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All Tangled Up

March 1, 2009

Baby Nemo, 2005 (photo: Jon Demos)

Baby Nemo and the Kniterati Blanket of Doom, 2005 (photo: Jon Demos)

I never would have started knitting without the Web.

When I met my good pal Janice back in 2003 or so (through Puzzle Pirates, naturally), I enjoyed seeing and hearing about all of her knitting projects through our shared forum and her blog. When I started knitting myself, Janice and I joined with our friend Jacquilynne to make projects for our friend Jon’s baby — Jon, aka Nemo, being one of the lead artists for the game that had brought us together.

Janice lives in the Twin Cities; Jacquilynne lives in Toronto; at the time, Jon lived in San Francisco. So, of course, we all thrilled at the idea that the Web could bridge the miles to make us one big family. Oh, happy day!

In truth, I do way more knitting-related stuff online than I do actual knitting. Sad but true. But, like many knitters of my age and interest, I’ve always been really excited to find free and downloadable patterns, talk with other knitters, ask for tips, view helpful videos and see what other knitters have done.

Now imagine being able to do that all in one clean, easy-to-navigate site. Droooooool.

When Ravelry came onto the scene a couple years ago, the waiting list was over a MONTH LONG. Check out the site and you’ll see why: project organization, knitting forums for geographically- and subject-specific groups, photos of nearly every project and yarn around, and a queue for any project you think you might ever want to knit. Created as “Facebook for knitters,” Ravelry doesn’t just involve knitting; it’s got groups dedicated to every debate and off-topic query you could dream up… and many you probably couldn’t.

With nothing more than word-of-mouth, founders Jess and Casey (yes, Ravelry users refer to them as if they’re the cute couple across the hall) have built the site to the point where it is not only self-supporting but the users still donate money to help out. Things are just that good.

Herein lies the problem. Much like Puzzle Pirates, the site’s original users feel such a strong kinship with the founders that it’s hard to blur the line between friends and owners/customers, or to figure out when the site grew too big to maintain those “special” relationships. Go to Three Rings’ office in San Francisco (which is really incredible, by the way) and the walls are covered with fan art, presents they’ve sent, etc.

So one day you’ve got a dispute. You approach those same staff members in-game to mediate. Of course they’ll side with you, right? You’re pals! You sent them cookies and Christmas cards! What do you MEAN, it’s against policy?

Translate that to a worldwide coterie of (to make a gross generalization) 200,000 housewives with time on their hands and snark on their sides, and you’ll see where things are with Ravelry.

I don’t have any personal problem with Ravelry’s functionality. It works perfectly well for me, and it’s pretty easy to ignore the areas in which I don’t feel like participating. I do think that the non-knitting areas are awfully superfluous, but that’s just me.

I can’t help but think, though, that Jess and Casey had NO idea what was in store for them — personally and professionally — when they decided to take this leap. It’s not a criticism of them, by any means. It’s just got to be hard when you realize that you’ll make lots of people unhappy by going through with necessary business decisions — decisions that go against the swell of good feelings that made you so successful in the first place.

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