It seems that every week, in any given online community focused on a particular software platform, there’s at least one sorrowful and/or angry post declaring that the author is leaving for good because they just can’t take the negativity. This is followed by a series of responses saying something like “Your New Favorite eCommerce Platform Sucks!” and sometimes a brief period of soul-searching. Then next week the cycle repeats itself. What is it about software of all things that can bring out the worst in people? And what can be done to break the cycle?
Aside from incurable curmudgeons and misanthropes (we know who we are), most people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
All too often tribes are defined more by what they’re against than what they’re for.
We like to gather together in tribes, whether they are built around sports teams, political parties, or blogging platforms. It’s a good feeling to find a group of people who share your point of view, who are passionate about the same things you are.
But all too often, rather than identifying themselves by what they are united in favor of, tribes find themselves united against another tribe. Mac vs. PC. iPhone vs. Android. Red Sox vs. Yankees. Liberals vs. Conservatives. They gang together against the other group, and against people in their own tribe who are seen as disloyal to the cause.
Obvious Statement that Apparently isn’t Obvious #1: You and Your Favorite eCommerce Platform are Not Married—or even Dating.
Along with forming tribes, we humans also tend to develop surprisingly close relationships with tools we use, especially those tools that let us express our own identities.
We name our cars, spend more time with our phones than with our closest friends, personalize our computers with colorful cases. And when it comes to something that allows us to follow a deeply personal dream, like starting your own business selling things you make by hand, the bond is especially strong.
We humans develop strong relationships with our tools, especially ones that help us express our identities.
A phrase that comes up often in the handmade community is some variation on “Etsy is not your boyfriend.” Etsy is the first place many handmade artists experience the incredible validation of having a stranger pay money for something you made. It’s an intense, and personal, moment, and it’s neither surprising nor inappropriate that it can create fond feelings towards Etsy.
The problems arise when people see any change that Etsy makes as a personal betrayal, or if they feel as if they are cheating on Etsy by using other online marketplaces. Or if they see every other online marketplace or eCommerce platform as a threat to Etsy.
Obvious Statement that Apparently isn’t Obvious #2: That Other Platform isn’t Evil and its Users Aren’t Idiots
Etsy is not a person, let alone your boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s a business. So are Shopify, WooCommerce, Wanelo, Big Cartel, and Squarespace.
No company needs their users taking up virtual (or physical) arms against users of other platforms.
And while they are happy to have passionate users telling the world how amazing they each are, none of them need—or want—people taking it upon themselves to go to war against users of the other platforms, or (even worse) against each other, leading to the emotional exits that show up online forums with depressing regularity.
No community is immune, and let me tell you from experience the grass always looks greener on the other side—until you move over there and find the same fundamental human behaviors as in the last group.
Obvious Statement that Apparently isn’t Obvious #3: People Don’t all Need the Same Thing
Even a seemingly simple question like “where should we go for lunch?” has a huge amount of possible answers, and migraine-inducing number of justifications for each one of those answers. So it should surprise nobody that the question “how can I sell my handmade goods online” also has many answers.
For some people the best answer is renting a virtual booth at Etsy’s world-wide craft fair. For others, it’s leasing a storefront of their own in Shopify’s endless market district. And some people want to stake out a patch of the internet and use WooCommerce to build a store that’s all their own. If you ask those people who their favorite eCommerce platform is, you’ll get three answers, and they’ll all be right.
All three of these companies continue to attract new users to add to their already huge user bases. Each one is serving a different part of the market, and neither one is doing things the “wrong” way.
Obvious Statement that Apparently isn’t Obvious #4: It’s an eCommerce Platform, Not a Cult
Finally, everyone needs to be reminded from time to time that nobody is in a position to administer a purity test or question the “loyalty” of other users of their favorite platform. It’s OK to talk about things that you wish were different about your favorite eCommerce platform or features that are missing. It’s even OK to concede that other platforms might do certain things better than the one you use.
None of those things make you disloyal, or unacceptably negative, or a traitor to your community. If they do, you’re not a user of an eCommerce platform, you’re in a cult.
If being honest about flaws in your platform is frowned upon, you’re in a cult, not an online community focused on an eCommerce platform.
I spend a lot of time on this site talking about how I think that WooCommerce is the best platform for people who are outgrowing Etsy. But that doesn’t mean I think that Etsy and Shopify are bad platforms, or that the people who use them are bad people. I just think that WooCommerce is the best platform to serve the needs of my target audience.
You Are Not Your Favorite eCommerce Platform
Anyone who has the guts to put in the hard work of building a successful online store deserves a big thumbs-up from all of us, without a thought given to what platform they chose to use. All of us in the eCommerce community are here to either follow their dream of making a living by selling things that we make, or to support those people in fulfilling their goals.
It’s not important that you choose one platform over another, as long as you choose the one that will do the best job of getting you to where you want to be. Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, and all the rest will come and go, but if we build our businesses to last, we’ll still be here. Maybe we’ll be arguing how our new favorite eCommerce platform is better than the rest, but hopefully we’ll be doing it like adults. Hey, I can dream, right?