Connecting to Your Community: Part Three

August 4, 2011

Reblogged from I Heart Art: Portland

This article is part of a series addressing the topics discussed during our March 30 Salon Discussion, Connecting to Your Community.

Previously in this series: Part One, Setting the Stage | Part Two, Identifying Your Motives

Becoming a Catalyst

The best way to balance our commodity-driven culture is to contribute to the community through the open exchange of knowledge, ideas and information.

What is a catalyst?

Graduated cylinders and beaker filled with chemical compounds

In science, a catalyst is an agent that increases the rate of a reaction between two or more compounds. But what’s interesting (and in my opinion, essential for this comparison) is that despite participating in the reaction, the catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself, so the compounds in the chemical change aren’t reacting with the catalyst, they’re reacting because of its presence.

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On Etsy, Rob Kalin and Entitled Artists

July 27, 2011

While sipping my morning coffee and skimming through my RSS feeds over the weekend, I stopped dead in my tracks at an open letter from Etsy’s Chief Technology Officer, Chad Dickerson, on their blog. As if overnight, founder Rob Kalin is stepping down as CEO [again] and letting Chad step into the handmade executive shoes.

I was surprised by the news, and immediately searched for a formal announcement or press release of the change in leadership. I came up empty-handed. Then I found a Wall Street Journal article that broke the news and cited some third-party consultants and analysts about the ongoing disenchantment of Etsy sellers.

First off, I’ve neither met Rob nor Chad in my dealings with Etsy and the I Heart Art: Portland program. I’ve only heard stories about the company’s founder and his many eccentricities, so I don’t have any personal knowledge of how he ran the company or how his business decisions have affected the marketplace that we all know and love (which begs the questions, do we all know and love it?).

The most thought-provoking part of the WSJ article for me was the [limited] research done around seller confidence, stating that as many as 80% of the biggest sellers have major complaints with the site and its services. First, if you have nine million members, surveying two dozen isn’t a telling sample set. But statistics aside, I would have to agree that sellers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the site. However, my analysis of this will come here in a minute.

On Etsy

My own biggest beef with Etsy and their services is the inadequate search function. Veteran Etsy sellers have trained themselves to navigate the search results to find what they’re looking for, but when my father called me a year or so ago and said he tried to search unsuccessfully for me on Etsy, I knew something was wrong. There have been minor improvements over time, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

There are also legitimate concerns about abuse enforcement and site policing. With an enormous boom in membership and an inadequately disproportionate growth in staff, keeping track of resellers and imported mass-manufactured goods has been impossible, and despite submitting abuse complaints and self-policing by sellers, Etsy has not done much to make sure that their users are playing by the rules.

On Rob Kalin

This is the second time that Rob has stepped aside from his role as CEO to let someone else take the reigns. The first time, Etsy had not yet seen profit, so it seemed a natural fit to bring in a CEO with a better business sense and more experience in the corporate world to try and bring the revenue around. From what I understand, she took it too far, which is why Rob stepped back in and steered the company back onto its original philosophical track.

But for all his eccentricities (does it really matter that he makes his own underwear?), Rob is able to take a step back and do what’s best for the company. This turn of events tells me that he knows that he can’t do what the company needs him to do, and is passing the baton to someone that has proven himself over the past three years. And based on Chad’s letter to the community, I think Rob’s making the right decisions.

On Entitled Artists

The passion that stirred up this post, however, was generated from some of the WSJ’s statements and a lot of the comments. I couldn’t help but yell at my computer screen and angrily guzzle the rest of my coffee. Ultimately, artists have a tendency to develop this insane sense of entitlement about what they should be given for the piddly amount of money that put into something like Etsy.

“It’s hard to make a lot of money off the marketplace.”

In a sea of nine million sellers and 24 million items listed for sale, of course it’s hard to make a lot of money off the marketplace. Artists and crafters and DIYers need to get it through their heads—selling art is business. Just because you have a gift and express your creative juices doesn’t mean you can sit back and let the world’s collectors and appreciators come to you and throw money in your face. You have to work for it. You have to market yourself. And it’s hard.

“Concerns over privacy…”

There was a lot of hoopla in March over the Feedback system and its level of public accessibility, including tying accounts to specific purchases. While the matter was dealt with swiftly and professionally by the upper management, the blogosphere ran rampant with accusations of indexing all transaction data at the risk of exposing the privacy of Etsy members.

In the business of selling art, you are selling part of yourself, and in the handmade community, the barrier between maker and consumer has been completely broken down. There’s no art dealer managing a relationship, there’s no chain of supply from factory to warehouse to distributor to retailer like you would find for mass-produced goods. Art is personal, and artists need to feel comfortable putting their name out there. Your art is you, which means that you are selling yourself. And selling yourself means putting yourself out there in the public. (Now, you can control how much of your personal information is put out there, especially when it comes to physical location and family specifics, but at minimum your name should be Google-able.)

“The company is playing childish and removing the ability for some people to post their opinions in the main forums.”

Since the Internet was born as a series of tubes, the anonymity of self-generated user names and free reign of forums have incubated “The Flame War”, “Snark” and an “Open Platform for the Misdirected Expression of Anger.” Forum moderation, as such, has become a nasty, nasty beast, consuming hours upon hours of work by administrators.

If you have a beef with a company, open a support ticket or send an email to someone who can actually address the issue. Don’t post your frustration in a forum, where, fueled by false sympathy, disenchantment is bred like mold in a bag of week-old hamburger buns. The only people really paying attention to you are those who are looking for an excuse to bitch. You won’t find any resolution, so don’t give them the satisfaction. Use the forums on Etsy for what they are intended—building community and helping each other. I fully support their decision to lock down certain parts of the forums and focus on other means of resolving customer satisfaction issues.

It merits note that the 50+ comments on the WSJ article were almost entirely negative about Rob’s leadership and the current state of the site. The 500+ comments on Chad’s blog post over the weekend were overwhelmingly positive. Give people a place to bitch and they will let loose.

“All of us over at Etsy pay our fees with the same expectation of having our shops seen.”

Excuse me? That 20 cents per listing and 3.5% transaction fee can only try to cover the immense infrastructure that supports the site and the staff who run it. Can you really expect that you are entitled to exposure on the site just because you pay your bill every month? If so, you are completely delusional and should reconsider your business goals. Have you looked at how much it would actually cost to run your own e-commerce site and work on its SEO to achieve Etsy’s effectiveness?

It’s not Etsy’s responsibility to promote you. As I mentioned before, selling your creative works is hard. It takes work! If you want to get noticed, you need to be an active, social user who takes marketing into your own hands. It’s your responsibility to get noticed.

“No one is getting rich off the platform.”

I’ve never seen Etsy as a place where a seller can start a business, grow it, become prosperous and then watch the money roll in and live a fabulous life without want. Etsy, above anything else, is a tool—a launchpad. It’s a venue where the everyday person can list their work and have an easy, feature-rich way of selling their art online. Aside from a small percentage of exceptions, the average Etsy user shouldn’t expect that their business will be booming and self-sustaining within a given span of time.

I can list at least a dozen names off the top of my head of friends or community members who have seen enough success on Etsy to take the next step. Whether it’s setting up a MyShopify account and embedding it in their website, joining an artist collective or seeking wholesale accounts, these are common and natural next steps to make. It all depends on how well you pursue your business growth model and how well you market your work.

Wrap it Up

When all is said and done, it’s important to remember that Etsy is a corporation that happens to be founded upon good values, not some benevolent non-profit intent on spreading the handmade love. They have investors, they have bottom lines, they have staff limitations. And they’re still considered a start-up. Give them a break.

I wish Chad the best of luck in his new role as CEO. I’m confident that he’ll continue to use his powers for good and that all of Etsyland will benefit. And hey, if the search capabilities improve and the site enforcement beefs up, all the better.


What’s in a [screen]name?

June 30, 2011

Inspired by this post on GOOD that I found through the ever-entertaining Kottke.org, allow me to present a history of Isaac B Watson in Internet screen names.


circa 1993
Platform: AOL 

Our initial Internet service was provided by my dad’s employer when we had an ISDN line installed into the home so that he could work remotely. Those were the days of Netscape Navigator and that oh-so-spectacular animated comet GIF that illustrated data streaming in from space and crashing into a web page. Or something.

But when the ISDN line was made more secure, we transitioned over to AOL, like most households I knew. My parents loved those parental controls, allowing them to limit the Big Scary Internet from completely corrupting their two wholesome sons (update: Mom and Dad, we were corrupted anyway… nice try).

So when it came time to choose my own login to AOL’s service, I went with what I knew—my initials and something representative of what I did at the time, play piano (there are 88 keys on a standard piano keyboard).


Platforms: Yahoo!, AIM 

Once I graduated high school, I hadn’t been actively taking piano lessons for a couple years, and I thought that my old AOL name (which had lapsed into juvenile status) needed an update. The whole college world was in front of me, and the last thing I needed to do was proclaim to the world that I played piano. So I went with something a little more subtle, in my mind.

I had recently become obsessed with Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto, and while I knew that I would never learn to play it, the piece spoke to me and I often cranked it up on my stereo in the hopes of hearing absolutely every single note. One of my friends from high school had amusingly truncated Rachmaninov’s concertos to Rachy 1, 2 and 3 (pronounced “rocky”), so I ran with it. Coupled with my university of choice (University of Oregon) and, of course, my high school graduation year (because that was all that mattered at that age), I ended up with UORachy2000. Had I only realized that everyone who saw that would think that Rachel was a girlfriend of mine, I would have reconsidered.


Platforms: LiveJournal, GMail, Yahoo! and many, many more.

My best friend, Bonnie, convinced me at the end of our freshman year of college to create a LiveJournal account and start chronicling my menial life on “teh Intarwebz”. At this point I already realized how stupid it was to associate any kind of year into a screen name, so I sought after something new and different.

My culinary obsession at the time was Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream, a wonderfully sugary concoction of chocolate ice cream, ribbons of marshmallow creme and caramel and little fudge fish. But growing up, my mother, ever the wordster, had engrained a silly little anecdote into my brain about the “proper” spelling of Fish Food: ghoti ghued. It was phonetically based (kind of) and involved letters pulled from oddly pronounced English words. gh from enough, o from women, ti from nation, ue from due.

Wasn’t I clever?

This became my primary moniker for a lot of email addresses, accounts and sites, and I still use it occasionally to this day, though I’ve been transitioning as appropriate to my newer identity.


Platform: AIM 

When I returned from my two-year stint in France and Belgium, I needed to change out my AIM account, which I had altogether stopped using. Unfortunately, I had at some point created ghotighued, but completely forgotten the password or the email address that was associated with it. One of the Tahitians that I spent time with while in Europe loved mixing French and English together, and would always say “Qu’est-ce que heck, man?” (“qu’est-que c’est” translating to “what is that?”) with his laid-back, ça beigne attitude.

But it was TAKEN! Qu’est-ce que heck, man?! I couldn’t handle it, so I just added a zero to the end. Lame, right? Oh well.


Platforms: you really don’t want to know

Okay, so there are various seedy or sketchy sites that I needed a user name for that I didn’t want to tie to my standard issue aliases (alii?). This one was pulled from an old nickname that my aunt used to call me: Wacky Zacky. We’ll just leave it at that.


Platforms: web domain, GMail, Etsy, Twitter and most other accounts.

In 2008 I discovered my arch-nemesis: Isaac Watson. That’s right, Isaac Watson. Up until this point, the biggest name competition I had was either some black high school football player from not Oregon, or a series of old dead guys from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Ah, geneology!

Once I started doing graphic design, photography and making my camera lens bracelets, I realized that I should probably start setting up a website for myself. So the first thing I did was try to register www.isaacwatson.com (fair warning, there’s a lot of douchey Flash involved there, so enter at your own risk). RUH ROH! There’s already and Isaac Watson with that URL! Say it ain’t so!

But wait, hold the phone. This is very strange: he was living in the same town in Belgium, working at the SHAPE base for the Armed Forces Network, at the same time that I was in that town in Belgium, spreading the good word and doing good little Mormon things (surprise! I used to be Mormon). WEIRD.

It was time for a showdown, but I knew I didn’t stand a chance, so I had to think long and hard about what my URL would be. First off, I had to distinguish myself from this imposter somehow. We were about the same age, and his Google rankings were far higher than I ever dreamed. Plus, I could not in good conscience associate myself in any way, shape or form with his god-awful Flash website. So I determined that I would from that point on use my middle initial (without the period) to identify myself. And after a lot of long, hard thought, I settled on ibwatson.com as being the most appropriate while being conveniently short and easy to remember.

And the rest is history. Looking forward, I don’t see any major online name changes on the horizon. It’s true that the world of the Internet is increasingly being directly associated with our tangible personalities. While the anonymity of monikers and avatars was comforting in the years of the Big Scary Internet, it has become a huge part of me and how I interact with the world, so I will also be associated with it.


Connecting to Your Community: Part Two

June 22, 2011

Reblogged from I Heart Art: Portland

This article is part of a series addressing the topics discussed during our March 30 Salon Discussion, Connecting to Your Community.

Previously in this series: Part One, Setting the Stage

Identifying Your Motives

The best way to balance our commodity-driven culture is to contribute to the community through the open exchange of knowledge, ideas and information.


Mirror fun

Before jumping into a community blind and flailing around without drive or focus, it’s important to take a step back and identify why you are doing this in the first place. And the key to doing that is knowing yourself.
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Connecting to Your Community: Part One

June 7, 2011

Reblogged from I Heart Art: Portland

This article is part of a series addressing the topics discussed during our March 30 Salon Discussion, Connecting to Your Community. Some background information about the subject is available in a preliminary post, Learn to Share.

Author’s Note: I do not profess to be an expert on the subject matter, but I do hold a special interest in this community and a passion for the topic. That said, I am still learning, and welcome any feedback in the comments, be they in agreement with what I’ve said, questions about finer points, or arguments in opposition. This is a conversation, not a lecture.
Setting the Stage

The best way to balance our commodity-driven culture is to contribute to the community through the open exchange of knowledge, ideas and information.

Read the rest of this entry »


Looming Thunderhead

January 13, 2011

I love storms, but living in Oregon often leavings me wanting. Give me thunder, give me lightning, give me winds and torrential rain. Summer thunderstorms are the best, with that hot, humid air and electric atmosphere. We get them on occasion, and when we do, the best thing leading up to them are those deep charcoal cloud fronts coming in off the horizon. “Bring it on,” I say when I spot one rolling in. “Bring it on.”


Macroaphasia and Other Stories

November 18, 2010

I like to write little stories or elaborate descriptions for the camera lens bracelets that I make, so here I collect a small handful and re-blog them. They might be stories from childhood, adulthood, philosophical ruminations or just complete bullshit. You never know…


I spent two years living in France and Belgium, immersed in the culture and speaking almost exclusively French. After my initial six-month learning curve, I adapted so well to the language that I started dreaming in French. In fact, I worked so hard on my accent, that when a French person asked me if I was Belgian (after just spending nearly a year there), I was absolutely honored!

When I returned stateside, I went through complete language shock. Macroaphasia, we’ll call it. At first I kept subbing French words and phrases for their English equivalents. Then it morphed into complete language breakdown. I would be trying to say something, knowing that there were words both in French and English to describe it, but not being able to wrap my brain around either. Sometimes I would make up words that sounded right, but were completely wrong. It was painful, but I managed to work through it. And honestly, I could have had worse problems! It still happens on occasion, but mostly I’m settled back into English nicely (after six years).

MC Solaar

If you’ve never heard of MC Solaar, French rapper extraordinaire, I highly recommend you sample some of his songs. I fell in love with his style while living in France and Belgium. I’m not the biggest fan of rap or hip-hop, but what I like about MC Solaar and a lot of other French rappers is that their content is more political and philosophical than that of their American counterparts. Not so much bitches and hoes as institutional problems and reconciliations between cultures. Throw in a little true African flair and some jazz roots (those French sure do love their jazz), and you’ve got a winning combination. Sorry Missy, sorry Jay-Z, sorry Eminem. It’s time to class it up a bit.

Logo Turtle

Like most middle-class children in the 80s, our elementary school had a lab of Commodore 64 and Apple IIe computers. A couple times a week we would have a chance to play Oregon Trail, Number Crunchers and many more rudimentary games. But my favorite, by far, was Apple Logo, a drawing program using the Logo programming language, in which a small, hollow triangle called a “turtle” would be directed around the monochromatic screen with a series of line commands.


I loved drawing with the little program, and there was a book of command series that would draw different pictures from a geometric shapes to a whale. Sometimes it would just show you the finished picture and you would have to figure out how to  recreate it. Either way, it was a good brain exercise. Something called body-syntonic reasoning, I’ve now learned.