18 June 2013

Mashable..... A Rebuttal, in Defense of Ravelry

First of all, I should make a few things clear.
  • I am not looking to date anyone based on the breed of their pet.
  • I am not a single farmer.
  • I'm not trying to complete with anyone for a place in line to Heaven.
  • I have no interest in investing in a strange woman's breast implants.
  • I don't really have a passion for mustaches.  Anymore.
  • I'm not a single Star Trek fan.
  • I'm not seeking to get my dreams interpreted online.
And I'm also not a knitter.

Why am I making these things clear?  Because Mashable lumped all these categories of people in their article 8 Bizarre Social Networks You Won't Believe Exist.  Now, there are some pretty strange social networks out there - Date My Pet, Farmers Only.... My Free Implants..... This article is quite a gallery of the bizarre.

And then, there's Ravelry.  Let me quote what Mashable had to say about this social network they are now deeming "bizarre"
And you thought fiber arts couldn't go digital. Ravelry is a free networking site for anyone interested in knitting, crocheting, spinning or weaving. It's similar to Pinterest in that users can submit project ideas and photos. The site even allows entrepreneurs or micro-businesses to sell their craft products online.  
Since 2007, it's racked up more than 3 million users.
Three million users.  But hey, that's part of the lunatic fringe, right?

In case you didn't figure it out yet, I don't agree that Ravelry should have been placed anywhere near this freak show gallery of the bizarre.

And Ravelry is far from bizarre.  It is a social networking site by purest definition.  Really, there are only three main components to the site.  First, there is the vast discussion board.  These forums do tend toward the textile arts, mostly.  However, there are other discussion boards as well.  For example, there's quite an extended thread all about Mashable right now.  The amount of engagement on all these boards is high, and it tends to be polite engagement.

Actually, let me take this time for an aside.  I know a lot of knitters and crocheters and seamstresses and tailors.  Each of them takes their craft seriously, and each of them is exceedingly polite about it.  They are all also really really happy to talk about what they do.  So, these forums are already made up of really excellent, polite people who are really into sharing their work (and therefore don't really need the moderation or the etiquette guide, but they have both anyway).

Which brings me to the second main component of the site.  Most people build a Ravelry profile to share their work... and, more importantly, to catalog it. For example, a knitter can share what they've knitted, how well it went, what they want to knit.... heck, some members even use the site to keep track of their yarn!

But no single fiber artist can know everything, which is why sharing is the third major component of the site.  A lot of the sharing is 100% free - like the pattern for this eyelet tank top - although there is a store on the site where you can buy stuff, like yarn and patterns.  Many textile vendors have a significant presence on Ravelry because it makes good business sense to do so.

There is no Candy Crush Saga, though.  In fact, you won't find any games (at least, not games in the Flash/HTML5 sense.  There are offline games centered around the site, but that's not really what I'm talking about here).  Ravelry does an excellent job sticking to its core values of fiber arts, and keeping the rest of the bloat out.  They've stayed small and independent - no purchases of other sites for them - and instead built their community by word of mouth and inside the close-knit (pun intended) fiber arts world.  They've stayed simple and on topic.

They aren't sticking to topic solely for the good of the network, though.  By keeping things simple, the staff of Ravelry can remain small (currently at five employees) and make a decent living.  Simplicity in design and code - the site was built with and is maintained in Ruby on Rails - means maintenance can be handled by such a small staff.  And, since their business model is largely based on a very small cut of profits from the Ravelry store, they need to keep things as low-overhead as possible.

It is their simplicity, dedication to plan, and near-perfect context that led Mashable to call Ravelry out in their article "5 Simple Social Design Tips From The Masters."  That's right.  The same site that was lumped in with the bizarre was held up as a example of good, a solid example of a well-designed network.  By the same publishers.  (Funny thing, Farmers Only was NOT included in that article)

I'm not a knitter.  I stated that pretty clearly up above.  I also stated a number of other classes of people that I wasn't.  However, while I am not a fiber artist - I mean, I can sew a button back on if it pops off, but I am not the artist that most of these people are - I am a member of Ravelry.  I mostly keep quiet - if you want to see my profile, here it is - but I do have a few friends who have shown me around, and shown me the greatness of a simple social network where the people are actually..... social.  As a social network fan and heavy social networking user, I want the social networks that I chose to join to aspire to the kind of engagement that comes naturally to Ravelry.  That's why I'm a member - maybe I can learn something from these artists.

So, let's recap:

  • Ravelry has more than three million members.
  • Ravelry has a proven business plan that makes their employees money.
  • Ravelry's members are largely heavily engaged and a close-knit community.
  • Ravelry has simple, easy-to-maintain, easy-to-use site design.
  • Ravelry is so world-class in their engagement, they draw non-fiber artists into their network.
So, I challenge Mashable.... Invest some time in Ravelry.  Learn more about them.  Cover them with care.  Don't callously label them as bizarre just because they are niche.  You might learn something about how social networks should be - social.


  1. YES! I don't understand the propensity for media outlets to lump textile arts in with 'bizarre' or 'quaint' groups. I REALLY don't understand the Ravelry hate. Honestly, Rav is a place for people who share at least ONE interest in common--textile arts--to come hang out and talk about other things they might have in common, too. I'm surprised that Mashable even added them to the bizarre list after their praise in the earlier article.

    Thanks for this great post, Tony! :D

  2. It's just another example of how insular and male-dominated the tech industry is -- a site with 3 million users that happens to be dedicated to a craft that is predominately practiced by women is cataloged as "bizarre".

  3. Excellent, thoughtful, and simply wonderful response! We knitters hereby declare you an honorary knitter and thank you for the well-reasoned support!

    1. Aw, thanks, Bonny! Thank you for your kind words.

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  5. Thank you!!! I've been on Rav since 9/1/08, the DAY I learned how to spin. Back when you had to submit a request to join. I met my best friend through Rav and have learned unmeasurable techniques.