Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Etsy Dream

When I joined Etsy in June 06' it was touted as THE place to buy and sell handmade.  It advertised itself as a hand-built site and stressed the fact that it was different than anything else out there.  Indeed. 

Although I wasn't there from the very beginning, I think I came on board early enough to watch and grow along with the site.  And boy has it grown.  I was there when they moved from a beta site and grit my teeth along with everyone else with the bugs, setbacks, outages, slowdowns, revisions and rollouts.  I knew (and still know) very little about how a site integrates with search engines, but I have come to realize that different isn't always better.

As I learn more about SEO (search engine optimization) I've come to understand that Etsy wasn't really built with that in mind.  In short, if a search engine such as Google can't find you, no one using that search engine looking for products like you have will find you.

Etsy has supported odd tactics that are not used on other selling sites.  And as they start to realize that this has the potential to do more harm than good, they are scrambling to become more mainstream.  The problem is, people who got used to the 'old ways' and especially the ones who were successful are now starting to feel the sting.

They created a listing for .20 that lasts 4 months, yet they have a search based on most recently listed.  This is fundamentally illogical.  If search had always been based on relevancy, what someone was actually looking for, instead of what is most recent (and often not relevant) then the constant renewing of the same products over and over again wouldn't be necessary.  Unfortunately, it was a practice that caught on and likely produces significant income for Etsy and I'm sure they're loathe to change it.  I don't doubt for a minute that sellers found this advantageous and now don't want to see it changed, but it never should have started in the first place.

The main focus had always been on handmade.  It has veered from that dramatically as the number of vintage and commercial supply sellers has increased.  I understand their inclusion as true vintage items are usually rare and unique, and certainly a site where people craft is a built in customer base for the supply sellers.  However, the increase in these two categories has forced Etsy to re-evaluate their tagline from 'your place to buy and sell all things handmade' to.......who knows?  This is another factor in the disillusionment many of us are facing.

Being unique is probably not a viable choice for Etsy and somewhere along the line they had to decide if they wanted to make money and grow or stay small and remain a haven for truly handmade, knowing that every seller and every buyer is there because they truly support and appreciate the handmade concept.

The recent problems we've seen, I believe, are just the tip of the iceberg.  Etsy has to change it's very foundation and work it's way from the bottom up.  The Etsy I joined nearly 4 years ago is very different from the Etsy today, and I have a feeling it will be unrecognizable as a 'handmade' site in another 4 years.

This realization saddens me, as I bought into the Etsy dream and vision.  I had a loyalty to Etsy in the beginning, and though I was often critical and didn't always agree with the way things were done, I was always hopeful that the changes would benefit the handmade community.

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