Sunday, July 11, 2021

Fallacy vs. reality

There's been a wee flurry of activity lately on social media, from a handful of people defending Ravelry against complaints about the accessibility problems on that site. All saying, in some way, that the problems aren't real, or don't matter, or those harmed are just being mean, etc.

These posts all seem to employ one or more of seven easily disprovable fallacies. So I'm going to go through all of those and show why they're fallacies, in the hope that it will help. Either because it makes people experiencing problems feel that they're not alone, or because it will raise awareness that the problem exists, or - ideally - because it will change hearts and minds. (Hey, hope springs eternal.)


Fallacy #1: People are only complaining because they hate Ravelry

This is laughably untrue. Seriously, it doesn't take a lot of effort to discover that the people upset about the problems loved Ravelry, loved using it, and were happily promoting it as a fantastic website before the redesign dropped.



Tweets like this are legion, they're not hard to find. The people complaining did not start with a hate-on for Ravelry. In fact, when the redesign was first launched, the prevailing mood among those negatively impacted was that although things were very bad, they were absolutely confident that Ravelry would listen to them and fix the problems just as soon as possible. (And that was my feeling, too!)

One common theme I've also seen among those defending Ravelry is to conflate those concerned about accessibility with another group with possibly malicious motivations. But this is also demonstrably untrue. I wrote a thread on Twitter to debunk it:

None of this stems from hatred, or some bizarre desire to 'bring Ravelry down'. Those who are complaining are doing so because there is a legitimate problem. Which dovetails very nicely into...


Fallacy #2: Websites can't really cause these problems

I've provided resources to debunk this notion previously, but here we go again.

Note that throughout these pieces, it's not just a case of people's responses to animations, it's also about certain visual patterns, e.g. stripes, high contrast, etc.

From my reading so far, it sounds like scientists aren't sure yet exactly why certain visuals can trigger these physical impacts, and it certainly doesn't sound like it's a widespread problem affecting the majority of the population. But it very clearly is a problem, and does genuinely impact people. 

If you're interested in reading about some of the specific problems with the new design, this thread is long but has a lot of detail:

 

Fallacy #3: Websites are websites; if you can use one site, there's no reason you can't use Ravelry


Different websites have entirely different designs, features, coding, etc. To think that they must have the same accessibility because they're both websites displays a fundamental lack of understanding of what accessibility even is.

This is akin to saying that a library with stairs everywhere has the same level of accessibility as a post office with elevators and wheelchair ramps, just because they're both buildings. It doesn't work like that.

As an example, let's examine just a single aspect of website accessibility: keyboard navigation. Comparing keyboard navigation on two different websites produces a vastly different experience for someone with accessibility issues which prevent them from using a mouse.



Fallacy #4: I don't have a problem with Ravelry, so anyone who says they do must be lying

As we've seen, these problems do not affect every single person. But there have been loads of first-hand accounts saying that yes, it genuinely is a problem. Such as:



I could do this all day. This is just a sampling.

Bottom line, people are different from one another. They have different health issues, their bodies work in different ways, etc. Your lack of a problematic experience does not negate someone else's problematic experience.


Fallacy #5: It's just a few whiners who don't like change

If you've read this far, you'll have seen many individual examples of people who are being hurt by the new design (and hold on to your hat, there are plenty more to come!) - we are clearly not talking about just a few outliers.

But just to slam that point home, here are some stats from a survey which was done to try and gauge how many people were affected by the NuRav problems. Almost 2,000 impacted people reported their issues.

And of course there's no way to know how many additional people have been negatively impacted who didn't fill out the survey. That number of 1,858 affected people is just the starting point.

Now, of course the number of affected people represents a small percentage of the total size of Ravelry's audience. (In fact, I would hazard a guess that it aligns with the percentage of the general population who gets affected by bad contrast and striping patterns and whathaveyou.) But - and here is the crucial point - a small percentage of a massive number of people still represents a very large number of people! Thousands of people being harmed is NOT OKAY. 

I would also point out that when a recent system bug messed with the group membership settings of a small percentage of Ravelry users, the Ravelry team immediately investigated and had it completely fixed within a matter of days. As I recall, the number of affected users in that instance was only 812. So, just in case anyone was thinking of presenting the argument that 1,858 people is not a big enough group to warrant Ravelry putting a priority on fixing their experience - clearly, it actually does meet that criteria; in fact, it exceeds it by at least a factor of about 2.3.

But not only is the number of people affected clearly not "a few", but it is absolutely not okay to frame them as "whiners". This problem is not trivial. This is not about the fact that something changed, as I explained in this thread:

And further to this incorrect notion that 'not liking change' is to blame, you may also be interested in this thread, which posits that when users react negatively to a website changing, it's not actually change which is the culprit. 

 

Fallacy #6: Even if you are having problems with Ravelry, you can easily solve them just by changing your settings on the site

This is extremely untrue.

Now, Ravelry has indeed, since the redesign launch, introduced the ability for users to fiddle around with a number of different display settings, to try to improve their experience. But - and this is key - they don't always work. And to boot, one of them doesn't even exist anymore.

The one that's now gone is the "Classic Rav toggle", also referred to as "Classic mode" or just simply "Classic". This was implemented by Ravelry fairly shortly after the new look was discovered to be problematic (and honestly, was an admission in and of itself that the new design had serious issues). But it was temporary.

And ever since its introduction, it has been used to dismiss people who say they have problems with the new design. I've lost count of the number of people reporting - even recently! - that in reaction to saying 'NuRav hurts me,' they hear 'Just revert to the old look, what's the big deal.'  Despite the fact that Ravelry discontinued this option THREE MONTHS AGO.

And even if they hadn't, this option never worked for everyone. No one understands why, but the Classic toggle was widely reported to not be the same experience as the original, pre-NuRav design. While the Classic toggle did allow many people to keep using Ravelry, it still caused harm for others:



Again, this is just a sample, I could keep going. But let's get back to the other settings on the site that do still exist. Why can't people use those?

The good news is that there absolutely are people who are harmed by regular NuRav, but can use the site with certain settings changed - and that's fantastic! But just as absolutely, that's not true for everyone. Whether you're talking about Herdwick mode...



...Or whether you're talking about dark mode:



These examples are not hard to find.

The corollary to this fallacy, of course, is that if you can't be bothered to change your settings on Ravelry and are still complaining, you're either lazy or a whiner. Or both! But clearly we can see that this isn't true. It's marvellous that the display options which haven't been discontinued do help some people. But there are still many people who simply aren't helped by them.


Fallacy #7: Worst-case scenario, you can always simply use another site

It's true that there are other fibre-related sites and alternatives to some of Ravelry's functionality, many of which actually sprang up in response to all these problems. But bottom line, there is no site out there with the incredible database and search functionality like Ravelry has. There just isn't. Even Ravelry's founders acknowledge this, when they talk about the need for decentralization:

Moreover, this centralization and monopoly extends beyond database functionality and into the fibre-related community features. Test knits, design support, and craft events of varying sizes - including small, large, and seriously major - are either exclusively or primarily hosted on Ravelry.

And even if none of this were true, businesses have a moral obligation to be usable for those who want to use them. Especially a business with the monopoly and massive reach of Ravelry. 

There may even be a legal obligation. Admittedly, the related legislation right now is new, thin, and largely untested, but that's changing. Although not every legal decision goes this way, more and more, websites are being seen in the eyes of courts in the United States (where Ravelry operates) as places of public accommodation. As well, legal issues of digital accessibility are becoming increasingly prevalent:

Even setting aside Ravelry's monopoly on what their site can do, the other thing to remember is that it isn't just a simple case of 'Well, don't go there if it bothers you so much.' Ravelry has now become so prevalent in the fibre world that it is extremely difficult to avoid it, even when you're trying to.



Even screenshots of the new design have been reported to negatively impact people. (In fact, there were a lot of really illustrative tweets I didn't feel I could quote in this post because they included NuRav screenshots.)


 

Conclusion

The unspoken implication in all of these fallacies is that there is actually nothing to complain about. But even a cursory examination of the facts demonstrates that this is not the case. The site still puts people at risk for physical harm. And that's why people are still talking about it. The site needs to be fixed so that it can stop hurting people.

Yes, there's anger and frustration coming out in some of the accounts I've included here. And there are a lot of people who at this point are so angry and upset with how badly Ravelry has screwed the pooch on this whole issue, that they wouldn't go back even if it was fully fixed tomorrow. Why? Because when businesses discriminate against segments of their audience and treat them badly, that kills brand loyalty and trust.

To be clear: Ravelry did this. Ravelry's own actions harmed their brand. Many of those affected have tried - constructively, patiently, and supportively - to explain the problems and to assist with solutions, and in return, Ravelry ignored them, dismissed them, attempted to discredit them, and suppressed their voices.

The onus is not on the audience to keep sticking around for that kind of treatment. The people being hurt should not be blamed. It is unreasonable to expect them to give lenience and understanding and compassion for a business which harmed them, and then made a conscious decision to keep harming them.

If pointing out that Ravelry did something wrong is impacting their reputation, that's not cruelty towards Ravelry. That's Ravelry experiencing consequences.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Sock geometry

At last! I have added more content to my YouTube channel!

This video demonstrates how and why the heel flap construction for handknitted socks actually works. Hopefully it'll be helpful to folks out there!


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Doublethink

So I've been reading Cassidy's manifesto. (Health warning: the tweet at that link, links out to Ravelry. If you want to actually read the manifesto itself, there's a non-Ravelry version.)

Leaving aside the NFT aspect of it, what Cassidy is essentially saying is that she wants decentralization of yarn community data. She writes that there should be one, big, "independent, not-for-profit, decentralized, community owned database of patterns, yarns, and their connections to projects." She also writes that "Rav should be just one of many interfaces" to this database.

Sounds amazing, yes? Yes. However...

In the same breath, Cassidy is also clearly saying that this community-owned database should be...Ravelry's database. 

This is a serious problem, because this stated philosophy is completely at odds with so many other Ravelry policies, public statements, and actions. 

Here are the inherent contradictions for why what Cassidy is saying doesn't jive with reality.

1. You can't be a business and not-for-profit at the same time.

Cassidy's manifesto says:

"The yarn community’s digital history and future infrastructure should not be controlled by a for-profit entity." 

Yet, Ravelry is a for-profit entity. It's a business (heads-up: Cassidy's deadname hasn't been changed at that link). Specifically, it's a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

If Cassidy wants The Database to be controlled by a not-for-profit entity, then by definition, it should not be controlled by Ravelry.

2. Other businesses won't use your API if you don't allow them to use your API.

Some other quotes from Cassidy's manifesto:

"We are not competitive"

"I would love assist [sic] in fostering an open and supportive ecosystem of businesses any way I can."

But have you ever read what the Ravelry API terms of use actually say? (They're at https://www.ravelry.com/wiki/pages/Legal%20:%20Application%20Developer%20and%20API%20License%20Agreement but of course that's a Ravelry URL, so copy-and-paste it with caution.) Here are some direct quotes:

"The API may only be used for commercial applications whose primary audience is Ravelry Users unless Ravelry expressly allows otherwise."

"You may not use the API to create applications that in any way compete with or diminish the need for any of Ravelry’s own commercial applications."

"You may not use the API in any manner which may damage Ravelry’s reputation or commercial operations."

"You may only use data and/or Content collected from Ravelry in a manner that is consistent with Ravelry’s wishes."

These terms of use clearly forbid potential Ravelry competitors from using the API. Meaning that Cassidy's manifesto is demonstrably untrue when contrasted with actual Ravelry policy: Ravelry is competitive, and doesn't want an open and friendly business ecosystem.

3. If a database's terms of use are dictated by a single end user, it's not decentralized and community-owned.


Continuing to examine Ravelry's API user agreement, we must ask who is to be the arbiter of all of these terms of use? Who, for example, gets to decide what constitutes an application...
  • ...whose primary audience is Ravelry users?
  • ...which competes with or diminishes the need for any of Ravelry's own commercial applications?
  • ...which may damage Ravelry's reputation or commercial operations? 
  • ...which uses data collected in a manner consistent with Ravelry's wishes? 

Well, the answer is right there in the API user agreement:

"Ravelry, in its reasonable discretion, shall be the sole arbiter of your compliance with this requirement. "

It is impossible to have a database which is decentralized and community-owned, if Ravelry is the sole arbiter and dictator of the terms of use.

4. If a database is unreliable, other businesses won't use it.

Cassidy's manifesto clearly expects that The Database she's envisioning would be relied upon by other businesses. By definition, therefore, such a database must be reliable. And yet, again from the Ravelry API terms of use:

"Ravelry may from time to time revise or update the API and/or any documentation included with the API, at its option"

"Notwithstanding the foregoing, Ravelry is under no obligation to maintain or update the API. Ravelry may discontinue the API at its sole discretion."

"Nothing contained herein shall give you any ownership rights to any data or Content found on Ravelry."

"Your use of the API is at your sole risk. The API is provided on an “As Is” and “As Available” basis. Ravelry makes no warranty that the API will meet your requirements or expectations, or will be available uninterrupted, timely, secure or error-free, Without limiting the foregoing, Ravelry expressly disclaims all warranties of any kind, whether express or implied including, but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement."

No business worth its salt would be willing to have crucial data come from an entity so totally unwilling to guarantee that data; and probably a competitor entity, at that? No way.

5. Ravelry has proven itself unworthy of trust to be the keeper of the yarn community's database.

Even setting aside Ravelry's unwillingness to guarantee the integrity - or even existence - of their API, they are not a reliable entity. Here are a few examples of how Ravelry has demonstrated that they are not actually capable of the "reasonable discretion" that they tout in the API's user agreement:

What does this mean?

I admit, I'm scratching my head. 

  • Does Cassidy mean that she will be relinquishing control of the Ravelry API to a not-for profit third party?
    • Will the API be hosted somewhere else?
    • Will Ravelry be reprogrammed to pull the API data from that somewhere else?
  • Or, does Cassidy mean that the API terms of use will be substantially changed?
    • Will Ravelry begin to guarantee the integrity and existence of the API?
    • Will Ravelry remove all the terms which effectively prevent other business from using the API?
    • Will Ravelry hand over discretion and arbitration of appropriate use of the API to the community?

Because if Cassidy wants her manifesto to be made real...the above is what's going to have to happen. It is a literal impossibility to achieve an independent, community-owned, any-business-can-use-it database managed by a not-for-profit entity, if that database is the same one that's used and controlled by Ravelry today.

Blog post title reference

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Blast from the past

 Almost a decade ago now (oh my gawd), there was a fibre arts challenge that went 'round the Internet called "The 12 in '12 Challenge". The idea was that you would pick something to make twelve of during the 2012 calendar year, and then go do it. What you picked depended completely on what would be a challenge to you personally. I saw people committing to make twelve pairs of socks, twelve sweaters, twelve completed projects in general, etc. etc.

I've no idea why this challenge captured my imagination, but it did. I wanted to do something, but I couldn't think of any item that I genuinely wanted to have twelve of at the end of the year that would be an actual challenge to me to do in twelve months. So as a fledgling designer trying to get my name out there, I spun the challenge on its head a little bit, and decided that I would submit twelve proposals to magazines, for brand-new designs, in twelve months.

I met the challenge (actually I think I did 13 or 14 in the end), but this design - which was accepted, to my giddy delight! - was the very first one I came up with.

© Christa Tippmann, Jane Austen Knits, used with permission

This is the Beloved Baby Bonnet. It was published in the second edition (summer 2012) of Interweave's Jane Austen Knits magazine. It represents the first time ever that my work appeared in a print magazine, and an incredibly popular and high-quality issue at that. It was a thrilling experience, especially since the pattern came out exactly how I wanted it, I was so pleased.

© Christa Tippmann, Jane Austen Knits, used with permission

After the magazine went off the shelves, Interweave made it available as a single pattern purchase through their independent revenue program, and I got royalties off of sales of the pattern there. When Interweave restructured to avoid bankruptcy, the rights to sell the pattern got bought by Long Thread Media, and I got royalties off of sales of the pattern there. However, LTM has recently decide to change their business model a bit, and are reducing the number of royalty-incurring patterns in their online store. As a result, I now have the right to sell the publisher's version of the pattern myself!

Thus, I'm absolutely thrilled to make it available here on my website. To my knowledge, there are no errata contained in the publisher's version (there were issues with the first version published in Jane Austen Knits, but I have compared that with the version I'm selling and the errata have been corrected in the PDF, so yay). I have reduced the price from what LTM was selling it for, to bring it in line with my own product pricing structure. If you'd like to view more details about the pattern, I have a Beloved Baby Bonnet product page.

Buy now $4.99US