Posted by: jinniver | August 27, 2008

Website review: Planet Purl

Final update: While I was impressed with how Beth Moriarty of Planet Purl responded to the criticism on Ravelry, I’ve discovered to my dismay that that’s only her public persona.  I received a response to the email I sent her, and I was put off by the rather nasty tone and the mysterious implied accusations.  After commenting that if all knitters were the same we’d all knit black socks (couldn’t argue there), she then went on to say “I’d appreciate it if you don’t mobilize black sock knitters to send hate mail on that, too.”  Too?  I don’t recall mobilizing anyone to send hate mail at any time.  There were also some comments about Ravelry that were less than complimentary, including about “anonymous cyber bullying.”  Apparently, that’s her take on people expressing their opinions.  She ended with an obviously insincere invite to check back regularly, which was undercut immediately by her comment that it was ok if I didn’t:  “One down, but 999,999,999 other knitters around the world to serve.”

I wish her luck with her site and those other 99,999,999 knitters (because the 100 million (100,000,000) knitters she references earlier in the email minus 1 is not 999,999,999)–I’ve requested that my account be closed.

Original review:

If you’re going to present yourself as an alternative to Ravelry, you need to be able to compete adequately. Planet Purl falls well short.

I’d never heard of Planet Purl until another Raveler posted about a recent ad in the Fall 2008 issue of Vogue Knitting. The issue had an excellent article on Ravelry, which I read in my LYS’s store copy. I never saw the sidebar ad two pages before the article for Planet Purl, which proclaimed, “Join our online community today with no waiting!” The original poster wondered if the line and the placement were intentional digs at Ravelry, which is still in beta with a waiting list (of course, the “wait” these days is about 24 hours, and someone without that much patience has no business hand knitting–it’s not exactly an “instant” gratification kind of hobby). My initial impression was probably not…until Casey confirmed that the Planet Purl creators were introducing themselves as Ravelry’s competition at an event earlier this year.

That’s all it took for those of us who hadn’t yet checked out the site to hop on over, and without exception we came away underwhelmed–if not a little disgusted by the overblown claims of competition. Don’t get me wrong–none of us think Ravelry owns the idea of online knitting/crocheting communities. Competition is great, for without competition you risk stagnation. Not every site will be everything for everyone. However, when you specifically take aim at a competitor as part of your marketing, you’d better be able to back it up. Here’s where Planet Purl falls woefully short:

  • It is agonizingly slooooooooooooooooow.
  • Signing up:  There may be no waiting, but it’s a longer process than I liked, with the requirement to add more info than I wanted.  I was especially annoyed by the fact that a set of info was marked as optional, but when I didn’t add it I was taken back to that page and told it had to be added before I could move on.  Too many of the questions seemed aimed more at providing marketing info to the site than “get to know me” info to my fellow knitters.
  • Patterns:  The home page boasts “1000’s of Free Patterns” (and that’s not a typo…or, not my typo.  If you’re running a major site like this one hopes to be, you need writers and editors who know the difference between pluralization (1000s for thousands) and possessives (1000’s = a 1000 who owns something), but every pattern I saw in the site created forum were simply links to various yarn companies’ free patterns.  Frankly, I can find them on my own–and they’re available via Ravelry.  What about the exciting things happening with independent designers?
  • Patterns again:  Well, there is a board for user-submitted patterns as well, which is where I guess these will appear.  I have to guess because as of this moment there are exactly 4 user submitted patterns–all mine.  All the other sections are blank, and the forums for posting were established almost a month ago.
  • Patterns, take 3:  Finding the pattern you want is going to be a nightmare.  Is it in the regular patterns section (which seem to be “for sale” patterns and included exactly 1 boy’s item)?  Is it in the user submitted thread?  Or in the site created forum?  Yes, I said “thread’ and “forum.”  Unlike with Ravelry, where the patterns are in a searchable database, Planet Purl puts the patterns in forums, where they can be discussed.  Not only will you have to page through post after post of patterns that aren’t what you’re looking for, you’ll also have to wade through all of the comments posted.  No, thanks.
  • Database:  There isn’t one.  For anything.  Enough said.
  • Database again:  Well, there’s sort of one.  There’s a yarn database.  It’s extremely limited and searchable by only one category:  weight.  Almost useless.  There are also books and gadgets (something Ravelry doesn’t have at this time).  But I can’t really call any of it a database since the search capabilities and info are so limited–it’s no more of a database than you’d find on Amazon, complete with link to buy.
  • Notebook: This is one of my favorite parts of Ravelry.  I can enter all of my yarn stash, my needles, my patterns (both favorites and ones I’ve queued to do), and my projects–with all of my notes.  It’s an outstanding organizational tool.  Planet Purl has absolutely nothing to compare.
  • Did I mention it’s slow? I’m just trying to get back to the Community page, and it’s not loading.
  • Community:  This is not nearly the robust and active community brought to you by Ravelry.  Certainly, it won’t be if no one joins…but why would those of us who have found a forum we like join another one?  You have to give us a reason to come chat on your site.  Planet Purl doesn’t.  There is no ability to form groups, other than for knitalongs.  The established forums are sadly limited:  Free patterns, books, knitting/crocheting techniques, yarn, gadgets, related crafts, and charity knitting.  That’s it.  Several forums have no posts.  Most posts that do exist came from a Planet Purl employee to establish the topic.
  • Ads and pictures:  Oh, my eyes.  I hate sparkly ads, and the rotating ad on the main page goes through some sort of spakly change-over when it rotates.  Unlike Ravelry, the ads are located on the top of the page (Ravelry places them at the bottom of forum pages only).  And all of the pictures have the exact same look:  a cartoon drawling of a painfully hip and unnatural looking woman, complete with some saying that basically boils down to, “Buy Yarn.”  And that’s it.  Meanwhile, Ravelry offers up ads that are works of art in some cases, including one that inspired me to immediately go and buy the pictured yarn, without having checked mundane details like fiber content, yardage…price.
  • Reviews:  I read three of the four “featured reviews” on the front page and was seriously disappointed.  One of them read like an actual review, where someone from the site tried out the product and had something to say on how well it worked.  The other two were simply condensed ads, one for the KnitPicks sock blanks and one for the Carina Sweater by White Lies Design.  There was no indication that anyone actually used the sock blanks or knit the sweater, and that’s what I expect in a review (which is why I joined Planet Purl and played with it before writing this).  Ravelry doesn’t have reviews, per se (although members could add their reviews of yarns and patterns in the notes), but Planet Purl has a very long way to go to match Clara Parkes of Knitter’s Review.
  • Yarn shop listing: I’ll stick to KnitMap. They offer a lot more info, including (especially) user reviews.  All Planet Purl offered was name, address and phone number–not even website addresses.  And the listing was outdated.  I know others found bad listings, and there was one for Corpus Christi (an LYS was listed that has been out of business for over a year).

There are areas where Planet Purl could offer something more than Ravelry…if properly established:

  • Email notification:  That’s something many people have asked for on Ravelry–notification via email when they have a Ravelry PM or a reply to a post in a forum.  Ravelry doesn’t yet have it (although it’s on The List); Planet Purl does.
  • Blogs:  Planet Purl hosts free blogs for members.  Unfortunately, everyone has the same format, with the big Planet Purl banner across the top.  All of the blogs (that had posts, most didn’t) looked exactly the same–flat and uninspired.
  • Travel guides:  This has the greatest potential to really put the “planet” in Planet Purl…but it appears to be a bit of a disaster.  I’m literate (usually) in only one language, so I wasn’t able to really analyze the knitting dictionaries that Planet Purl provides.  However, several bi- or multi-lingual Ravelers have checked out the languages they know, and the result was a resounding thumbs down.  Among the problems:  incorrect words (one phrase was actually, “Can you put yarn in washing machine?” and that’s not what it was supposed to say); incorrect dialects for given areas (Hong Kong is primarily Cantonese-speaking, but the website offers Mandarin); incorrect languages for some countries (Japanese is a language spoken by a small segment of the population of Guam…but English is one of their official languages, so you’d be better off with English!); and really bad phonetic pronunciations (they don’t always remember that the “w” in German is pronounced like an English “v”, and that’s just the one I caught).
  • Errata:  Right now, I think this Planet Purl’s best feature.  They have a collection of links to the errata for a large number of knitting and crocheting books, loosely organized by title (loosely because they’re grouped by letters, such as A-D, and then you have to search in that thread).  Errata can be one of the most painful parts of knitting, especially when you’ve spent hours on a hand-crafted item only discover a problem not of your own making.  And finding errata can be almost as painful.  This will definitely be a go-to spot for me when knitting anything from a book.  There doesn’t seem to be a matching section for magazines, which would be nice.

Maybe someday Planet Purl will be able to live up to the hype they’re trying to generate by riding Ravelry’s coattails.  That day is not today.

Edit:  The comment was made that I gave helpful advice in my review…and that’s when it occurred to me that to be really helpful I needed to share my thoughts with Planet Purl.  So I sent an email with a condensed version of my review, and added some things not in my original post–the reviews, yarn shop listings, and errata.  Those have now been added here.  I have joined Planet Purl and have not cancelled my membership–I’d like to see where the site goes.

UPDATE:  Beth from Planet Purl stopped by the Ravelry thread (actually, since it was her very first post, I thought she might have joined just to respond, but she’s been a Raveler since mid-February of this year…though she doesn’t seem to have done much (no posts, projects, yarn, etc.)) to respond to the comments.  Basically, Planet Purl was envisioned a site for traveling knitters, with travel guides and shop locations, in order to combine Beth’s two favorite things.  The rest of the items are intended to add to the experience; the forums and community are new.  So it is very much a work in progress.  My concern remains that the site’s alleged bread-and-butter–the shop info and travel guides–are as weak as they are (a professional firm was hired to develop the travel guides, so I’d have to say the site creators did all they could there; my husband’s assessment of the German dictionary was that it wasn’t as bad as I thought other than the typo).  And the fact that the other aspects are only meant to support the site’s original purpose doesn’t mean the same amount of attention shouldn’t go into the support features (like patterns).

The most important part of the response, I think, is that it’s clear the people from Planet Purl are listening to feedback and responding–and if Beth took offense to the sometimes harsh and dismissive comments she encountered, it didn’t come through in her post, which was quite professional.  I’m hoping that means they intend to really take in the feedback they receive and act on it if they feel it’s appropriate (and if they could start by correcting the 1000’s, I’d be pretty happy…).


Responses

  1. Excellent review. Even though you come down hard on Plant Purl you didn’t crush them, even gave them some helpful advice. I think they were pretty bold to compare themselves to Ravelry and not be able to deliver.

  2. Now *this* is a review, my friend!

    I too saw the post about PlanetPurl on ravelry. I read a few comments and then hit the main page of it to check it out myself.

    Their main page is a major turnoff. No thanks! Loved your “1000’s = a 1000 who owns something” point too. There were several typos there that even I noticed and I’m certainly no English professor.

    And your blog’s name and tagline make me laugh every time I come over and read you.

  3. Just mentioning — Rav does have errata links, you know? It’s by pattern, not by book, though, so whether the pattern is in a book or a magazine (or both, like some of Vogue’s or IK), the mention of errata will show up when you look up the pattern on Ravelry, with the link. I guess both would be nice, but of the two, book vs. pattern, for me, I’d rather have it linked to the pattern. But there could be a mention in the book page that there are errata. Add it to the list! I’m trying to get in the habit of checking all patterns on Ravelry for errata before I knit them.

    I had a friend, whom I’d been trying to get on Ravelry for months, struggling with the Lutea shell from IK. I watched her knit and agreed she was knitting correctly what the instructions said. So I knit and concluded there was an error. First I Googled, and found the errata, but when I looked Lutea up on Ravelry, there the mention of the errata was, plain as day, with the link. She had frogged four times….

    Thanks for the review, very informative; I came over from Ravelry, as you might guess!

  4. Very true on errata, and I do like the connection between errata and pattern on Ravelry. Here’s the weakness to Ravelry’s system: having that errata get on the pattern page requires several steps:

    1. A user has to discover a problem and the errata.
    2. A user has to notify one of the volunteer editors that the errata exists and where it’s located.
    3. A volunteer editor needs to update the pattern page.

    That doesn’t always happen, unfortunately. I’ve seen several threads on Ravelry where someone will ask about a pattern he/she is having a problem with, and another Raveler will helpfully post, “Oh, there’s errata for that pattern”…but if they don’t notify a volunteer editor, that info never gets to the pattern page. Sometimes volunteer editors don’t see the note for some time. And some patterns can’t be edited by volunteers. If the designer is on Ravelry, they’re the only one (with the possible exception of the sooper editors) who can make an changes to the pattern page once it’s entered.

  5. Thank you for the updated update and staying on top of this. It’s good to hear a real person’s interaction with any business – good, bad or indifferent.

    “One down, but 999,999,999 other knitters around the world to serve.”

    Erm, Beth? . . . make that 999,999,998 . . .

  6. um….999,999,997… Way to “win friends and influence people” Planet Purl!

  7. just read your update.

    yikes! so much for trying to help.

  8. Fantastic review. Very thorough, in my opinion! If a website is going to advertise themselves as being competition, they sure as hell better be able to deliver. Clearly, Planet Purl does not. Also, to find out that her public persona and her personal response were so different was an immediate turn off.

    If she can’t stand the heat, she shouldn’t have been in the kitchen stirring things up by claiming PP was competition.

    Well done!

  9. Bravo! What beautiful, thought review. You covered every last detail. Thank you!


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