No secrets here

I’ve participated in a number of knitting-related swaps in the past. They’ve exposed me to people and blogs I otherwise probably would have missed. I’m happy to be in touch still with nearly all of my swap partners. We keep up with each others’ blogs and swap e-mail from time to time. And I’m very glad about that, because I do these swaps in order to connect with people—I think that people who are in it just for the loot should save themselves and everyone else a lot of trouble and just buy what they want for themselves.

One of the biggest swaps out there is the Secret Pal series. It’s huge—to the tune of several hundred people, scattered around the world and organized by eight or ten or so volunteers. I first signed up to SP8, in the spring of 2006, and kept signing up through SP11. For the most part, my experiences with these swaps were great. I met some interesting and kind people, and I’m delighted to count them among my friends.

Last fall, as SP11 wound to a close, there was a big blowup on Ravelry about it. In short: the SP exchange rules specifically state that participants can not “bad mouth” their partners, the hosts, or the swap on their blogs. Some participants had less-than-happy experiences with SP11 (e.g., swap partners who didn’t fulfill expectation, swap partners who completely disappeared, hosts who did not respond to queries or concerns). Since they weren’t allowed to write about these things on their own blogs, they took the discussion to the Ravelry forums. And there, things got nasty.

They got so nasty, in fact, that the SP hosts decided to take a break from hosting the swap. Usually one round follows another, with just a few weeks between the end of one and signups for the next. But this time the break lasted several months.

When SP12 was announced in May, I took at a look at the blog set up for it. When I read the rules, I knew then and there that I wasn’t going to participate.

The rules are pretty much the same as they’ve been for the last several rounds, with one notable exception:

“Along with the changes previously announced for this round, we are also initiating a $2.50 participant fee to go toward ‘angel’ contributions for the participants whose pals drop out from the exchange. . . . If we end up not needing all of the funds, we plan to donate them to a charity to be determined later.”

I have two problems with this new rule:

1. I understand that partners do sometimes flake out and disappear. But I don’t like the idea of requiring participants to contribute to a fund to pay for gifts in those situations. Asking for up-front contributions assumes that people will be bad swap partners. Me, I like to have a bit more faith in people. The whole swap experience is predicated on trust: when I send a box o’ goodies to someone, I trust that someone will send a box o’ goodies to me. This sort of thing confirms my belief that people are essentially good. I don’t want to participate in something that starts with the belief that some people will definitely be bad.

2. I’m not keen on the fact that individual participants don’t get to choose where the excess funds go. Me, I’m very choosy about where my charitable donations go. What if the swap hosts decide to donate the money to, say, the NRA? Or to a white supremacist group? Or to McCain’s election fund? Or to another cause that isn’t aligned with my own values? It’s bad enough that my taxes (about which I have no choice) are helping fund American military aggression overseas; I’m unwilling to let money that I voluntarily contribute go to causes I don’t support.

8 Responses to “No secrets here”

  1. Imperatrixon 21 Jul 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I did SP 8-10. In 8, my spoilee was a flake — only posted about 4 times the entire 3 months (and had started her blog for SP8, so there wasn’t much backstory to get to know her through). My spoiler was the fantabulous Cate. In 9, my spoilee was in Finland and my spoiler was in Australia — that was fun on both ends. In SP 10, my spoilee was a semi-pro spinner, so she never lacked for yarn and batts on her own; my spoiler was going through a difficult financial time personally, so that end wasn’t too keen.

    That’s when I decided I needed to take a break from SP. Looks like the break will last longer; I agree with both your concerns.

  2. Chrison 21 Jul 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Can’t argue with you at all on any of your points! I think that smaller swaps (like the Coffee Swaps) are more fun and less prone to flakeage. I’ve had great luck with swap partners and attempt to be a good swap partner myself… but I have to admit that I haven’t been inspired to join anything other than Coffee Swap for the past year or so, other than swap-bot cd mix swaps.

  3. Deborahon 22 Jul 2008 at 7:19 am

    I really wasn’t sure why there was a lull between Sp11 and Sp12. I totally stayed away from the Ravelry group for Sp11. I totally agree with you on every point you made. These swaps are suppose to be fun and unfortunately there are people out there who sign up for things that can’t make the commitment. When I signed up for it I totally evaluated myself and my abilities and what I was hoping for in the experience. These are things you just have to take a chance and have faith in your partner. I didn’t sign up for Sp12 – mainly because I knew nothing about it since they took a break – but I am with you on the processing fee. One great thing from Sp11 for me was getting you as one half of my partnership!

  4. Pixieon 22 Jul 2008 at 10:22 pm

    I really enjoyed the two SP’s that I participated in, but the last one was a totally drag — and it was because my spoilee was difficult to find — she had three different addresses during the event, and since she lived over seas it was so hard to sort out where she was and when to ship to her.

    However, I did meet some pretty swell people in SP10!

  5. Paulaon 23 Jul 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Was it SP11 where I spoiled you? It was really nice to “meet” you, and it was really funny that you were spoiling Deborah, who was sending me packages. I agree with you, and think that I am sticking to one time swaps like the tea and cocoa ones in which I have taken part.

  6. Frankon 23 Jul 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Wow, I didn’t realize how intricately woven blogging and knitting are these days.

    Was that a pun?

    It sounds like a good idea – and now I know what SP11 stands for!

  7. bethon 26 Jul 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Sorry to hear about all the SP swap problems. I was not aware of the nastiness going on there. I’m with you on both points for not participating in SP12 given the new $2.50 donation rule.

  8. Ginaon 29 Jul 2008 at 4:27 pm

    You know I’ve been in several swaps. I was in SP9 and SP10 and both of those were less than stellar, for various reasons.

    I bowed-out of SP11.

    I went to the SP11 blog one day towards the end of the swap just to see if there was any info on the SP12. I was thinking of signing up again. And I saw that the “general” comments on the SP11 blog were numbering 50-60. What is going on?? I read the comments and I was really annoyed that the “hostesses” of SP11 were so whiny about people giving feedback on the swap. I even left my own opinions about the SP swaps.

    The fact is, when a swap gets to be as big as Secret Pal, there are going to be muchos problemos. And nothing seems to be done to rectify the problems. Repeat offenders are allowed to keep signing up swap after swap. Legitimate complaints or suggestions or feedback go basically ignored.

    So after the hostesses had their little fume, they decided to offer us SP12. I read the rules. And got pissed off. And decided to not join.

    Because nobody over there will listen to reason, I’ll mention my idea here about what I think they should do to improve SP:

    1) Limit the number of participants. Cap it somewhere so that it is manageable for the hostesses. Having 400 people from all over the world participate is irresponsible. Cap it at 100.

    2) Lose the “angel” concept. I agree that it assumes that people aren’t going to be good swap citizens. And it also assumes that we who are good swap citizens are ok with people who aren’t. This is enabling the bad-eggs, “Oh, if I flake, someone will step in and fix it.”

    3) Really enforce the blog rule. Participants MUST allow anonymous comments on their blogs. And MUST post. Perhaps you can weed out people if you would actually read their blogs BEFORE you allow them to participate. This process would be infinitely easier if you ALLOWED FEWER PARTICIPANTS.

    4) If anyone flaked in any way ever, they are banned for life. Period.