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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Craftsy: A Little Less Cozy & Friendly?

Chickens running around with their heads cut off
Don't be like these headless chickens...
I've been patient in holding back my true feelings regarding the recent site overhaul at Craftsy.

Having worked in IT and knowing how hard it is to roll out a significant update, whether it be a website or a system application, I tried to be understanding. However, it's been over three months — an official "quarter" in business terms — and initial irritations may have taken root to become persistent problems.

No, it wasn't a good idea for them to attempt a full launch while seemingly much of the core functionality was still in flux. How they handled things in the immediate aftermath — giving the impression of chickens running around with their heads cut off — was even worse.

[By the way, now that I've given myself permission to vent, let me forewarn that this is going to be a long post.]

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Craftsy's core product — online classes — apparently suffered greatly with the revamp, in terms of people being able to find, access and view their classes. Ironically enough, the greater number of classes you have in in your personal library, the harder it is to navigate and find the one that you want. That is to say, the site revamp actually managed to punish the best customers.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
No shortage of issues from a user perspective...

Even if you only use Craftsy to buy product, the site revamp has adversely affected that user experience too. I've read many comments from users about paging through products, clicking on something of interest and then being stymied by peculiar behaviour from the site that requires them to "start over" again at page one.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
Making an e-commerce site hard to navigate is not an improvement...

In that respect, I am astounded, as I totally "get" that this site redo was a business (read: money) motivated decision. It was obviously undertaken to increase the e-commerce potential of the company. As a former business owner, I am all for free enterprise. But good heavens, if you are trying to increase profits online, it would be wise to make the browsing experience less of a horror story.

Surely, you don't want to piss off your existing customers to the extent that they'll want to tell everyone.

But it's not just that. These issues are likely to be fixed at some point, if not already. (I wrote most of this post over the Christmas holidays.) Others, I'm not so confident about.

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It's always been at the back of my mind that sites providing a free service to the masses are invariably ephemeral in nature. Craftsy built itself a massive foundation of users by catering to indie designers and offering an outstanding affiliate program early on. (I can only imagine the type of money that some blog owners were making back when Craftsy offered $2 per lead to their affiliates!) With craft bloggers firmly onside, word got out quickly about the community that Craftsy was offering to small time folks who wanted to dabble in pattern design.

What better enticement than to say, hey, we'll offer you a free platform on which to sell your PDFs... and look at all the users who are already pre-qualified to buy from you? Even before I started this blog, I knew I wanted to sell my patterns via Craftsy. Because quite literally, no other place offers such a sweet deal.

All things considered, you have to admire their business model.

But change may be on the horizon... as it always inevitably is.

Before the revamp, I could look at the profiles of users who had chosen to follow me (and I was extremely grateful for that surprisingly numerous and growing group) and see what classes they were taking and what their various talents had created. Crafters who had enrolled in the same classes could easily share their projects with everyone else. (I may be wrong, but there doesn't seem to be any way right now to upload a project picture of any kind unless you are reviewing a pattern.) I'll admit that most days, I had neither the time nor the desire to scroll through everyone's work, but if I wanted to, it was there.

But just like so much internet dust, all of that was blown away with the site overhaul. I no longer have access to those individuals and those individuals no longer have access to me — at least not directly. (Although here's a bit of an interesting FYI: even if you've only ever "purchased" free patterns, your email address is now readily accessible to the pattern designer, a change you may not agree with or feel comfortable about.)

On the matter of reinstating the "followers" list, I started the following exchange with Craftsy's support team...

Inquiry to Craftsy
My inquiry to Craftsy support...

... but somehow I don't expect this feature to be resurrected, given that it was so obviously left out of the rebuild, and this standard reply...

Craftsy support reply
Reply from Craftsy...

Like being trapped indoors in a dark dreary winter, the Craftsy experience — which used to be inviting, inclusive and connected — is now cold and unexpectedly lonely.

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Oh, and as for the second question that I asked (which should have been easily answered by a "yes, it will be back" or "no, it won't be back"), I was given a generic reply about new features continuing to be released and please to check some link — which, until just days ago, had not been updated in over a month — to keep up to date.

Several weeks later, I tried again. It had come to my attention that every time I accessed the Craftsy sewing pattern page, the same suite of patterns showed up on what is known as the "landing" page. (Under the guise of "best match", even though this is prior to selecting any search criteria, so what are they "best matching"?)

I tried it in two different browsers, then tried it under an anonymous browsing window and they all delivered me the same result.

image courtesy of Craftsy
Deja vu every time I access the sewing patterns page...

I thought, wow, lucky designers who have their patterns put out in front of everyone's eyes so easily! What about the rest of us? Shouldn't this page be random or newest first? If indeed these patterns are the most popular (which I doubt), shouldn't that — in the name of fairness — be a category that can be manually selected via the drop down rather than automatically chosen for us?

June responded again, reporting that the order is random (?!) and that she would let the almighty Engineering Team know about my issue. Then it became obvious that she may only have skimmed my message because she plunked in a standard response that did not even have anything to do with my query. (She effectively told me that I should be careful to categorize my own patterns under the right headings to ensure that they would be seen via searches.) I replied with an honest but polite assessment of her response and ended my email with "If you guys truly appreciate us sharing our thoughts and feedback, and you truly are 'here to help', you might show it with more helpful responses to our questions other than — essentially — we'll tell someone you said this."

I ultimately did get an explanation about this screen: "...the placement of patterns when we launched the new site was completely random, though sorting order will not change with a new visit. That said, I do understand your concerns and feedback and I've shared it with our Engineers to ensure your voice is heard. While this is a completely free pedestal to sell patterns, we want the best experience possible for our designers." Is it just me or does that last sentence sound a bit like a polite version of "hey, this is a free service, like it or lump it"?


Getting back to one of my previous points, though, the overriding opinion from those who have expressed their lack of enthusiasm over Crafty's reboot involves a sense of mourning over a community that was virtually trashed, with personal connections lost.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
Apparently Craftsy was censoring the word "stupid"...

Literally, nothing was added to improve that area, while pretty much everything that could be done to decimate it, was done. I have little confidence that any of it will be restored after the fact. Meanwhile, new features meant to boost the commercial aspects of the site — coupons! — were touted as having been requested by the user base.

In my reading, I have only come across one user who claimed to have been surveyed for the site rebuild. Her comments reminded me of what I used to hear from jaded business clients when I acted as the liaison between users and developers: you ask us, but they've already decided what to do.

comment image courtesy of Craftsy
"We'll ask for input but we've already decided how we're going to do it..."

The thing is, even if we had all been in an uproar over needing coupons, I doubt we would have opted to sacrifice the supportive community and "home" that Craftsy has been to us in exchange for that.

In the meantime, it seems the folks behind the scenes are of the opinion that we'll all come around in time. They continue to thank us for our already depleted patience. Depending on individual circumstance, maybe we will and maybe we won't. One thing seems certain... Craftsy won't ever be what it used to be.

What are your thoughts on the new Craftsy?

1 comment:

  1. I am not a fan of the Craftsy change at all. I don't like the look or changes. I tried to browse the patterns in the Free category in quilting and it showed a specific number of patterns and pages, so I started to click through them page by page, but then it stopped and you could not continue through the rest of the pages. For instance if it said there were 5,000 patterns, it stopped after about pattern number 2347. So how many patterns are then not even showing up? I could go on and on about other things I don't like that have been changed too. I think you are so right that changes were made for them to make money and I figured there would come a day when we Indie designers would have to pay a set fee or percentage like on Etsy to sell our patterns. I don't sell enough patterns as it is, so being free to sell patterns (other than PayPal fees that I pay) was so nice and I like that there is no time limit like Etsy to sell by. I also see the same top "20" patterns and how come it says the top 20 when some categories have fewer than 20? Some don't even have a top 10 in their category, so why not list 20, even if 10 are sold much? I think they might do a random pick sometimes because a pattern I have only sold maybe twice was listed in the top 20 one time and I made one sale because of it, but that pattern was definitely not the top 20! Once patterns are in the top 20 they might continue to stay there because others are buying those patterns because they are popular. A lot of key search words do not bring up patterns as they should. They should add more categories too because a lot of time there is no one category to place your pattern sometimes it might fit in more than one category or not in any and that make it so hard for anyone to find your pattern because how do they search for it? I haven't heard anyone say they liked the Craftsy changes, but a lot of blogger voices have said how they do not like it.


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