The all-out revolt against Knitting.com helps explain boycotts at Reddit and Etsy – Quartz

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For well over a decade, the domain Knitting.com was on sale. Through this time, it was sparsely populated: It displayed around a dozen knitting-related links at any given time and the contact information for the site’s owner, Roy Edward Messer—the man who sold Vodka.com to Russian Standard Co. in 2006 for $3 million. Nothing on the site suggested the makings of a firestorm.

Then, in February 2022, two ecommerce bros plucked it from obscurity. Dave Bryant and Mike Jackness, calling themselves the EcomCrew, bought the site for $80,000. Neither had any knowledge of knitting—but they did have a goal of flipping the undeveloped domain into a million-dollar business within a matter of years.
In a podcast, Bryant and Jackness described knitting, with its high search volume and SEO potential, as the “perfect niche” for sales on Amazon. Many competitors in the space were “pretty unsophisticated,” they said, and amounted to little more than a “grandma who has the little blog that she’s run for the last 20 years.”
The language was distinctive. It smacked of Silicon Valley-speak, and in the year since, it has become emblematic of a broader conflict between online communities and the corporate platforms that operate as their enclosures. Today Redditors are on strike, X (née Twitter) is in turmoil, and Etsy vendors are boycotting and leaving the site. These tensions, which have only recently come to a head, were years in the making. Site owners are increasingly, and more aggressively, seeking ways to monetize online spaces for their own profit amid a slowdown in digital ad revenue. But communities are resisting.
The EcomCrew’s ambitions, as well as their overt sexism and ageism, sparked mass backlash from knitters online. Fiber arts forums exploded. “Knitting.com is capitalism and sexism at once,” read a post on Indie Untangled, one such forum. “They want to swoop into a community they don’t even care about and take whatever they can.” One commenter on subreddit r/craftsnark wrote, “They seem to be labouring under a misapprehension that the knitting community is exclusively made up of technophobic luddite geriatrics.” Yarn shop Lattes and Llamas declared “The Caucasknitty of these bros,” in a blog post.
“These guys came in and were very much using the language from the tech world and econ world: ‘We’re going to come in and wreck this industry,’” said Carrie CraftGeek (as she is known online), a TV producer by day and knitting YouTuber by night, in an interview with Quartz. “For me, personally, it felt very much like you’re not seeing us as a customer and as a community. You’re seeing wallets.”
Bryant and Jackness deleted the podcast from their site (but you can still listen here) and they wrote a message to the knitting community, acknowledging the response was “sobering.” (Quartz reached out to the pair for comment on their current business, but did not receive a response.) Bryant, in a show of repentance, explained in a blog post that they had started knitting and were learning “pearl stitches.” But the misspelling of the word “purl” only seemed to add insult to injury. 
Knitting.com is still up and running, meanwhile, but it is marketed specifically to “brand new never-held-needles-before knitters,” giving the existing knitting community a wide berth.
Bryant and Jackness purchased Knitting.com to tap a pool of consumers. The strategy is one they’d followed before, with success, on sites like Treadmills.com and Icewraps.com, which sell (you guessed it) treadmills and ice wraps. Their first mistake was lumping knitters into that same, materialist consumer category. The thread that connects knitters online isn’t consumption—it’s their common interest in the activity itself. “The knitting community in many ways operates like a fandom,” as CraftGeek put it.
In the 21st century, fandoms dominate sections of the internet. They often stretch over a confederation of social networks and online forums, which become sites for the exchange, and generation, of ideas, norms, vernacular, and merchandise. The groups may be fractious internally, but they nevertheless foster a kind of kinship, which allows them to mobilize in the face of a threatening out-group.
Such is the case for the knitting world, which has a deep-rooted online network dating back to the 1990s and early 2000s, The Knit List being one of the earliest gathering places. EcomCrew’s purchase of Knitting.com was akin to claiming land in foreign, ancient domain. It didn’t help that the duo trumpeted their arrival like conquerors. To knitters online, it felt like an invasion.
What followed was a barrage of criticism directed at Bryant and Jackness across sites online, and even directly on the EcomCrew website. The response left the two somewhat cowed. Jackness compared the experience to high school bullying or the Salem witch trials, in an interview last year with Input Magazine. The reaction never reached the point of boycott—though it appeared a tacit agreement in knitting forums that the site was on a black list. The verbal attacks were enough to get the duo to back down.
One of the greatest regrets the two have since cited is being too transparent in their strategy and launch (though it was on-brand: their podcast’s tagline is “the web’s most transparent podcast”). It’s no wonder then that Knitting.com today is stripped of any connection to Bryant or Jackness, and that any mention of the site’s revenue or current status is absent from EcomCrew’s updates. Knitting.com also makes no effort to market itself as a knitting community space—a role that is already fulfilled by Ravelry, the de facto social media network of the fiber arts world.
The site, instead, specifically targets knitting novices. It features guides for beginning knitters and tutorials on different stitches. It also has a blog where the posts are embedded with Amazon affiliate links, which generate a percentage commission per click, to pages selling knitting supplies. (Quartz and its parent company, G/O Media, also uses affiliate links, which has become standard practice in the media world.) The staff page of Knitting.com lists Hannah Maier, the former brand director of online knitting store Knit Picks, as the lead, with four other staff based in the Philippines. (EcomCrew has openly spoken about setting up a team in Cebu City as a cost-cutting measure.)
Their second knitting business, the Amazon store “BeKnitting,” also got set up, but more covertly. The shopfront is linked to another domain, be.knitting.com, a connection which can be traced after digging through public records. They show that ECC Media, LLC, registered in Nevada under Jackness’s name, is also listed as owning the trademark to BeKnitting. (Quartz contacted be.knitting.com to confirm ownership but has not received a response.) Again, there is no immediately identifiable link to EcomCrew.
The Knitting.com fracas is a microcosm of the tensions between online platforms and communities. It reveals that where online communities exist, so too does a high potential to organize.
A similar pushback, on a broader scale, played out earlier this year on Etsy and Reddit. In August, Etsy vendors in the UK (many of whom are also fiber artists) organized a boycott against the e-commerce site for withholding their earnings under its reserves policy. Meanwhile, over one-fifth of Reddit, a site made up of thousands of communities, continues to remain dark on the platform following the placement of paywalls on its API. The response is more extreme in these cases compared to Knitting.com—arguably, because more is at stake: these communities have already established roots on Etsy and Reddit.
Enter techno-feudalism, a word mash-up that makes more sense than you’d think. This economic thesis, which emerged in recent years out of leftist political thought, can help us understand these simmering face-offs between platforms and communities.
Entertain for a moment, this comparison: A platform like Reddit or Etsy is akin to an internet landowner, owning the physical infrastructure (i.e. servers) and legal rights to a platform. Users on the platform are like tenant farmers—techno-serfs, if you will. They produce value through their activity on the site, which is then harvested. The profits are partially, or sometimes almost wholly, scooped up by platform owners. The contract between the two is that users can exist on the site, or set up shop, for “free,” because their activity is monetizable. In turn, data is forfeited to the platforms and concentrated in their servers.
For Etsy vendors, this unsatisfying tradeoff has resulted in the platform skimming fees on their sales or withholding payment (a reserves policy change went into effect earlier in August: “For the vast majority of sellers with a reserve, the percentage of funds held in reserve will be reduced by at least half,” Kelly Clausen, an Etsy spokesperson, told Quartz via email).
For Redditors, their platform is sharing their content with “service providers” (often code for being offered up to advertisers) and selling their content to feed AI models. The terms of this quasi-contract have come under strain. Redditors are now being asked to pay for the site’s API, a tool they regularly use to maintain their communities—and to produce value on the platform.
Etsy vendors, meanwhile, were deprived of their earnings while facing seemingly arbitrary fees, to the point where some said they could not afford to pay their bills or maintain their businesses. Etsy also reportedly offered some vendors cash advance loans through its partner YouLend amid the height of the reserves boycott, after pushing sellers into a state of financial precarity.
“This has kind of been so far the starkest example of the sort of ‘Amazon-ification’ of Etsy,” said Mattie Boyd, a spokesperson for the Indie Sellers Guild, a nonprofit representing over 3,200 Etsy vendors. “Etsy is making more money these days off of selling services to sellers than they are off of facilitating transactions between buyers and sellers.”
In both cases, the communities have realized that their activity amounts to labor on behalf of their platforms. And absent unions, they’ve arrived at the same response: boycott. It’s no coincidence that members of the fiber arts community, which has an extensive offline history as a medium for activism, subversion, and political dissent, have been active members in the recent demonstrations on both platforms. In CraftGeek’s words: “If you come for the knitters, you’re going to get the needles.”
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