Ravelry as a collaboration platform

From Appropedia
Revision as of 04:07, 24 April 2009 by Chriswaterguy (talk | Contributions) (New page: {{Akvo ATOC}} {{RightTOC}} This is a case study on [http://ravelry.com/ Ravelry] as a collaboration website. This is part of the Akvo sponsored study on [[Open Design Appropriate Technolog...)
(Difference) ← Older revision | Latest revision (Difference) | Newer revision → (Difference)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page is part of an Akvo project on appropriate technology open collaborations. Feel free to edit this page.
Appropriate technology open collaborations
Appropriate technology restricted collaborations
What makes an open collaboration
A history of Open Source Appropriate Technology
Green wikis and development wikis
Non-wiki collaborative sites for open appropriate technogy
Open knowledge for international development
Writings on Open Source Appropriate Technology
Open patents and social structures for open design
Akvo ATOC - Conclusions and recommendations
Recent changes

This is a case study on Ravelry as a collaboration website. This is part of the Akvo sponsored study on Open Design Appropriate Technology, but it is not an appropriate technology site at all - it is "a place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration."[1]

Why does a knitting site belong in this study?

  • It is a place for sharing, modifying, and discussing designs.
  • It offers structure relevant to the particular tools and activities that bring the participants together.
  • It has been enormously successful, growing very rapidly in its early months, and continuing to grow and stay active as it passes the two years mark. This begs the question - why have no appropriate technology collaboration sites approached this kind of growth and activity?

Is this success due to:

  • The popularity of the subject - a popular pastime rather than a somewhat geeky area) with limited appeal),
  • The nature of the subject - where collaboration is easy as designs and tools have much in common, unlike the wide range that exists within appropriate technology,
  • The superior design of the site,
  • A combination, or something not mentioned here?

Ravelry is far more than a Facebook or Ning site for knitters. The knitting-oriented features are key to making it useful and desirable for knitters. The search features, the ability to "favorite" patterns and other items to keep track of them, and extensive databases make it a great place to find information, and an easy place to spend time.


The main features come down to databases, favorites, project management and forums, applied to the needs of knitters and other dealers-in-yarn. Those are simple ideas, but they're integrated and very well executed.

Usability and navigation

The site is a breeze to navigate, with a wide range of features, but without feeling too cluttered. E.g. see the yarns page, which offers a rich choice to the user: it has "popular yarns", "search yarns," "browse by fiber," "featured yarns," and a search for the "local yarn shop directory." Scroll down a little and you have two galleries: "yum! new yarn!" and "yarnies" (contributors to the yarn pages).



It smashes several of my ideas about successful collaborative and social sites:

  • It's closed - okay, I know Facebook has proven that closed can work, but I just prefer things open.
  • It's niche
  • it's highly structured
  • It was able to get going with a small number of members.

There were (and still are) a lot of knitting communities, but Ravelry had a lot of unique features, and is user controlled, in that respect it's less like a forum, and more like a myspace & yahoo groups rolled into one, which gave it a great selling point.


  • Once inside, Ravelry is a treasure trove of knitting goodness, with a database of over 1600 knitting patterns and thousands of yarns for people to browse and add to their queue system. Users can favourite projects that others have created and see the changes others have made.
  • Search for patterns, yarn (in other people's "stash").
  • Search for users by location, or whether they have completed a certain pattern.
  • See at a glance what the community is up to, with highlighted information such as "popular yarns". This appeals to the social animal in us.
  • It has a forum (and they've resisted the temptation to create too many subforums - it has just 6 (all active) making for a nice clear one-page overview. It does let you create "groups" though, and lets you organize how you view groups and forums, using tabs. Considering the information overload that open source and appropriate technology folks face, this kind of organizing feature is something to learn from.
  • User profiles are the typical social fodder, but Ravelry also lets you do some project management with a list of queued projects, and a hit parade of past accomplishments.
  • a blog (fed from your existing site).
  • the "stash," which is a place to document whatever yarns or fibers you own. Just take pictures of it, upload, and tag them. It then resides in your stash, until you've used it (which then goes into your "used" pile). The hope is that Ravelry users will keep their stashes up to date, letting other users ping them to purchase or swap the yarn, or ask questions.
  • the stash actually helps to solve a real world problem in the crafts community--dyeing. Each lot of yarn has its own unique color, and if you somehow can't get more of a certain color later on, you're pretty much out of luck. Assuming people have tagged their stashes correctly, you might be able to pick up that oh-so-important missing piece of your project.
  • Each project gets its own page where the creator can blog about the experience, and share tips and pictures. (Structure can be helpful.)

There is also a "queue" button next to every pattern that allows you to put the pattern in your queue of patterns that you want to knit which has stopped my "oh where did I see that pattern at again?" problem.

  • it's possible to search for users by area, and users report making new knitting buddies this way.
  • A notebook that lets you catalog things such as books and your needles (this is very very useful).
  • easily find other users who have completed a certain pattern - see their notes, corrections, modifications and experiences.

Ravelry is successful for a different reason from Wikipedia - it's aided by

  • the fact that there is a consistent structure to knitting patterns,
  • certain consistent behaviors between knitters, not only in knitting garments which they can photograph and compare, but in keeping stockpiles of yarn. There is a structure here that naturally works. Having a site oriented around patterns, photographs and discussion of garments and yarn just works for knitters - and sometimes they even share or swap in Real Life. The whole experience is very enriching for knitters.
  • the passion of people engaged in an activity they have an emotional connection to.

Knitting is a hands-on, tangible activity that provides enjoyment for many, therapy for some, an excuse to socialize at "stitch and bitch" sessions, and a product you can use, give, or perhaps even sell. While I've never knitted, I can see why knitters tend to be passionate about their knitting. Not surprisingly, there's an active community of knitters who blog - photographing and writing about their knitting and their lives.

One reviewer suggests

"they ask every day what their users want to see. There is a whole thread dedicated to allowing users to suggest the next feature or enhancement they would like to see on the site, and a list of over 1700 enhancements that users can vote on and leave comments for...

"Widgets, link building, merchandise and community participation are all very well and good if that is what customers want, but we all have a tendency to guess. Perhaps next time we want to encourage visitors to come back, we should invest more time in asking and listening to them."

It's worth noting that one of the founders coded the site himself, making it possible to be responsive to suggestions. Many sites, especially wikis, can be set up without dedicated coders. But if this reviewer is correct, it's a good idea to have a coder committed to the project anyway. In our case, it makes me think we could shift the balance more towards

Tens of thousands of users signed up in the first months, by word of mouth - no advertising or big marketing plans in the early stages.

They started with a small group - 100 - until you can refine the application then let more people join refine it again, etc... etc...

(Btw, I have an accountTK - if you're on Ravelry and want to show me why it's successful - please do.)

only users can view site content

registration currently requires you to request an invite and wait during beta

tight knit community made up of 250,000 dedicated users. The service launched in public beta in May 2007

socially driven site dedicated to the fiber arts (knitting, crocheting, and the spinning of yarn) featuring advanced custom built search functionality, forums, pattern as well as individual project pages, and yarn reviews

Usable and integrated - Topic based tab navigation. Like Facebook, you've got plenty to occupy you without ever leaving the site.

Other kinds of projects tend to attract a much narrower group of contributors, and it may be much less clear what it means to contribute. At Appropedia for example: getting people interested in the site and the concept is easy - getting people to contribute is a harder task. The community is growing, but at nothing like the rate of Ravelry.

External links

Social network Ravelry solves a tangled problem


  1. Attributed to co-founder...