Thursday, November 15, 2007

An open letter to designers of Mystery knit-a-longs

Dear Designers,

For the love of wool PLEASE stop running mystery KALs on yahoogroups and mailing lists. Seriously.

I admit it. I have a low tolerance level for email these days (consequences of two jobs where I have to deal with morons sending moronic email all day). But I can't be the only person turned off from these sorts of KALs because they're run via mailing list.

When KALs and the online knitting world were small then it wasn't a problem to run these sorts of groups via mailing list. However, with increased popularity - there are over 2100 knitters on the now-closed Secret of the Stole, and over 1100 on Spring Shawl Surprice already and that doesn't even start for nearly 2 months - it's becoming less and less feasible to run a group this way.

I suggest moving away from email-led groups into a more structured forum setting. Free forum software is very good, members can be required to join and messages can be kept restricted so that nothing appears on public view.

At the moment with the mailing lists one's choices are essentially receive everything (and I mean *everything*), or receive nothing but special notices from the designer. I feel that a forum would be a happy medium between the two.

There could be a special 'announce' section for those who just want to get the important messages from the designer & nothing else; there can be sections for advanced queries, and those for beginners, those for photos, as well as a separate section for people to chat about things in general.

Important posts can be 'stickied', and it would be a lot clearer when someone had already asked a question, avoiding unnecessary duplication. Those who want the full socialising atmosphere can hang around all the sections. Those that just want to knit the pattern can simply keep an eye on the relevant pattern sections.

I would like to keep up more with the lists, but there is just so much traffic that I just can't. And a lot of the traffic isn't always relevant immediately to the pattern - or it's very basic questions that have to be asked over and over because people don't tend to search the archives of mailing lists in the way that they would on a forum. I haven't been able to keep up with my email and I currently have over 100 unread *digests* (so 1000s of messages) solely from the past *month* - from only 2 KALs! It's ridiculous!

I think this problem is only ever going to grow as the online knitting world grows, and while mailing lists have their place - I'm on lots of other ones, so my problem isn't with the concept of a list - I think that the mystery KAL has outgrown them.

Yours grumpily,
TheKnittingBee

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5 Comments:

Blogger Eleanor said...

I really agree with you. If I ever do one, I'll get a forum :D

Although I doubt I will... it seems far to social for my tastes ;)

11:56 pm  
Blogger KI4WLR said...

I understand your point and agree to an extent, but, I doubt a move like that will happen.

Technically, a forum would be a much better place to hold any larger group, and probably should be help there, but, there are several reasons they are not.

If you don't want all the email, why don't you just go read it online only? That is what you would do with a forum?

I think if you tried to do one through a forum you would end up with far far fewer people, like 200 instead of 2000.

That may be fine if the designer is charging for the KAL, but not for something that is free? Many designers are in business, and in business you don't give everything away for free, eventually you hope to generate some revenue, somewhere, and the designer probably hopes people will buy the pattern in the end. Which equals large group good, small group bad.

When a designer spends hundreds of hours up front, eventually a professional in business needs to be, and should be paid. The question is do you want to have 200 people pay more individually, or a small percentage of 2000 pay a little?

Unless it is strictly a non-business (non - professional), that doesn't ever intend to generate any revenue from the KAL eventually, a small group may be fine.

I would think they are done on Yahoo (or email list) because they are easy to find.

Setup on yahoo is also pretty straight forward. There is a little bit of technical knowledge needed to setup a forum, and usually a hosted domain. That also means Yahoo takes care of the bandwidth issues, hosting, storing images, files, (a good backup).

I know not all are hosted, some are free and not self hosted, but you still require a different setup than yahoo, and some many not be familiar with how to do it.

Yes, on Yahoo, you get probably 80% of the messages from people who don't or can't read, so just read what you want, and do it only online. Don't kill yourself with getting all the messages if you don't want them? You wouldn't receive them all in a forum anyway?

12:15 pm  
Blogger TheKnittingBee said...

Hi ki4wlr,

To be honest I see no reason as to why a forum based group would get less traffic than a mailing list. With the huge knitting blogosphere and sites like Ravelry all types of KALs are linked to and spread about. I don't think most KALers find KALs by searching yahoogroups - they find them because they're mentioned on Ravelry or someone's blog. Therefore it makes no difference as to whether the link goes through to yahoo or to a forum.

So I think it very unlikely that it would lead to a drop in numbers.

As for reading online in yahoo - well, there is still no difference in the amount of stuff to trawl through whether you get individual email, digest, or read online through the yahoo groups interface.

Reading the list online in yahoo groups can help with thread management, to some extent, but things aren't clearly segmented as they would be in a forum. You still have to trawl through everything - all the asinine queries, all the dupes, all the socialising (which is fine, to an extent, but when you have 2000+ people on a group it's hard to manage).

I can't easily just check for advanced knitting queries or pattern issues, if I'm in a rush, because everything is in the same place.

It's not the fact that I'd rather look at something on a webpage than in my email client - using the yahoo groups interface doesn't solve the problems I have.

My problem isn't with mailing lists, as I said. I'm on heaps of mailing lists and have been for many years - some are digest, some are individual email, and one I access through the online interface. Some have 1000s of people on, but don't have the sorts of problems that I see in the KALs.

It's the large KAL - specifically the mystery-type KAL, which generates huge amounts of interest - that has out-grown the mailing list format. I anticipate next year's KALs hitting 5000 members (one is currently at 1000+ and sign-up doesn't close for 2 months) and in these circumstances it's just not feasible.

On one of the KALs the designer has had to come in more than once and ask for general chatter to be kept to a minimum - or off-list - whereas in a forum context that could be separated into a different section which I think would allow people to socialise more, without clogging up inboxes or having more important queries/ messages getting lost in the flood.

Forum technology is moving forward, and there are some very good free set-ups out there. And with the numbers that are interested in KALs I'm sure there'd be more than one person willing to help out a non-technical designer. Most online knitters have blogs anyway, so are used to dealing with software.

"Yes, on Yahoo, you get probably 80% of the messages from people who don't or can't read, so just read what you want"

But my entire problem is that finding that 20% is incredibly hard in the current format! I'd love to read only what I want to, but in order to find it I have to skim thousands of other messages because my choices are either get everything, or just get special notices.

In a forum setting I would ignore the 'chat' section, and so finding the 20% of relevant messages would be a lot simpler.

Just my £245,690.67

12:41 pm  
Blogger ki4wlr said...

I agree, and I really like forum type sites for that reason, it is much easier to read what you want.

As far as Yahoo grous, I think the "noise" in a group depends greatly on its owner/moderator as well.

I think you will agree, not all groups are run the same, and there are some owners that will "try" to keep OT posts off-group. Not always possible, but some don't even police it and let it run wild.

A group of 5,000 with a good owner can behave like a group of 500 and vice-versa.

One parting thought on another reason Yahoo groups are used is the temporary nature of the group. Many KAL's are not an ongoing forever ending group. Some have close dates.

Your points are all good reasons for desingers to look at forums as a possibility, some things just change slowly :)

1:20 pm  
Blogger Batty said...

Yes. I get a gazillion messages from the 3 KALs I've joined. It's ridiculous.

2:19 am  

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