Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Game Changer: Ravelry

If you knit or crochet, you HAVE to be on Ravelry. There's just no other way.

The idea of knitting before Ravelry amazes me, in the same way it amazes me that people used to write books and essays and articles on typewwriters before computers (so many copies to be corrected!) and before that, writing (wouldn't your hand become gnarled?). How could you plan projects? How would you know what to buy? How would you find patterns to fulfill what you're looking for?

Basically, Ravelry works to catalog your yarn, the patterns you're knitting, the projects you're planning and acts as a resource for help. It is, hands down, the most practical social network I use. It keeps my project notes in one place, collects the patterns I've been interested in, and helps me keep track of what yarn I already own, which gets very helpful indeed – knitters are a notorious bunch of hoarders.

example from searching "scarf" and "knitting"

It makes finding what you want to knit a cinch. For example, let's say you want to knit a scarf. You search "scarf" and are met with 13,620 matches – all of which are easily filterable by thickness and length of yarn, adult or child (or pet) size, difficulty and cost of pattern, or type of stitch. Seriously. If you can dream it, you can likely find it here, or at least find its close cousin (and you can find the help to adapt it however you'd like in the ever-helpful forums). It is one of the most intuitive searches online, and cuts directly to what its users need.

project notes for one of my favourite knits, my Golden Girl turban

I find the most useful part of Ravlery is that it collects data from knitters all over the world and links them back to your project. Each project gets its own file, linked back to the original pattern. At the original pattern, I can see any comments other users had on how well the pattern is written or any errors they have found. I can see what the pattern looks like knit up in a different type of yarn than the recommended one (especially helpful if you're trying to use yarn you already have, or you're planning on investing in yarn for the pattern). You can see modifications other users have made to the pattern, and hey – maybe you'll just want to follow their lead (and you can contact them for help). Best of all, your project gets linked back to the original, so you're helping other knitters find what they may be looking for and inspiring them. Working together, yeah!

Sorry, I don't mean to get too invested in the technical details. It just impresses me how well the creators, husband-wife duo Casey and Jessica Forbes, have been able to intuit and streamline how people add their projects and details, and how easily it's all searchable. It's the kind of intuitive I wish every search based resource could be, especially since that's an uphill battle I constantly face in my day job (for a travel client). It's so obviously built with the user at the forefront, giving them a space to shine by someone who understands what they need.

That isn't even to mention the thriving community taking place on the site. I'm not really one to be active in the forums, but there are ones for everything – knitalongs where everyone's working on the same projects, local groups who meet up IRL, forums simply to ask for help on socks. And others have sprung up, ones that have very little to do with knitting – addicts of Lush cosmetics, dog owners, new parents, car fiends, etc.

After reading this great Slate article, I had a GReader convo with my friend that really condensed our feelings about the site, I think.

Sarah:Perhaps it goes without saying, but I find that a social network that's 95% female to be a wholly different, wholly positive experience. The most obvious difference is that the profile pictures aren't geared toward visually euphemistic self-representation. 
I wonder (and this is the hetero in me talking) if the sense of community on that particular site has more to do with shared interests, or that the overall absence of men generally removes the underlying competitive instincts that females display when men are in the picture.

Me:I think it certainly helps that most things on the site are ABOUT something, not just mundane daily life, and also, the type of user drawn to interact. A big part of the appeal in crafting is problem-solving, and people seeking out answers or hoping to help others aren't looking to create problems or animosity.
Maybe that's a naive assumption, but I think most people on the site are looking to enjoy their craft and share their knowledge. It's natural that other topics would emerge in a forum that has created that safety net, but discussing other aspects of life would already be linked to the feelings of gratitude, insight and interest the site has earned by being such a great resource.
You're absolutely right, Amanda. 
Having shared interests does go a long way in overcoming reticence. What I like about Ravelry is that it brings out the best in the participants. People seem to genuinely enjoy helping and encouraging each other. It's a really positive place where it's rare to hear a negative word!

Anyway, what I'm saying is you should take up knitting. Even if it's only to use Ravelry. It's been such a great resource and such a positive experience that you just should, besides the positivity that knitting provides. Or conversely, if you're a knitter and already on there, add me! I'm not the best about updating my photos, but I love seeing what my knitting buddies are into.

This is the third entry in my Game Changers series, about the people and places that are killing it online.

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