I think what I love most about Farhad Manjoo's slate article about Ravelry yesterday is his jealousy :-). Sure, it's fun to read the accolades ("world's best social network"), but it's even more fun that he's not a knitter. He doesn't exactly wish he was one -- he just wishes that his hobbies had a kick-ass social networking site too.
He's married to a knitter, which might explain why he gets a lot of the details about the site right -- come for the patterns and the ability to post your projects, stay for the message boards and awesome sense of community. But, and hear me out on this, I think he's missing out on one important point about Ravelry. Which is that as a group of people, knitters are just plain awesomer than most other groups. You could build a Ravelry-type site for some other hobby, but it wouldn't rock as much as Raverly.
What do I base this sweeping generalization on? Well, for one, most of you readers are also knitters, and so will be inclined to believe me :)
But also, I've moved a lot. In the last 5 years, I've lived in Berkeley, Melbourne, New Hampshire and Boston. As an academic, meeting people when I move somewhere new isn't hard -- there are lots of other nomadic young academics looking for social lives too. However, as a mathematician, making female friends is still challenging. I've gone to yoga and capoeira classes, hung out with campus political groups, taken pottery courses, and joined knitting circles. Of all of these, the knitting circles were by far the warmest, friendliest, most welcoming, and probably the liveliest too.
What's been especially fun for me is that, in knitting circles, I get to know people who I don't think I'd meet under other circumstances. People with jobs and situations very different from mine (nurses, translators, graphic designers, stay at home moms, computer programers, Italian teachers, veterinary pathologists, librarians and mechanical engineers). And yet, in my experience, they all inevitably turn out to be awesome people. I don't want to call anyone out by name, for fear of leaving someone out, but I do want to say that the Melbourne Stitch-n-bitch, Portsmouth library knitting circle, and MIT lunchtime knitters are some of the greatest groups of people I've ever gotten to hang out with.
Rather than leaving off on this sappy if heartfelt note, I want to leave with a question -- why? Why are knitters, as a group, so much awesomer than other people? Of course, part of it is a self-selection bias for knitting circles. No one *needs* to go to a knitting circle, so everyone who's there is there because they'd rather knit socially than by themselves with the TV on. (Or perhaps it's more accurate to say "in addition to by themselves with the TV on.") But I think it's more than that. Knitters are smart and eager to learn new things. Think back to the first pattern you ever knit from -- it was as scary as a tax worksheet, wasn't it? You have to be smart to figure this stuff out. More than that, I think knitters tend to have active rather than passive personalities -- certainly, we're good at making the most of our time and keeping ourselves entertained (since I started knitting, I no longer dread long car rides).
So, Farhad, I do hope you get your social networking site for cooks -- but don't be surprised that Ravelry is still better!