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Hey, niche social network (sewing) wannabe here


#1

In February this year, I decided I won’t be continuing on the path I was on (my next step should have been getting a research fellowship abroad). In April, I started to learn web development because I thought I’d be building a web-based sewing pattern design software.

Then, I discovered that a lot of people seem to ask for a “Ravelry for sewing” while at the same time there wasn’t overly much resonance towards my original idea. I went to check out Ravelry. Being a beginner sewist myself, I found I couldn’t go back the ordinary Internet after having seen how useful it is. :slight_smile: So I’m now working on something that I hope will provide some of the features of Ravelry - for the dressmaking niche. Obviously, as long as Casey keeps improving the site, I’ll never catch up, but I don’t need to: I just need to be significantly better than the existing sewing communities. :slight_smile:

I have a computer science background but no “real job experience” - all I got is experience from small private projects and contributing a bit to a MUD. I think I’m not employable because I always keep discovering how things could be better - and I hate to do things “the way it’s always done”, just because. I’ve always been some kind of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none - so I’m learning all kinds of things as I go.

All I’m hoping for is that I can build something that is useful to people - ideally in a way that I won’t have to take on a normal job in the long run. After weighing the options, I came to the conclusion that bootstrapping is the right way to go. I’m trying to follow the exact example of Ravelry here - build something that’s useful for so many people that selling affordable ad space to small sewing businesses becomes viable.

My site https://kaava.net/en/ (blog post at http://kaava.blogspot.de/2014/08/a-new-sewing-stash-database-site.html) is still closed off to the general public - I still have to set up terms of use, privacy statements, as well as take care of all the other legal stuff associated with “being a company”. The site itself is in a state where some of the main features (sharing and linking of sewing projects / pattern information / adding patterns and fabrics to a virtual stash) are barely usable but other core features are still lacking, such as 1) decent communication methods (e.g. forums, private messages, 2) notifications/feeds for stuff happening on the site, 3) a proper design. After setting up the missing features, I’m planning to open the site early next year in a not-yet-polished state, then improve it from there.

I’ve been coding using Python/Django, making use of existing packages wherever I could. I hate reinventing the wheel when someone else made something that works perfectly fine - though often, the use cases of the packages I find are somewhat different from mine and it takes time to weed through the available options to find something that works.

There’s really a lot of areas where I need to improve in order to make it, e.g. design, marketing, server administration, programming - to name a few. It’s definitely been an interesting journey so far.


#2

Hi! Welcome to the forums.

Actually, Casey from Ravelry is a member here as well ( @casey ) , I’m sure he’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have as you grow your site. :wink:


#3

Feel free to laugh, but through @casey’s intro post on here, I found this place. As I see it, it’s a pretty crazy project - one of these “it-will-only-work-if-enough-people-use-it-and-love-it”-thingies. In any case I’ll learn some things on the way that will be useful. :slight_smile:


#4

It is good to pick a narrow niche and ‘solve the hell’ out of their well defined problem. You can always expand or change focus later on.

Making a living via selling ads is tough. You need a lot of traffic. Better to sell your customers something IMHO (subscription, ebook, software licence etc).

I recommend you get your site online ASAP. You can add things like privacy policies as you go.

Being a jack-of-all-trades is a definite advantage when you are running a business on your own.

In my experience most software is written by men for men. So software written for a female market is likely to have less competition.


#5

I think you’re right that getting something up and running ASAP is key to make it. From what I heard/observed, it takes at least 6 months to a year to refine something to the point that it’s good - and this refinement process can only start after the audience has access to it. Still, I feel what I need to do is set up the minimal set so the people who register aren’t scared off by the fact that an obvious key piece is still missing.

I also agree that selling ads is something that can only work at scale (and in many cases earns less than selling a product). On the positive side, I have enough time to find out if I am building something that enough people like. There’s a bunch of other options how to earn money (e.g. opening a sewing pattern store, making use of affiliate programs or selling my own to-be-developed sewing-related software through the site) but the main parts of the site (pattern database + project sharing + stash + community) need to be free so that they work (premium subscriptions for enhanced-convenience features would be alright, though). I’m really impressed with what @casey made - and it looks to me like there’s the chance to make a similar thing for the sewing world, so I’m giving it a shot. :slight_smile:

Regarding privacy policies and all that, I’m in Germany and, apparently, our laws are such that there’s a rampant horde of lawyers crawling the web to find web pages that don’t comply with the law so they can send a “friendly warning” and request money for their “efforts”. I’m probably imagining this to be a bigger problem than it really is, though - as long as I’m not actually violating the law (which I’m not sure about yet - the laws related to Copyright and privacy are pretty strict).

I find the point about software written by men for men interesting. There might be some truth in that. I see it when I look at the abundance of competing databases on MMO game data (and how they are refined, sleek and just plain stacked with useful features and good UIs) and how many sites with a mostly female audience appear pretty pale in comparison. Then again, there seems to be a good deal of “offline hobbies/crafts” pursued by men that don’t have good websites catering to them either. Basically, anything that people obsess about seems to be a good topic for a niche social network.


#6

Ones where people spend lots of money are probably easiest to monetise.


#7

Welcome! I agree with @Andy about opening it up sooner, rather than later. If you make it obvious that your key features are in the works, you won’t scare people off. Better people find you in a “still working on it” state than not find you at all, I think.

Also, the way you’re describing things sounds like you’re in it for the long game, which is great. Lots of people get impatient with their products and abandon them before they really have a chance to get traction. A huge component of success is just sticking with it.


#8

I consider myself very lucky to have a handful of people who test the site behind closed doors but it would indeed help if I had more of them - both in terms of gaining traction and in terms of having more people to discuss possible directions to develop the site with.

That’s so true - there’s a bunch of people in that space who tried to follow Ravelry’s footsteps but they all either struggle or faded away. I presume it’s because they didn’t get their sites to the point that they’re solving the problem(s) that people face.

Sometimes, the problem seems to be getting lost working on details that aren’t crucial for the usefulness of the site. Sometimes it’s just that there’s a misunderstanding regarding what is actually useful. And the only way to find out seems to be to experiment, observe the audience and iterate on the functionality.

But that’s easy to say and hard to implement. :slight_smile:


#9

That’s true - anything where people buy potentially expensive supplies and/or tools should work.


#10

Welcome Sabine.
I have some friends who love Ravlery so I know how passionate the community can be. If you’re community building then you’re time is probably better spent creating content and finding early adopters who will help generate content even when no one else is there. Have you thought of using something like Ning instead of building your own software? This would allow you to focus on the content and community instead of writing software.


#11

With pre-built solutions it’s always a difficult decision. There’s a lot of plumbing work to be done to make all of the different solutions (and the application) work together seamlessly (being a seamless site with an uncluttered UI is one of the things that makes Ravelry stand out). My impression is that I can easily spend a lot of time plumbing and customizing pre-built solutions (neither of which seems pretty fun to me). Using a bunch of pre-built solutions together also means there’s a good deal more moving parts and more room for me to misunderstand how they work. On the upside, some pre-built solutions are actually so clean out-of-the-box that it’s tempting to integrate or imitate them (looking at Discourse).

Basically, I don’t really see myself as only community building. While Ravelry is a good social network, what impressed me is how it’s offering free tools that synergize in ways that people help each other out simply through using the site to solve their own problems. I see myself as building a hybrid between a social community and a database site.

  • people organize their overgrowing stashes on Ravelry and do to that, they enter pattern and yarn data into the database which helps people who search for patterns and yarns
  • people record and share their projects, linking them to the used yarns and patterns which helps others who are 1) looking for inspiration, or 2) looking for confirmation whether a specific pattern might work for them. And it’s all deeply integrated with the forums and other social features.

Still, I can’t deny that I need to do community building to keep enough people engaged and, specifically, to gather a circle of editors - and the earlier I can start with that, the better. In my eyes, one big challenge lies in filling the database with useful data and that requires establishing a culture of responsible editorship on the site.

Ok, so back to coding some basic notifications (private messages can likely wait till a later time) and doing design. :slight_smile:


#12

Thanks to everyone for giving me that push to let in more users. I’ve now put a simple invite-system in place so it’s easier to let people who are interested in the site in (I also got private messages and very very basic notifications). It’s still unfinished and all that, but being able to talk with people about how things should develop and change is just so crucial.

One big issue I still face is setting up proper terms of use and privacy policy - I do believe I need a lawyer to sort out all the points related to a social community where people share their own pictures (and sometimes, accidentally, copyrighted images). There’s a desire in the budding community to be able to see the sewing pattern envelopes (front and back) on the site and in people’s “virtual stashes”. People even seem to be willing to go the extra step of photographing the envelopes - if that helps us in any way regarding the copyright situation. I’m not sure it does. From my research on German Urheberrecht, my impression is that I need to ask all the pattern companies for permission to use their images.

Did or does anyone else here face similar copyright-related issues?


#13

It sure seems like there is!

Yes, there are some nice people who have been trying - for years in both cases - I’m not really sure what has held them back. (Thinking of https://www.threadbias.com and http://www.mysewingcircle.com)

I hope that you are having fun! Starting from almost nothing and building it up while people were using it was pretty cool. We were thrilled just to have something that our friends and friends of friends were finding useful and fun


#14

I’m not really sure either what’s holding them back - both are awesome communities and a lot of effort has been put into both of them. With the userbases they’ve grown, and all the features they already have, they could easily grow very huge pretty quickly - they’d really just need to 1) add faceted search, 2) flesh out the database structure to make some exciting queries possible. Threadbias seems to be still in the game. (I’m not sure about MySewingCircle - there’s something on the web that suggests that they might have resigned.) Threadbias’ focus seems to be more on the quilting niche (which is good because I’d really like to focus on tools for the garment sewing niche).

I’m definitely having fun - it’s a different journey after you set the bar so high. :wink: Everyone is very kind - even if there are high hopes and expectations (as well as lots of interesting ideas what could be done). Someone on the site suggested that, when there’s a problem and no immediately obvious solution, we should look at WWCD (“what would Casey do”). That netted us the choice of WMD editor and I’m not regretting that one.

Sometimes I’m a bit lost between all the possible technologies - there are so many potentially useful free libraries and technologies. There’s also so many ways to actually implement something - not all of which are particularly good. Then I just pick one that looks simple, reliable, and well-integrated - I can always go back and change it later.

What I’m still pretty bad at is web design / layout. So far, I’m rebuilding Ravelry’s layout to some degree (pattern / project / sources pages), simply because people are used to it and it does a good job of presenting the important information on the page in places where people look for it. Also, there’s certain functionality on Ravelry that the rest of the internet is still largely missing - e.g. agree/disagree/etc buttons. I always hated +1 buttons because it is completely unclear what you’re actually saying - and these buttons do reduce the kind of “yes, I agree”, “thanks for posting this” responses because they provide a nicer and more convenient way to say that. Or how you can arrange all your group forums in tabs by dragging and dropping, that’s really a nice take on the “a community of communities”-challenge.

Yet, there’s always the classic issue with imitating what someone else does - there’s certainly a line where it becomes disrespectful when you cross it (and then there’s another where it becomes illegal). I’m not sure if what I have at the moment is crossing that first line - and the best person to decide that would actually be you, Casey. :slight_smile:

On the one hand side, it would be pretty weird not to learn from what everyone else does and choosing the - in my eyes - best way how to make things work. On the other, the inspiration from Ravelry can definitely be recognized.

It seems that a lot of people would love to see Ravelry branch out and turn into some kind of crafting community “franchise” (partially because they’re already comfortable with Ravelry and partially because the overall usability is good compared to many sites out there). But as I understand it, such a project would be quite involved in terms of refactoring and rearchitecting Ravelry into different, loosely-coupled services (so that all the social functionality is decoupled from the library and from the stash) - which would take a lot of time that is better spent on making Ravelry itself even better.