We recently added a Knowledge Base to the Biscotto di Sorrento website—the ultimate pizza oven knowledge base) and I thought I would explain a little bit more about our thinking, and why we’re doing it.

A lot of things have changed over the past 20-odd years since I created the Forno Bravo Forum. The Internet was still new and fresh in the early 2000s when I started the company, wrote the Pompeii Oven book, and launched the forum. Yahoo had created Yahoo Group, and there was a small group of enthusiasts chatting online about Alan Scott ovens and other large brick bread ovens. But they weren’t receptive or welcoming to someone talking about pizza ovens, Italy and the choice between a precast pizza oven or a brick one. Plus, the Yahoo Groups structure was very rudimentary.

So I learned how to install and support forum software, and off we went. It was all a lot of fun. These were the days before social media took off, and our users spend a huge amount of time on the forum, chatting, talking about building ovens, making pizza and cooking just about everything imaginable. At one point in the late 2000s, Fornobravo.com had one million page views per month, and the Pompeii Oven book had been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. Of course Facebook came along and then Reddit and Instagram, and you know the rest of the story. Forums pretty much dried up.

But a fundamental question still remains. How do you learn how to do something complicated? Not brain surgery, but something still pretty complicated, like a pizza oven, where there are lots of rights and wrongs. And because you are dealing with the physical world, not the world a politics, marketing, or social media, there are physical, real-world consequences of making wrong decisions. Stuff falls down or doesn’t work properly if it isn’t built correctly. Assuming your neighbor or a friend isn’t a real expert at building pizza ovens, how do you do your research, and learn? How do you find the answers to questions. One of the advantages of a well-run forum used to be that it was moderated, and the person who did the moderating was an expert (and willing to dedicate a lot of time to the task). Again, that has pretty much died. And searching through forum archives doesn’t really work. You never find what you’re looking for, and what you do find typically contradicts something someone else said.

Reddit is reasonable, and occasionally someone will answer a question with the right information, but as often as not, the person answering doesn’t have a clue about what they’re talking about, and their “information” will send you over a cliff.

Producers and suppliers might know what they’re talking about, but not consistently, and individual sales people are often clueless, but willing to guess and pass along the wrong information. Plus, they’re trying to give you a version of the truth that would cause you to purchase a product from them (or shield themselves from any liability that might arise from a problem). So they definitely are not trustworthy.

Finding truth, and accurate facts on the Internet has become impossible, except, perhaps for Wikipedia. The user supported and moderated Wiki model has done a great job of standing up to the test of time, keeping spammers, conspiracy theorists, ideologues and wackos out of the system. But Wikipedia doesn’t go into a level of detail on any niche topic, such as building and using a pizza oven, that would be useful. In fact, in the case of pizza ovens, Wikipedia doesn’t really know what one is.

And then there’s ChatGPT. The chatbots are incredibly easy to work with, and they’re changing the face of the Internet (and the search for knowledge) by the day. But remember that ChatGPT is a large language model (LLM) that is trained on the content readily available on the Internet (much of which is complete garbage), and while it does a good job of drawing conclusions from the mess of data available on the Internet, it definitely isn’t the right place to look for the answer to an important question. It’s a lot of things, but trustworthiness is not one of them.

There is no source of the “truth”, or expertise in many fields. In the context of pizza ovens, this is a real problem. Let’s say you are new to pizza ovens, and looking to learn more. Or you have decided to build a pizza oven, but don’t know which type to build. Or you’re building one, and have a pretty specific implementation question.

Where do you turn?

At first, I considered setting up a Wiki for pizza ovens. The idea would have been to allow and moderate community input to build up a series of “best practice” articles in design, building and using pizza ovens of all types. But there are a number of insurmountable problems with this strategy. First, the community needs to be engaged, and judging from the activity of existing community groups around pizza making and pizza ovens (pizzamaking.com, the Forno Bravo Forum and to a much lower degree the tiny BrickWood user group), the desire to join and contribute to an ongoing community has pretty much disappeared. Those sites are pretty moribund.

Plus, even if you could get some community engagement, the amount of expertise in the general public is very (very) low. People like commenting, especially when they have no idea what they’re talking about (see Reddit).

All of which explains why I decided to create searchable Knowledge Base.

Our Pizza Oven Knowledge base has hundreds of discrete articles divided into about twelves different categories. You can search it, and you can drill down into it by clicking on categories and subcategories. If you’re old enough, you will remember that the two guys who started Yahoo said they wanted to catalog the world’s information on the Internet, and they were having a lot of fun, and making a lot money doing that before Google came along with algorithms that were much (much) better at helping you find what you were looking for.

The Biscotto di Sorrento Pizza Oven Knowledge Base is my attempt to revive that logic. My goal is to catalog and make readily available all the world’s knowledge relative to pizza, pizza making, pizza oven design, pizza oven building and pizza oven usage. My plan is to keep adding content for as long as new ideas come to mind and people keep asking me to answer new questions.

Also, the Knowledge Base is open to ratings and comments. These are basically “help us improve this article” comments, not a place for people to spout off or argue.

The Knowledge Base is pursuing an idea. The idea that more perfect knowledge exists, and that there is a right and wrong—at least in the context of pizza ovens.

Give it a try. If you find an answer you don’t think is right, tell us, and we’ll talk about it, and fix it. If you have a question we don’t answer, tell us. We’ll answer it.

The final point I would make is that in the Platonic tradition, I believe in truth. In true beauty, in right and in wrong. I think those things are typically pretty obvious, and we, as a a society waste a lot of time arguing about edge cases while missing the fundamental truth. And I’ll admit in the context of this Knowledge Base in the context of this tiny niche (pizza and pizza ovens), I am the arbiter of this truth.