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Saturday, 24 June 2017

When it Comes to Reviews, Be Constructive or Be Quiet

think before you review
Anyone can write a review, but not everyone should...
It goes without saying that we are all familiar with TripAdvisor reviews and eBay feedback. In the former, you can write out detailed opinions of a hotel, restaurant or tourist attraction; good, bad or ugly. In the latter, you're given a very limited number of characters to sum up your transaction and then the opportunity to rate various things on a five point scale.

The internet is basically awash in reviews these days.

Whether a given review is helpful to anyone, however, is another matter altogether. I will say right here, right now that — free speech aside — some people should just refrain from spouting their opinions. Furthermore, some sites should think twice before offering up the review process to anyone and everyone.

Be warned: I'm about to vent.

In the aftermath of Craftsy's 2016 site revision, they have amped up the requests for pattern and product reviews from their users.

Craftsy review prompt

If you've made any sort of "purchase" on Craftsy, you've probably seen this in an email...

Customer engagement is considered a worthwhile pursuit by online businesses. So I understand the motivation behind this. And don't get me wrong, Craftsy has been very good to me personally. But some of the changes that it's made and the loose ends that are still hanging from the recent site revamp are a source of irritation.

I think that when you open up a forum for people to review a course or a pattern, it's only fair to provide a platform for the other side to respond (as they do on TripAdvisor). Craftsy has not done this. As it sits, when someone writes a review of a pattern, the only engagement option the designer has is to click No on it (for not helpful) or Report (which I have no idea what that would do).

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Obviously, if one is going to put oneself "out there" on the internet, one must develop a thick skin. That doesn't excuse the misguided folks out there who think that just because they have an opinion, it should be shared.

Personally, I don't have the time to go around and sniff out every bit of feedback about my patterns and respond to them. When I do encounter them, however, and the opinion expressed is so clearly ill-founded, it's frustrating not to be able to respond. (I freely admit that! I don't curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out, but it's bothersome.)


Craftsy review
Review of my Hot Hues Convertible Crossbody Fooler Bag...

The above is a review of my Hot Hues Convertible Crossbody FOOLER Bag PDF pattern. In this more recent post, I discussed how some people had inquired about the lack of a top opening.

The person who wrote this review must have difficulty reading and following instructions because on page 29 of the actual PDF, there is a heading for Close Up Top Seam. If the instructions underneath were then followed, she would never, ever, ever end up having to look "into a bag with the wrong sides of pockets and fluffy stuff showing on interior pieces".

And yet she writes that she "followed the instructions to the letter".

I was actually so appalled by this review that I revised the description of the pattern to address it. (I won't bore you with it here; if you're interested you can check it out by clicking through to my Pattern Shop from the menu bar across the top of the blog.) I also added a new photo of page 29 along with big bold text across it that says "THIS BAG DOES NOT HAVE AN OPENING ACROSS THE TOP".

Here is another:

Craftsy review
Review of my 5 Minute Lip Balm Carrier...

My lip balm carrier is literally the simplest thing I've ever made. This reviewer — who self-describes as a professional level quilter — was befuddled by it. Moreover, she seems to lean towards sarcasm with the quip that a "puzzle brain" is needed to complete this project. Oh, and although she couldn't figure it out, it was "quick". To be honest, this one struck me as being written by someone who was a few drinks over limit.

You see that "1" beside the "No" for Helpful? That was me.

Here's yet another:

Craftsy review
Review of my iPod/Mp3 Player/Gadget Case...

The iPod/Mp3 Player Carrying Case was one of my first freebie tutorials and also a very simple project. My issue with this quilter's review (is there a pattern here??) lies in her belief that she actually "bought" this pattern — let's be clear, it's free — and then deems it worthy of only 2/5 in terms of "value for money". Oh, and the title/complaint? Of course it's "not the same" when she freely admits that she changed some parts of it.

You see that "1" beside the "No"? That was me again.

I hate that these non-constructive reviews have actually encouraged bad behaviour on my part. Am I hiding behind the vengeful belief that if someone writes ridiculous reviews, they can be ridiculed in return?

Perhaps I should say "you just can't fix stupid" and leave it at that.

Oops... that's more bad behaviour, isn't it?

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Of course, I'm not the only one falling victim to the twice as many people express their dissatisfaction as satisfaction rule of thumb. I took a quick look through some freebie patterns by other Craftsy designers and found these dubious reviews among generally favourable ones.

Craftsy review
A reviewer who thinks that her opinion is of value despite never having made the project...

Even though this person has not yet made the bag, she gives the pattern 3 out of 5 stars. (By the way, the stars are interpreted as excellent, good, average, fair, poor. In my mind, if I were to recommend something, I'd better have a higher opinion of it than just "average".) This is also a free pattern, yet she rates it 3/5 on value for money. She has not yet followed the instructions, but they get a 3/5 also. Oh, and how much do you want to bet that she has not contacted the designer ever... yet there's a 4/5 rating on that.

(Speaking specifically to that point, I have other reviews on which I've been rated in that designer responsiveness category and I can honestly say I have never heard from those reviewers. Just as eBay doesn't let you rate the shipping when the shipping is free, Craftsy would do well to implement the same, or at least add an N/A option to some of these questions.)

Take a look at this one:

Craftsy review
A review by a person who thinks that just because she learns better by video, the pattern isn't good!

This reviewer also thinks that a free pattern is only worthy of 2/5 in terms of value for money. This whole review sounds as though the designer should have anticipated this person's difficulties and made something just for her.

And yet another:

Craftsy review
A review by a person who thinks a pattern should be customized for her...

Stating your wishes for what a free pattern could have been doesn't make for a valid review. I've made this analogy before: if I'm handing out free mac and cheese dinners and you decide to take one, any feedback you have about it shouldn't be that you wished it had been lasagna instead.

I'll go one step further and say that if it's free and you didn't like it but it didn't cause you health problems, then just zip it.

Not to focus on Craftsy for this whole post, let me turn to CreativeLive for this last example.

Slightly different now, because this is a review of Betz White's Build Your Own Tote: The Basic Bag course. It's the first of three classes that go through how to make a personalized tote bag. By the title alone, you know that it's basic and that it's a tote bag, arguably the most ubiquitous sewing project out there.

On CreativeLive, you start a review by giving a thumbs up or down on a general recommendation of the course. This was the only one to give it a thumbs down.

review of Betz White course on CreativeLive
A review of Betz White's Build Your Own Tote: The Basic Bag course on CreativeLive...

In this review of Betz's course, the reviewer starts by complaining that the class is for a beginner, which she herself isn't. And yet the rest of it seems to imply that she couldn't find any way — either through this class or elsewhere online — to make this bag without wasting her time. (Ironic that she didn't mind wasting her time doing all that googling, but I digress.) This is about a tote bag. And she complained about being frustrated because she was an experienced student. Why take a class for making a basic tote bag if you're "experienced"?

As I am with any reviews of my own creations, I don't have an issue with a negative review if you have a legitimate complaint. And by legitimate, I mean that you've read the description to know what you're buying in the first place. You then followed the instructions to make the project, but had issues. You then contacted me about those issues... but then I just didn't help you at all.

Or maybe you believe I promised something that the product just doesn't deliver.

Unless that's the case, leaping onto the nearest review platform to spew opinions — that are often contradictory and not based on fact — doesn't help anyone and likely discourages the designer. To top it off, it often makes the reviewer look bad. If a review helps no one and makes you look bad, why write it?

All things considered, I bemoan the essential lack of empathy and appreciation. People should turn the table around before writing and hitting "submit". Before slamming someone in this little independent crafting world with a less than glowing review (particularly when it's for a free item, OMG), it would just be nice to take a moment and sit in that other person's seat and consider, how might these comments be received?

Yeah, I know: I'm probably just preaching to a wall.

The people I'm talking about won't see this. Or they will and won't understand it because they don't have the patience to read properly... or because there aren't enough pictures... or a flippin' video.


  1. hope venting helped you feel better, I have been sewing/crafting for over 50 years and do still like beginner projects because I do learn new to me things and easier methods, I am sorry you have received bad feed back, some people just put their 'mouth' in gear before the brain. thank you for doing what you do and know that not everyone answers the flood of review requests they get. Sue

    1. Ha, ha — venting/writing always makes me feel better. ;-) And I totally agree with you about the appeal of simple beginner projects even with years of experience; I love a "quick win" and the chance to be amazed by something simple yet new. Thank you so much, Sue, for leaving your kind comment. You've just sent a ray of sunshine my way!

  2. I find the same thing with reviews on Amazon. I want to find out if the product is good and works and worth buying and some reviews just give it one star because the box came damaged or late and so what does that to do with the actual product rating and review? I usually read those bad reviews first to see if they are really reviewing or just venting. I take take those reviews with a grain of salt.

    But when you get a poor review on your pattern, I hope people are smart enough to read the reviews and realize what the person is saying isn't helpful. Maybe enough people check the not helpful box on those reviews it will show Craftsy they need a better system for reviewing. I haven't had any reviews that I know of on Craftsy. I do you get an email when someone reviews a pattern?

    1. Yeah, it's amazing how so many people don't choose to take it up with the right party when something goes minutely wrong. I see those Amazon reviews all the time being responded to by the seller saying, "we're here to help, we want to ensure your satisfaction, contact us!"

      About Craftsy, nope, you don't get notified when someone reviews a pattern. The "email preferences" settings page is quite simple and doesn't go into any sort of detail about your shop or what activity will result in a notification. In this instance - with regards to other people being smart enough to realize the person is not being helpful - it may not happen. I don't believe in soliciting reviews (I know some designers do this) so there are no other reviews that people can read to get the proper info in this case had I not addressed it in my pattern description. Even so, people will now see that rating first (before they read my description - if they read my description) when they land on that particular pattern page.

  3. I'm with Sue - hope you feel better after venting. Sorry you've had some bad reviews. I'd love to say that others will be able to see straight though them, but sadly, some won't. In this day and age, some people expect everything to be tailored specifically for them, even though the product / pattern / item is clearly labelled that it is not. And the point about value for money when the pattern was free - perhaps a Maths lesson is in order. I really think there's a proportion of the population who just love to sound off when things don't go their way, even if they are at fault.

    There's a quote I love - The more you know, the more you know you don't know. Sounds like some of the reviewers don't realise that it was their lack of knowledge and skills that caused the project to not work out.


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