Building Communities for our Weird, Niche Passions

Resource inaccessibility is an issue when the conversations needed to create a community and cannot take place.

What is surprising to me is that I have never encountered her work on any social media platform. I was googling art and flowers and I came across her project by chance. This is not to say that it isn’t possible to find the project on any social media. I am just surprised that as someone who is involved in the community, I have never encountered this project that totally addresses the weirdest corners of my artistic self.

I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised?

If you type “weird art” in the IG discovery tag, as of today, there are 1.1M posts that are “related”. I am thrown a bunch of options without much consideration of what I might be looking for or who I want to connect with. I’m also not given any guardrails to discover in a personally meaningful way.

So, where are the niche art communities and how do we connect with them?

Zines are one of those niche art communities that fortunately didn’t disappear with the digital revolution. Zines make art more accessible. They empower communities and give voices to minorities. They hold a radical power.

Barbara Caldicón, artist, librarian, and founder of an art collective, told New York Times, “Zines are a democratic way to share information.”

The Zine has always been about providing access. But what happens when access is limited, even in the digital space?

Vanessa Newman, who created an initiative that connects Black and mission-based organizations to designers, mentioned:

“Not everyone’s on Instagram. There are a lot of people who need resources and they’re not following us. They’re not in that ecosystem, and thinking about resource accessibility in that way too is really interesting.”

Melissa Guerrero, “Swipe-Through Activist Guides Are the New Zines”, The New York Times, August 19, 2020. Read the full article: Swipe-Through Activist Guides Are the New Zines

Yes, not everyone’s on Instagram. However, when we are talking about accessibility, we are seeing how current social media platforms are not a good fit for discovering and building communities for our weird, nuanced, individual selves.

A system built around the hype of “likes” and the volume of “followers” isn’t a system where we can connect and interact with each other in a meaningful way.

To make matters more complex, resource inaccessibility becomes more of an issue when the conversations needed to create a community cannot take place.

So, how do we find our niche communities?

Let’s take a closer look at the niche goods market.

Etsy, the e-commerce platform that has been around since 2005 sells a wide range of handmade/vintage items and craft supplies. But they only own 4% of the niche goods market. Etsy also hasn’t focused measurable energy on fostering community around niche passions.

Etsy’s decision to expand to other markets and go beyond handmade goods was to sustain future growth. However, one can’t help but wonder at what cost this decision was made. Was it possible for Etsy to concentrate on building a larger community around niche, handmade items and capturing a larger portion of the niche goods market? I would think yes. But now, it is unclear what makes Etsy different than other e-commerce giants.

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