If you'd like to use the site and help me test it, you can join here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Starting to Enter Patterns to the Pattern Database

The last weeks I have been busy figuring out how to make a halfway-decent faceted search. Making sure I can provide a real search for patterns was the most important thing for me - a database that isn't searchable won't realize its full potential. I've read up on a lot of technologies and libraries and found a setup that works. And I made a very simple pattern search.

Now that I know I can deliver the pattern search, the larger-than-life challenge begins: Filling the database with data. It's something I can't ever hope to achieve alone. There are some obvious reasons and some less obvious reasons why this task is so monumental.

There's no way I can record all the patterns

Let's start with a pretty straightforward point: When I look at Ravelry's pattern database today, I see almost 500,000 patterns. I think it is pretty safe to assume that the sewing world isn't much smaller than the knitting/crocheting world. Even if I spent only 5 minutes entering a pattern, I'd be busy for more than four years assuming that I'd need only 8 hours a day for sleeping/eating/showering and that I had all the patterns available to me.

There's no way I can hunt down every single pattern

Okay, so even assuming I somehow could enter things a lot faster the assumption that I have access to all these patterns is flawed: There are so many patterns that aren't even available anymore that I'd be hard-pressed to find them at all (my pattern stash is tiny). All these interesting patterns are out there. So let's look at what different types of patterns we have regarding availability:
  1. Patterns that are still available and can be found online.
  2. Patterns that are available but can't be found reliably online (they can still be ordered through a catalogue or bought at a store or obtained through eBay / Etsy / etc).
  3. Old patterns that are almost impossible to find (e.g. patterns for authentic historical garments).
There's really no way I can collect them all. :)

Even for the patterns that can be found online, data is lacking

So, case 1 (the pattern is available and can be found online) is a pretty good situation. Most pattern companies do have websites and you can find data about patterns on them. However, the quality of the (textual) data is often lacking. In an ideal world, I would find all the pattern data on the web page of the individual pattern in a way that I can simply import this and make it searchable. However, there are many official pattern pages that simply show images or have only very very little textual description of the pattern. Apparently, the pattern companies are lacking the resources to set up good web pages with all the information we'd want to see there (I'm sure they would make better web pages if they could - after all, they want us to find the (available) patterns.)

Okay, so what's the plan?


Regarding recording and finding patterns:

I suspect you know what I'm getting at here: No single person of us has a chance to record all the patterns - even just recording all those in your own stash can be a huge effort. But the more people come together and share, the less every single one of us needs to do.

Regarding the lacking quality of pattern data:

So.. what kind of data do we actually want for patterns? I think it would be awesome to browse for patterns and projects based on a common set of tags (and later also based on fabrics and fabric recommendations, as well as available size). For that, it helps a lot to
  1. record meaningful, standardized tags for each pattern.
We have a partially-complete set of such standardized tags on the site already - and we update this set as we discover new tags of common interest. Since every tag has a specific meaning, when you search through tags, you get very precise search results.

Why should I consider helping?

Have you ever helped someone who was searching for a pattern with specific properties for a project? This is similar: by recording patterns in a freely-accessible database, you're helping people find patterns in a highly scalable way - next year at the same time, when someone asks where to find a pattern you can point them to the database.

Do you have a huge pattern stash and need to get it organized? You have huge stacks of magazines and they pile up in your sewing space - yet at the same time, when you're looking for a pattern for your next project, you have trouble finding what you're looking for? On the site, you can record all your magazines, books and individual patterns into your "stash". In turn, the site gives you a search page that lets you search through all the patterns that are in your magazines and your books (as well as those you own individually).

Things are moving

We've just begun entering patterns. There is a lot to do in terms of building the functionality and the design of the site. There are a lot of great ideas what could be done.

Nowadays, (when I'm not blogging or making an account for someone) I'm constantly working on improving the pattern entering process and making things more usable. I'm very thankful for having people with me who can point exactly at the things that need to be improved.

Do you have a huge pattern stash? Are you a librarian in spirit? We could use your help if you can spare the time. :)

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