Friday, 30 July 2010

Knit Nation - Friday night Ravelry Talk

Well, my boss cooperated with the program by calling in sick today, so I was able to get away from work in plenty of time.  I even had time at my destination to go and find the Hummingbird Bakery on Old Brompton Road, which advertises real American cupcakes. So I had to try one of those, because your typical British cupcake (or fairy cake) is a rather miserable dry sponge with little fat content (so not very soft or rich) and either a smear of icing made by mixing icing sugar with water or lemon juice, or a buttercream-look-alike made with god knows what (certainly not butter).  I was charmed to be provided with a small chinese take-away type box with its own wire handle in which to carry away my small-by-American-standards cupcake, so I bore it away to Imperial College where I was second in the queue for the Ravelry talk.  I savoured it slowly while watching the preparations and talking to my queue mates.  I rate the icing, which was rather nice buttercream icing in an attractive blue shade, with sprinkles, but the cake was disappointing.  Better than British cake normally is, but still a bit dry.

The Ravelry talk was given by Jess & Casey Forbes themselves, freshly arrived from America a few days before.  As we were waiting for the official start time, the lady sitting next to me said "I don't know what they are going to find to talk about for an hour and a half, that seems rather long."  Well, they easily filled their time slot and we actually ran over a little with all the questions from the floor.

First of all, they are absolutely charming normal people, not starry at all, no airs, just quietly confident and very likable.  They apologised at the beginning, saying they've done few formal talks and that their presentation skills were amateur, but they did a great job, taking up the story in turn as they unfolded how Ravelry started from just an idea they had.  The statistics now, just a few years later, are staggering:  820,000 members, 3.5 million projects registered, and I forget how many millions of forum posts.  The story of how they risked everything, quitting their jobs with only three months savings to see if they could make a go of it, is truly inspirational.  And they still have a really attractive modesty, they still seem genuinely pleased and surprised at how much everyone is loving the website.

After the history lesson (which included screen shots of early versions of Ravelry including the first hand drawn logos), they talked through a few of the great things you can do on Ravelry which are perhaps lesser known. 
  • Goodies:  there is a link at the bottom of the front page apparently (haven't looked yet) to a Goodies page with Iphone apps and other random stuff to do with Ravelry. 
  • The new Search page has all sorts of custom filters for things like 'short sleeves' or 'colour work', and a really neat feature at the bottom right where you can add a pattern to your basket to compare with others.  So you could select, say, 10 cardigans from your search results, then compare all 10 on the same screen.  Or you could compare 100, and use the same filters/attributes to search through your chosen 100 cardigans.
  • You can now categorise your friends (they won't see the categories).  So you could group, for example, the friends that you know personally or from your local group.  Then when you look at Friends Activity, you can quickly filter down to a particular group of friends.
  • You can use Ravelry to see the nearest yarn shop to a given location, and as well as having information like opening hours, it will show you who has been shopping there, and what they have been buying, so it gives you an idea of what the store stocks.
The Q&A session was very interesting.  I asked how the data is protected:  they have a duplicate server, and if the building burns down, everything is also backed up a couple of times a day with Amazon data storage, so it is all really safe.  Someone asked if anyone had tried to buy Ravelry from them, they said only once when it was still small, nothing since, and that they couldn't imagine selling it because what else would they do, and they have so much of themselves invested in it.  Someone else asked how they are making money to live on.  They said that advertising provides a big chunk, with sales of t-shirts etc. providing a smaller amount, and another smaller amount from book/pattern sales.  So they are not going to get rich, but they have enough to live on and to pay their two employees.  Someone else asked if group creation is vetted, or if groups are closed down.  They said no to vetting, they don't control that, and they almost never close a group because they want the environment to be really inclusive.  They hinted that there are some pretty far out groups on Ravelry, which surprised me.   There were all sorts of other interesting questions, and they seemed really patient about dealing with them all.  By the time it finished, I was very glad to be getting up as the lecture hall seats were hard as a rock.

So then I wandered over to the marketplace again, which was extremely dead.  Even the wollmeise stall was empty, and it looked like they had re-stocked as there was lace yarn again in the baskets.  I did succumb to some other lace yarn which is thread silk from Artisan Yarns, £15 for I think 1200m, and it has a lovely feel.  Once again I was looking for some social activity and once again was disappointed.  There were a few knitters looking cold and windswept at the outdoor picnic tables but that seemed to be it.

Back tomorrow for my morning class and the Rav party in the evening!

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