for "I'd Eat That!" points. Maybe unlock a badge swarm style.
- Not to mix day job with side project, but it could be pretty sweet to integrate the Eat.ly app (if there will be one) with a "post to foursquare" option so that if you check in your foursquare status can have an eat.ly link to a picture.
For the "pivot" i'd perhaps suggest trying to get people to document recipes with multiple pictures, this lets you target the more hard core user. Theres an excellent blog that i love reading that gives a good example of what im describing: http://smittenkitchen.com/
How I roughly imagined it:
Scrap the calorie count. Unless you're at a fast food restaurant where it's posted on the menu, people really are bad at guestimating these things.
Change the health ranking to a taste ranking, and have it be for specific dishes at specific restaurants. While Foodspotting is sort of playing in that space, they are just asking people to submit pics of stuff they like, sans rating. While it's great to know what people like, I also want to know what to avoid. And it's much harder to sort through comments than it is to glance at numerical ratings.
Use case: I go to Corner Bistro for the first time. I do a search for Corner Bistro on Eatly. I see that Eric has had the cheeseburger and that Mike has had the chili and fries. With ratings added, I see Eric gave the burger a 9, but Mike gave the chili a 5, so I'm going with the burger.
In the same vein, using tags and descriptions, aggregate photos and average scores for menu items at restaurants. So I look up Corner Bistro, and I'm presented with a photo (the top ranked photo?) and average taste rank for each item on the menu. It's the Waffle House of Menupages [and I just created a new vertical].
And, yes, eventually it could suggest restaurants and dishes based on my activity and that of friends.
Obviously need to make the entry process as frictionless as possible. Few different thoughts there:
1) Expand current email capabilities, a la Posterous. Use special characters to note the restaurant name, add tags, rate the item, etc.
2) Automate and outsource: map EXIF data to restaurants (imagine you guys could find a database like that somewhere...), superusers for aggregating and tagging, etc.
3) And has been mentioned, iPhone app that makes it all pretty and easy
You could also run contests for users - each week a different dish. Submit the most beautiful salad, win a prize.
Finally, promoting the site through restaurant weeks might work out well. There are 120+ restaurants participating in Philly's restaurant week right now. Best photo wins another meal.
In other comments, people are saying the iPhone app is important. I think they already know this, and what would be more interesting to them is any shortcuts they could take to build their iPhone app.
I think they ought to find an iPhone developer who has developed an app similar to what would be needed for eat.ly, and is in a similar position where they are enthusiastic about startups but not doing it full-time.