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Talking Tech with Etsy CTO Chad Dickerson

Mar 9, 2009

by TechUpdates handmade and vintage goods

When I wrote my last update in September, the days of summer were retreating and I was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of my new Brooklyn apartment, waiting for my household goods to arrive from California, and more importantly, quietly begging for the summer heat to subside. I got my wish, and was rewarded with one of the coldest winters in my personal history. On my frigid walks to work in the morning past Brooklyn brownstones, my two key accessories have been a scarf I bought on Etsy and a messenger bag to carry the tools of my trade (a laptop). The ritual of wrapping the scarf and putting my laptop in the messenger bag each morning reminds me of how special Etsy is and how important it is for me and my team to deliver a stable, high-performing web experience for the buyers and sellers who pour their passions into their work and our community every day. While we are continually making improvements and our work is never done delivering that experience, we have made progress on many fronts, all while Etsy has continued to grow rapidly and welcome lots of new talent into the Engineering Team.

Monitoring and Communication

I realized early on that the Engineering Team needed to communicate more transparently with the buyers and sellers on Etsy, and that we needed to improve our systems monitoring capabilities so that we had an immediate understanding of the nature of core problems when issues did arise and could communicate them appropriately and reliably. When I arrived at Etsy, the systems for proactively monitoring the site were very limited and the approach was primarily reactive. After a lot of hard work and planning, we rolled out a sophisticated monitoring system in November that today enables us to keep an eye on 700 services running on over 170 pieces of hardware, including servers, network gear and storage systems. When there is an issue with one of our systems, our engineers are proactively alerted. The monitoring system performs over one million automated checks every day — about 12 checks per second — and notifies us of any problems 24×7.  The end result is that we know about systems problems faster and typically fix systems and networking problems before users notice them.  

Occasionally, we will experience a new problem that we haven’t seen before, so we add detection mechanisms for those problems to our monitoring system when we see them.  The monitoring system has become the central nervous system for Etsy’s site operations team and improves every day as we make it smarter. We also use a third-party service from Gomez to proactively measure page load times for Etsy at various points around the world. Gomez (which is used by 14 of the top 15 most visited sites on the Web) is an incredibly rich information source and tells us how fast Etsy’s home page is loading right now in Los Angeles, or last week in Madrid or the average for the world last Tuesday. 

While we have made strides in monitoring, sometimes our various monitoring systems indicate problems that can’t be fixed immediately and cause inconvenience or disruption for you, so we have been posting updates to to keep the community informed. We use because it is hosted separately from our main site. In the event that our main site is unavailable and we need to update the community, we can post updates there. We will continue to use as a place to post about issues that affect large numbers of Etsy users.

In some cases, the issues we discover as we rearchitect Etsy’s systems, database, network and hardware require disruptive maintenance to correct. We know that downtime without warning is disruptive for both buyers and sellers, so we announced monthly scheduled maintenance times for the rest of 2009 in late January. I am hoping that this approach makes it much easier for buyers and sellers to plan. While we may still need to take the site or particular services offline in emergency scenarios, we will do our best to limit any disruptive maintenance to these windows. When we do have to take functions offline, we will always provide the most possible notice given the particular situation. I would like to thank you in advance for your patience in those situations as we make Etsy better. I watch services like Twitter very closely during our maintenance windows and know the sense of withdrawal that even planned downtime creates, so we take downtime very seriously, planned or not.

Performance and Scalability

In Maria’s most recent Talking Shop update, you might have noticed that site performance was in our list of priorities. Site performance is not a product per se, but is fundamental to user experience on the Web. We consider site speed a critical feature of Etsy.  In order to make and keep the site fast, we are constantly tuning our systems to seamlessly meet the increased demand on them. As a site grows, what worked well in the prior six months may not work well or even at all, now. In technology circles, you often hear engineers talk about the word “scalability” along with performance. In simple terms, a scalable Web site is one that can maintain its existing performance as the number of users, transactions and page views climb. In Etsy’s case, our performance as measured by our own systems and Gomez has vastly improved in the past six months even as site usage has grown considerably. In other words, the changes we have made to our systems and approach are demonstrating scalability. The numbers from Gomez, our third-party measurement service, tell the story in clear measurable terms. Our home page now loads 2-3 times faster in most locations around the world compared to October and as much as nine times faster in some places. Our average home page load time over a 24-hour period as measured by Gomez in the US in October was 4.6 seconds and today it is 1.5 seconds. Singapore? From 18.6 seconds in October to 2.2 seconds today.

We achieved some of these improvements by using the services of Akamai, a web infrastructure company. Akamai directs 25% of the world’s Web traffic using 40,000 servers in 70 locations around the world. When you load in your browser, the images and other pieces of our pages are served via Akamai’s worldwide network from a server that is nearest to you. For buyers and sellers on Etsy, that means Etsy is now almost as fast in Paris, France as it is in Paris, Texas.

Taken all together, all of the changes outlined above are helping make Etsy faster and more stable for you as our traffic continues to grow.  These improvements were especially evident during the holiday shopping season, and I was very pleased that our site was fast and stable during this critical period for buyers and sellers (this was not true for other Web sites). I would like to thank the Etsy Engineering Team for its efforts to make this possible.

Search and Developer API

When I arrived in September, Etsy’s search function was unacceptably slow, plain and simple. As I wrote in that update: “Some searches are taking as long as 60 seconds to return results and others are timing out altogether.” We began work on Search immediately. You should have noticed speed improvements in search and across the whole site beginning in November as we improved existing search and eventually migrated the backend entirely to a widely used open source platform (Solr) in January. Today, search on Etsy is faster than ever and we have measured 8-30x performance increases since October based on our Gomez measurements. We have solved the Search speed problem. There is more to come with search, as described by Sean Flannagan on Etsy’s Product Team.

As I wrote in early February, the Etsy API has also been released to a small group of developers and a public beta launch will follow soon. I’m looking forward to letting developers outside of Etsy access the infrastructure that we are working so hard to build.

Looking Ahead

While I am pleased with some of the progress we have made on infrastructure, we still have a lot of work to do. (Of course, the engineering team is only partly about infrastructure – we have been working closely with the Product Team to develop a number of new features, but I am going to leave it to my colleague Sara Hicks to tell you about that in an upcoming article.) Looking ahead, our goals in the Engineering Team are very simple: to continue to refine Etsy’s technology architecture towards a high-performance and scalable model, and to deliver the new features to buyers and sellers in the areas described in Maria’s update on Etsy’s priorities for 2009. The Engineering Team at Etsy and I are really excited about the rest of the year, and we look forward to continuing to make Etsy even better for all of you.

P.S. If you want to get the breaking, vital Etsy news as it happens — delivered straight to your email inbox, then sign up for Etsy News Alerts emails. Read more about it here.  Expect this as an Etsy Alert email in your inbox if you already subscribe to the list.

You can also get an RSS feed of all TechUpdates here.


  • purposedesign

    purposedesign said 11 years ago

    thanks for the update and keep up the good work!

  • Karmacrochet

    Karmacrochet said 11 years ago

    Thank you for the updates! :-)

  • nickandnessies

    nickandnessies said 11 years ago

    Thanks for helping us keep on top of what's going on in etsy's world :)

  • gloilocksandbody

    gloilocksandbody said 11 years ago

    Yay for etsy updates, thank you :D

  • CarryTheWord

    CarryTheWord said 11 years ago

    Etsy just keeps getting better and better!

  • Stargazer02

    Stargazer02 said 11 years ago


  • BabbidgePatch

    BabbidgePatch said 11 years ago

    It's very comforting to read the overview and know that as Etsy grows there are such ingenious folks running Etsy! BTW, today is my Etsy-versary and it's been a spectacular year!

  • thebeadingtree

    thebeadingtree said 11 years ago

    Thank you for writing such a detailed update AND for putting it in terms that we can all understand!! Chad, you ROCK!!! :)

  • DeborahVoizin

    DeborahVoizin said 11 years ago

    Wonderful article!

  • OhFaro

    OhFaro said 11 years ago

    Alright! That all sounds very promising. Thanks fro all the hard work and keeping us informed.

  • juln

    juln said 11 years ago

    Great, this is all interesting to know. That's a lot of various hardware! 'Yo dawg, we heard you like monitoring systems so we put a monitoring system in your monitoring system so you can...'. Sorry, never mind.

  • juliebcreative

    juliebcreative said 11 years ago


  • dogties

    dogties said 11 years ago

    Good to know, Thanks! Keep up the good work

  • jstinson

    jstinson said 11 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. Well written and informative!

  • uncharted

    uncharted said 11 years ago

    thanks for the update...

  • FancifulForm

    FancifulForm said 11 years ago

    Thank you so much for all of your hard work and for keeping us updated. :o)

  • MelissasMelange

    MelissasMelange said 11 years ago

    Thank you so much for all of the hard work and effort you have put into making this site better!

  • areathriftyone

    areathriftyone said 11 years ago

    Thanks so much for the massive improvements in speed. I'm so looking forward to seeing what comes from Etsyians tinkering with the Etsy API - C'mon have you seen what these folk can do with just duct tape and felt? Chad Dickerson is fast becoming my Etsy-hero!

  • hellome

    hellome said 11 years ago

    Thanks so much for the update, and for all the hard work you and your team do!

  • niTeBecOmEsdAy

    niTeBecOmEsdAy said 11 years ago

    thanks for the update! ps: i think i need the dandelion notebook decal.


    KIMONOS said 11 years ago

    Thanks for the update, love the green robot.....

  • TheInvitation

    TheInvitation said 11 years ago

    The BEST thing about Etsy, I think, in my honest & personal opinion, is the company's innovations. Good is not good enough....which, again, to me, means that even a good buck is not enough...they always want more than just an earning. They provide a grass root home that shelters so many people, to offer them even more advantages to get more for their own offerings, talents & skills....and therefore always look for new ways to innovate & make better. It just never ceases to amaze me. Considering the very young age of Etsy---as like many "new business" which have been touted to fail within the first two years...Etsy continues to do more, share more, care more....and therefore, thrives! I love all of these updates to make Etsy even better, each and every day. It means that this marketplace really cares about each and everyone of us. I just wanted to share that, because it means so much to me!

  • thenickster

    thenickster said 11 years ago

    Etsy's so lucky to have you, Chadster. Glad to hear of all the improvements. We miss you out here in Cali!

  • therainbowroom

    therainbowroom said 11 years ago

    Thanks for keeping us informed : )

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 11 years ago

    It's wonderful to be kept updated on the changes. Thanks so much!

  • KitchStitch

    KitchStitch said 11 years ago

    great article & great work! :)

  • theeye

    theeye said 11 years ago

    thanks for keeping us informed about the issues you're working on.

  • GreenMamba

    GreenMamba said 11 years ago

    I have really enjoyed keeping up with the behind-the-scenes updates. Thanks for taking the time to break it all down for us. Looking forward to continued improvements.

  • esdesigns

    esdesigns said 11 years ago

    Thanks for the detailed update.

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm said 11 years ago

    Thanks Chad for writing this article and explaining the updates~ lets hope Spring in NYC is awesome for ya~!

  • Below14th

    Below14th said 11 years ago

    nice. thank you and welcome to bklyn.

  • esmeraldadesigns

    esmeraldadesigns said 11 years ago

    Moved to NY from SoCal just a year before you did - its dang cold here and I am sure glad you managed to defrost enough to type this awesome update

  • kazuewest

    kazuewest said 11 years ago

    Thank you.

  • AnnaKayCreations

    AnnaKayCreations said 11 years ago

    Great info. Thanks

  • 2BellesBeads

    2BellesBeads said 11 years ago

    Wonderful! Keep up the good work. :)

  • theGlassOnion

    theGlassOnion said 11 years ago

    I'm glad I don't have your job, Chad. Kudos to you and your work. It seems all of us are lucky to have you on board. thank you.

  • mullishmuse

    mullishmuse said 11 years ago

    wow, i think that's the first time in my life i've ever understood anything about the interworkings of the net. thanks talking shop in a way i can understand.

  • roundabout

    roundabout said 11 years ago

    Once again I'm glad to part of a true community. Thank you!

  • PrettyFaces

    PrettyFaces said 11 years ago

    Thanks for keeping us updated. I really feel that ETSY is a whole different paradigm than everyone else!!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 11 years ago

    Wow, u all work so hard...thank u & thanks again! Great update!

  • ManoCelebrates

    ManoCelebrates said 11 years ago

    thanks for this update and keeping us informed.

  • sungazer

    sungazer said 11 years ago

    Thank you for this clear, detailed, and specific report! It's very helpful, and makes me appreciate the work you've been doing "backstage."

  • FrucciDesign

    FrucciDesign said 11 years ago

    Thanks Chad for the update!

  • AzitasSurprises

    AzitasSurprises said 11 years ago

    thanks for the updates!

  • sewaudrey

    sewaudrey said 11 years ago


  • LastChantsStudio

    LastChantsStudio said 11 years ago

    Hi...I'm so new I'm still getting my listings up. My nickname was "low tech teri" when I had an off the grid cabin years ago. So now I live where the phone company only got rid of their party lines in the 60's. Top dial-up speed here is 26.4kbs. Thus, I am pleased to find Etsy and hope to upgrade to sat dish soon and it will all be a whole lot easier. Meanwhile, I really appreciate all the work that goes into this site and thanks to all the tech wizards on the teams!

  • ClareBears

    ClareBears said 11 years ago

    Wow - I work for a software company who aren't this on top of things. Good Work!

  • WoollyWonka

    WoollyWonka said 11 years ago


  • MarcoLaGrenouille

    MarcoLaGrenouille said 11 years ago

    thanks, love the triangulate pendant!

  • 2007musarra

    2007musarra said 11 years ago

    Great article. Very helpful, makes me feel in touch with what is going on to help service my customers better.

  • EpicBones

    EpicBones said 11 years ago

    nice work, thanks :)

  • SecretLentil

    SecretLentil said 11 years ago

    It's great to hear from you Chad, thanks for the update.

  • alorinna

    alorinna said 11 years ago

    Thanks for the update :)

  • yellowmoonstudio

    yellowmoonstudio said 11 years ago

    Thanks, Chad! :o)

  • corduroy

    corduroy said 11 years ago

    Really, thanks for all the hard work. Go Chad!

  • samsstuff

    samsstuff said 11 years ago

    There have a lot of improvements to Etsy since last year & it's interesting to hear where it is headed. Thanks for the work that's been put into the site & I look forward to it's future improvements!

  • ketzl

    ketzl said 11 years ago

    What a blessing to have great people working for etsy! And its fantastic that such a professionally run site still only charges 20c per listing!

  • MyJunkyTrunk

    MyJunkyTrunk said 11 years ago

    Awesome work! Thank you!

  • quiltwork

    quiltwork said 11 years ago

    Thank you for detailed update! They all sound useful and right on target!

  • museumshop

    museumshop said 11 years ago

    Etsy Rocks

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