Crafting and Social Networks -- For Fun and Profit!
It's undeniable that the Internet spurred the craft resurgence. Cast your mind back 15 years when you had to laboriously check out the postings on local coffeehouse bulletin boards for groups to join.
Networking of any kind can require time and patience, but online, you can find people much more easily, and you can connect at your leisure with a massive pool of people from all over the world.
I wanted to tie this into my previous post about crafting and feminism, but in order to do so, I have to make some sweeping generalizations that might make people uncomfortable. For instance, I've often paused to wonder, "Where are all the guys online?!" and then immediately following that, I think, "I love this network of all women helping, encouraging and debating with each other."
The answer to the first question is obviously that I don't frequent sites that have a heavy male audience. I know they are out there ... Reddit? Slashdot? Some other ones that I don't even know about yet? And I know that some people who frequent those forums enjoy them and find them fulfilling. I simply find that many of the crafting-oriented networking possibilities on the Web are more inclusive, warmer and less antagonistic; and, of course, related to a subject that I am passionate about. Also, they're mostly women.
So What Are the Best Places for Craft-Oriented Networking?
Let's start with Etsy. Etsy is a handmade marketplace, started as a business venture by a couple of guys. It really filled a hole in the online craft community as it makes it very easy for people to start up an online business. The site also spends time and money to create communities.
The Etsy forums are generally a hopping place where people ask questions and discuss business topics. The virtual labs are where they conduct online chat-based classes and discussions. There are also street teams which are essentially Etsy-sponsored groups that are self-directed. Many street teams are location-based or based on specific crafts, and that really gives a variety of ways to grow your network.
I find it really interesting how this one site has allowed people to create groups of like-minded people that mirrors real life. Take the SF Etsy Street Team as an example. It started as the standard Etsy team, grew into a blog and lively google group, and from there, it moved to creating actual community events bringing people together in real life. Etsy sponsors events through street teams and also reaches out to the crafting community by sponsoring non-Etsy-affiliated events such as craft fairs, craft events and craft conferences. They also host craft bars and other events around the country. They make a great effort to inspire networking and community. (p.s. I am not affiliated with Etsy in any way. I just happen to think they do a really good job at what they do.)
I haven't had the bandwidth to really explore them, but Artfire and DaWanda are two other handmade marketplaces that also have a lot of community-building features and allows you list your items for sale for free.
Ravelry is way at the top of the list of community-minded craft networks. I am not a knitter or a crocheter, so I only joined it to poke around. You too can join if you're not a knitter or a crocheter, but you will get the most out of the community features if you are. There is tons of help, patterns and discussion. People also rave about the back-end software driving this site. Hooray for geeks and crafters getting together!
If you're a sewist and are jealous of Ravelry, than you can always frequent PatternReview.com. Pattern Review lets you show off your latest sewn creation and provides a review of the commercial pattern with a lot of comment-based discussion of patterns and sewing techniques. I always use this resource to look up patterns I'm considering purchasing. They provide forums and online classes as well.
There are forum-based craft networks like Craftster. I find forum-based networks confusing, but I think I'm a bit of an old fuddy duddy when it comes to that. It's one of the oldest online craft networking sites out there, and it's an incredible resource to share tutorials and finished products, get help with a project or find people who live near you for a craft meet-up or just to talk about creating.
Twitter is another way to grow your crafty network. Sometimes, I just search random hashtags related to things I am interested in. And I find so many awesome craft-related things via Twitter. Twitter, via hashtags, can also play host to great discussions about crafty business topics. For instance, I participated in one recently hosted by Sister Diane or CraftyPod that was a very helpful discussion about how to price your craft items.
Have you used any of the sites I've mentioned? Did I miss your favorite one?