Creativity Stories and the Etsy Community

Etsy.com, an online community devoted to buying and selling crafts, now has over 15 million members and $63 million in sales each month. Etsy is not only financially successful, but many of its members celebrate their identities as “Etsians,” members of a creative community with a distinctive ethos. While there are many factors that contribute to Etsy’s ethos, one of them involves the way that Etsy features certain sellers/stores as models for the community as a whole.

Esty.com

Etsy.com

Combining a content analysis of 237 Featured Seller interviews on Etsy.com (2005-2010) and member-check interviews, our study demonstrates how Featured Sellers embed creativity stories in their interviews as a means to share community-specific creativity skills and dispositions with other “Etsians.” Specifically, we found that Etsy’s Featured Sellers are:

  • Semi- or fully professional crafter-artists, with degrees and professional skills, in contrast to traditional stereotypes of craft as amateurish and hobbyist.
Etsy Featured Seller Demographics

Etsy Featured Seller Demographics

  • Engaged in an activity of identity and role definition which navigates and defines the relations and tensions between art(ist) and craft(er) as key roles in the Etsy community

“I feel  a bit silly and embarrassed calling myself an artist. I would be proud, though, to be considered a craftsperson… It seems the word craft has taken a beating somewhere along the line, but to me, it conjures up the honorable and noble idea of taking the time and care to craft a beautiful decorative or useful item.” [Female; Feb. 5, 2010]

  • Embody a view of Etsy as e-commerce tool, virtual community, and inspirational resource.

“I believe my art and craft skills have improved greatly alongside my business skills, as Etsy has allowed me to create and sell my work on a regular basis. Painting full time is continuing to improve my craft, and feedback from the Etsy community helps me hone my skills.
[Female 5; Member Check]

For more information, please check out our full paper From Organizational to Community Creativity : Paragon Leadership & Creativity Stories at Etsy that we will be presenting at ACM CSCW2013 (Feb 26, Session: Collaboration in Creative Communities) and the Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Group at Indiana University website.

Tyler Pace, Indiana University
Katie O’Donnell, Indiana University
Natalie DeWitt, Indiana University
Shaowen Bardzell, Indiana University
Jeffrey Bardzell, Indiana University

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About Tyler Pace

Tyler Pace is a Ph.D. Candidate in Human-Computer Interaction and Design in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University under the advisement of Drs. Jeffrey Bardzell and Shaowen Bardzell. In his research on everyday creative self-expression in socio-technical systems, Tyler employs a mixed-methods, critical-empirical approach that combines the theories and methodologies of media studies, cultural studies, and human-computer interaction. In particular, Tyler is interested in issues of creativity, collaboration, identity, and affective user experiences as they are constructed in and mediated by our ever expanding socio-technical environments.

6 thoughts on “Creativity Stories and the Etsy Community

  1. Do most of the Etsians you talked to treat it primarily as a source of extra income or primarily as a creative outlet? Do many of them do it full time?

    • Of the Etsians we interviewed, about 1/3 maintained full-time employment from their Etsy work. It was much more common to hear and read stories about the ebb and flow of Etsy work with major swings from high sales/popularity to commercial and creative droughts.

  2. Fascinating work! Noticing that your presentation will be at the Collaboration in Creative Communities session, how do you think of the connections of this research to studies on, say, Wikipedia or open source software projects? I’d be especially interested in hearing your thoughts on how does looking at a community like Etsy help us complicate/diversify our notions about creative online collaborations. Looking forward to your presentation at CSCW!

    • Etsy affords a couple of interesting opportunities for the study of creative communities.

      1) The community is predominantly female. This is true for both buyers and sellers. As Wikipedia and OSS projects tends to be predominantly male, Etsy provides a great counter-example that allows us to explore gender, community, and creativity from another angle.

      2) Etsians seem to be more aware of or interested in commerce than in Wikiepdia or OSS communities. Wikipeda edtiors and OSS developers tend to have much more indirect financial incentives for their work, whereas Etsians are always already balancing creativity and community with capitalist concerns. This can sometimes cause tensions regarding issues like “selling out”, going “mainstream”, becoming “too successful”, etc.

      3) Arguably, Etsy is somewhat less well-defined at the moment than Wikipedia and major OSS groups. This is probably a function of age as Etsy is still relatively new and still carefully exploring its policies, features, goals, etc. on many levels. In studies of Wikipedia and major OSS communities, we often see discussions of boundary objects and correlations to communities of practice or interest, but those metaphors might not quite fit Etsy. Part of the reason for this study is to help shine a light on Etsy and help promote it as a fruitful case for applying and complicating existing notions of creativity and community.

  3. Great paper. The “creativity stories” angle described in this post is interesting, and I found the full paper’s discussion of organizational creativity and creative leadership to be especially helpful and relevant to my own work. It’s encouraging to see this kind of work at the CSCW conference.

    I’d also love to see a response to Airi’s question about connections to other creative domains.

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