Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday Night Critiques

For those of you in Etsyland, I highly recommend going to HeyMichelle's Wednesday night critiques in the virtual labs. I've mentioned them in here before, but not really discussed them directly.
The virtual lab is like a chat room with shmancy features. Etsy's article about them for more information is here, or you can just go in and play around when they're empty (my preferred method of figuring things out in general).

On Wednesday nights, Etsy admin and generally cheery charming (but not icky-sweet annoying) person HeyMichelle signs onto her webcam from her Brooklyn apartment and basically talks for three hours without breathing. Sometimes she takes a long list of shops to critique (anybody who is there at the starting time and asks to be critiqued and/or convoed her in advance), sometimes she picks just a few that she thinks will be a good mix and have information to help a wide audience. Sometimes she chooses a general theme for the critique night (we did a whole night on photography once) and then we'll discuss bits and examples from shops in the room and anything people can think of as a great example of whatever we're talking about from random other Etsy shops.

When a specific shop gets critiqued, Michelle will go through and comment on whatever catches her attention, but the shop owner can ask specific questions, and everybody else in the labs will also comment on things they notice about the shop. The biggies tend to be banner/avatar, photos, tags, announcements, descriptions, prices/shipping, but all sorts of other things may be discussed, particularly if a shop's are glaringly good or bad. For the most part, people aren't mean about things, but if something needs work you are likely to hear about it. Michelle is particularly artful at addressing issues without sounding insulting. I'm much more inclined to say things like "Why would anybody buy a banner from a shop with a blurry banner?" and "Jewelry looks stupid with random-ass props." Occasionally you'll get people who are even meaner and/or more direct than that, but for the most part, it's constructive instead of useless and effusive like many a forum or friend critique.

In all my many weeks of showing up, I've only been critiqued twice myself. I wasn't avoiding the hot seat on purpose, as my first few weeks I tried to get on the critique list but wasn't chosen, but I stayed and listened anyway. Honestly, this was for the best and I think everybody should be required to sit through at least one night's worth of critiques before having her shop looked at, because I learned so much by hearing other shops get critiqued. My photos have gotten a gazillion times better not through my own critique but by looking critically at other shops and hearing advice on ways other people could improve their pictures and applying them to my own work. And that's what Wednesdays are amazing for: you can listen to and participate in talking about everybody else, and at the end of the night, you find yourself making changes in your own shop and drasticly improving all around. At least, that's what I do.

My best advice? Show up and shut up for at least an hour. You'll need a decently fast connection and sound, and the ability to apply things said about others to yourself. But if you can manage those things (and consciousness after 9 PM EST on a Wednesday night), you're in for a treat.


*NOTE: Photo from Etsy Labs' Flikr of some other virtual lab thing, but gives you an idea since I didn't take a screen shot.

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