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Talking Tech for the Holidays With Etsy CTO Chad Dickerson

Nov 23, 2010

by Chad Dickerson

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

The engineering team has been so incredibly busy working on the site that I haven’t written an update in a while! By way of re-introducing myself to the members of the Etsy community who have joined since I last wrote, I run the engineering team here at Etsy and have been at Etsy since September 2008. As we head into the holiday season, I wanted to give you a few updates on what we have been doing and our special preparations for the holidays.

We’re continuing to invest in making the site stable and fast, and 2010 so far has been the best year in Etsy’s history for uptime and speed. We’ve also invested an incredible amount of time, energy, and money into our testing infrastructure this year. All of this adds up to a site that is faster and more stable than it has ever been as we enter the holiday season. Those who have been with us at Etsy for a while will recall that in 2009, we took the site offline for planned maintenance for hours as often as every two weeks to make major infrastructural changes to provide long-term, consistent stability. That work paid off and those types of major interruptions are ancient history. Every week, we’re making invisible changes to make the site better and faster for you.

I understand that this year, it may seem like Etsy is making changes all the way up to the peak holiday season, and we are. Many of the features you are seeing roll out have been underway for months and we would have liked to have gotten them out a little sooner. When we thought about timing, we felt that some of the features would be particularly useful for the holiday season (like coupon codes, which depended on our new checkout, and renew sold and copy), so we committed to making the final push to get those into Etsy members’ hands before the season kicks into high gear. Some of the other features we are releasing help shoppers discover unique gifts on Etsy, and we want everyone to have a successful holiday season, whether you’re selling, buying, or both. We understand that it’s important to you that the core site remains stable, available, and fast during what can be a hectic time. That is of primary importance to us, too, so as we head into Thanksgiving week, that will be top of mind for the engineering team. 

You’ve probably also noticed that over the last several months we have been rolling out features to randomly selected groups of Etsy members before rolling out to everyone. The goal is to get quantitative feedback from members of the Etsy community and make sure the feature works well under real system load before rolling the feature out to everyone. Testing new approaches with small groups of people is a common practice online, and if you’ve ever used Google, Yahoo, or Facebook, you may have been part of what is known as a “bucket test” — where a percentage of users are put into a “bucket” of users who are testing a new feature — or “A/B test” — where two approaches are tested with two different groups of users.  Most sites don’t tell you when you’re being bucket-tested, but we do because we want you to know when you might see something new. We read the Forums, watch Twitter, and talk to Etsy members, of course, but watching the overall data trends as we roll out new features gives us a clear picture of how features are being used by all members and if the larger community is successful in whatever they are trying to do (list items, search for gifts, etc.)

Behind the scenes, we have developed a number of systems in the past several months that provide constant data about how folks are using features, so as we roll out features, we watch how changes affect those numbers, many in real-time. One example of this is the wider listing page. As Sean wrote, we rolled out our new designs for the listing pages in late September and tested if the new designs resulted in more “Add to Cart” actions (they did) and also if they led people to explore shops more (they did). We’ve released other features that have had a notable impact on sales. For example, visitors to the site who use the “Items You Might Like” module on the home page buy at a significantly higher rate than visitors who do not use the module. We’ve been watching our metrics very closely as we’ve updated the checkout process to make sure the impact of any changes has been positive. If you ever have a chance to visit Etsy’s offices, you’ll see a number of large screens that display key systems and business metrics live. We watch these and many other metrics like hawks, and these numbers give us an immediate indication whether a particular change has been effective or not.

Photo by Zhi-Da Zhong

As we head into peak holiday shopping season, I also wanted to let you know how we staff our systems and network operations team. We operate this way year-round, but we have an especially heightened awareness this time of year, as I know many of you do as well. The Etsy site operations team is a 24/7 team and we now have systems operations team members around the globe, from Portland, Oregon to London. Our team members sleep with their phones by the bed and they (and their very patient families) stand at the ready when problems arise. Around 2,000 automated checks will alert the operations staff about any issues, and anyone on Etsy’s staff can page operations on call and get help in minutes at any time of day or night.

We wish you the best this holiday season, and we’re standing by to make it an awesome one!

68 comments

  • MarKhed

    MarKhed said 8 years ago

    coupon codes are AWESOME! Thanks! keep up the good work!

  • VelveteenHabbit

    VelveteenHabbit said 8 years ago

    Thank you Thank you and Thank you!!!

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage said 8 years ago

    thanks for all you do!!!

  • AdeloCreations

    AdeloCreations said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the extensive presentation.I would love to visit ETSY offices one day!Maybe in my next trip to NY...Have a good holiday,wishes from Greece

  • nadene

    nadene said 8 years ago

    thanks for this!

  • mjboutique

    mjboutique said 8 years ago

    I don't like any new changes, even ones that are 'good' to be done during holiday season. The new checkout, for instance, was a total disaster, and it's impossible for us to tell if they are going to be hits or misses. I'd rather you roll stuff out during non-busy seasons to prep. If that means we wait a few months, so be it to me.

  • manvsgeorge

    manvsgeorge said 8 years ago

    Thank you for this update, Chad! It's great to get a behind-the-scenes look at what the Etsy team is doing to make the site better, stronger, and faster than ever. Thanks for all that you do!

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 8 years ago

    2010 was the best?? Awesome! Thanks for all the work you guys do!

  • nadene

    nadene said 8 years ago

    it's great to hear some of the specifics about the features testing. please let us know how the a/b testing goes when you release features, it would help so much with the backlash if we know the features are supported by research.

  • shizendesigns

    shizendesigns said 8 years ago

    Thank you for adding that "renew sold item" button to the sold item page. It made my life so much easier. Thank you for all you do, you techy folks! :)

  • aBreathofFrenchair

    aBreathofFrenchair said 8 years ago

    Thank you for all your work!

  • museofmelanie

    museofmelanie said 8 years ago

    This is amazing! Thanks, etsy, for everythingi you do.

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 8 years ago

    So wonderful to see the new coupon and items you may like feature! Keep up the excellent work.

  • andrea0503

    andrea0503 said 8 years ago

    Thanks for everything!

  • andrea0503

    andrea0503 said 8 years ago

    thanks for everything!

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 8 years ago

    So wonderful to see the new coupon and items you may like feature! Keep up the excellent work.

  • jammerjewelry

    jammerjewelry said 8 years ago

    Wonderful article.

  • nadene

    nadene said 8 years ago

    About the changes to the Buy page. It seems that this, like many of the new changes are about Etsy's internal priorities over the priorities of buyers on the site. this is from the forums, i've taken out the user name, but the sentiment is echoed by many: ____________________ I'm also confused about the functionality of this. Of the 3 big items above the fold: - the Treasury is a fairly random, uncategorized method of finding products - the Suggestions shows no products unless you log into Facebook and allow the data-mining app (and it's useless for all shoppers who are not on Facebook) - the Email link is another data-capture that doesn't show any products during the browsing session That's 2 out of 3 prominent above-the-fold links that show no products to most shoppers during their session, and 3 out of 3 that provide no intuitive site navigation. It's nice that the Categories and Advanced Search are at least hovering slightly above the fold, with their tiny little links. Why are the useful links so tiny? The primary elements of this page are not buyer-friendly methods of searching the site for products. They focus on site curation and data collection. Perhaps the Buy means "Buy into social marketing" rather than "Buy products." _______________________________________ you can see why people are skeptical.

  • PlumeandPetals

    PlumeandPetals said 8 years ago

    Thanks Etsy!~ Keep up the good work =)

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat said 8 years ago

    I think you guys are doing a fantabulous job of keeping the techy stuff working at all, let alone improving it! You'll never please everyone, mostly because if you go with the changes that the majority of people want/request then there will always be a minority of folks who don't want, need or like it. We should all remind ourselves to be grateful for Etsy being such a brilliant selling resource... where else could individual artists & craftspeople get so much exposure for their wares backed by so much technical expertise for such a small amount of money paid out in fees?

  • FeltShmelt

    FeltShmelt said 8 years ago

    Excited about renew sold and copy!! Thanks so much for the update, and for all your continuing great work!

  • mjboutique

    mjboutique said 8 years ago

    Oh gosh. The buy page is a mess. I just noticed that. Why is everything no longer focused on products? It seems like the focus is profiles, and facebook and other things instead of actual objects for sale.

  • SmoochyBabyDesign

    SmoochyBabyDesign said 8 years ago

    The new coupon codes and renewing listing links are SUPER SUPER COOL!! thank you and keep up the great work :)

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice said 8 years ago

    great info, thanks for all your hard work!

  • VitaNostra

    VitaNostra said 8 years ago

    Thank you for everything you guys do to keep us moving forward!

  • Owlishly

    Owlishly said 8 years ago

    Renew sold is the absolute best thing that has happened on Etsy this year! I've wished for it for the past 3 years and finally it's available- this is going to save me SO much time relisting my patterns!

  • ashleysilvernell

    ashleysilvernell said 8 years ago

    I love the new coupon codes. Thank you so much for all your hard work - it is appreciated!!!!

  • shannondzikas

    shannondzikas said 8 years ago

    Obviously you all are working hard and as a seller and a shopper I appreciate it!

  • cindylouwho2

    cindylouwho2 said 8 years ago

    "When we thought about timing, we felt that some of the features would be particularly useful for the holiday season (like coupon codes, which depended on our new checkout, and renew sold and copy), so we committed to making the final push to get those into Etsy members' hands before the season kicks into high gear" -I'm happy with many of the changes, but the timing & resulting bugs have been a disaster. Like most international sellers, my holiday season kicked into high gear Nov. 1 & ends this weekend, after which most destinations in the world won't get my items by Dec. 24 without paying extra for shipping. "The season" is almost over, & yet some of these improvements are still being rolled out. Please remember that this is not an American website anymore! :)

  • Asianexpressions

    Asianexpressions said 8 years ago

    Thank you!

  • BambuEarth

    BambuEarth said 8 years ago

    I'm so excited about these changes... can't even tell you. ♥

  • steinschmuckdesign

    steinschmuckdesign said 8 years ago

    WOW, I am impressed, thanks for all your work, fantastic changes!!!

  • JDWolfePottery

    JDWolfePottery said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the update, Chad. I appreciate you and the whole engineering team. Etsy has never been better!

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 8 years ago

    the hard/smart work and dedication shows. it's been amazing to see all the new stuff roll out. thanks. :)

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 8 years ago

    Thank you for all the work you!

  • PaisleyAnnHome

    PaisleyAnnHome said 8 years ago

    Nice! bucket testing and real-time metrics. I like!

  • oldworldprimitives

    oldworldprimitives said 8 years ago

    The new checkout has been such a wonderful time-saver for me this holiday season - great work! I am anxiously looking forward to having "renew sold" rolled out to me as well - that will probably be my most-loved feature of the year.

  • bombastitch

    bombastitch said 8 years ago

    I LOVE the new "renew sold and copy" feature!!!! So helpful!!!!! :D

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 8 years ago

    Theres been so many great new changes! Congrats to all your hard work : ) thanks

  • pogoshop

    pogoshop said 8 years ago

    Anyone sleeping by their phones to keep my little business going deserves a heartfelt "thank you". I'm amazed at what you guys can do.

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 8 years ago

    Thanks for all of your work....and being at the ready with phones turned on...

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 8 years ago

    Thanks for all your diligent efforts! Have to agree that the new Buy page is a dud. Sellers work extraordinarily hard, especially over the holiday season, with the goal of selling product over brand name social networking links on Etsy. Adding Google Checkout as an online payment option to Etsy's checkout would have been a huge improvement. My customers say so, too.

  • angelstuff

    angelstuff said 8 years ago

    I appreciate that the operations team has worked hard to keep the site running; they've done a great job. If you're doing bucket testing, why aren't changes being made when the first group says that something lacks functionality? You roll something out and leave it in spite of what people say. You don't always even fix bugs until after something is rolled out to everyone. What's the point of doing the testing if you're not paying attention to what your testers say? Speaking of testing, it's clear (based on some of the bugs that have come up) that most of the testing is being done on the live site. Having your code pass a bunch of checks isn't the same as the code working properly. It makes sense to test the code's functionality on a test system before rolling it out. Also, changing things after the beginning of November is playing with fire. Shipping deadlines mean that the busiest season starts November 1, NOT US Thanksgiving.

  • CountryFolkSoap

    CountryFolkSoap said 8 years ago

    Ye-Hah!!! Love the coupon codes & the ability to cody & edit right from the shop page. Hoo-Ray!

  • SanDesign

    SanDesign said 8 years ago

    angelstuff I appreciate that the operations team has worked hard to keep the site running; they've done a great job. If you're doing bucket testing, why aren't changes being made when the first group says that something lacks functionality? You roll something out and leave it in spite of what people say. You don't always even fix bugs until after something is rolled out to everyone. What's the point of doing the testing if you're not paying attention to what your testers say? Speaking of testing, it's clear (based on some of the bugs that have come up) that most of the testing is being done on the live site. Having your code pass a bunch of checks isn't the same as the code working properly. It makes sense to test the code's functionality on a test system before rolling it out. Also, changing things after the beginning of November is playing with fire. Shipping deadlines mean that the busiest season starts November 1, NOT US Thanksgiving. ================================= ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the work you do!

  • compassionmalas

    compassionmalas said 8 years ago

    So far, so good. I'm excited. Thanks! But I sure wouldn't want to be married to you when the phone goes off in the middle of the night about tech stuff!

  • upzndowns

    upzndowns said 8 years ago

    i know this was just repeated, but i don't think it can be stressed enough: ~~~~ angelstuff I appreciate that the operations team has worked hard to keep the site running; they've done a great job. If you're doing bucket testing, why aren't changes being made when the first group says that something lacks functionality? You roll something out and leave it in spite of what people say. You don't always even fix bugs until after something is rolled out to everyone. What's the point of doing the testing if you're not paying attention to what your testers say? Speaking of testing, it's clear (based on some of the bugs that have come up) that most of the testing is being done on the live site. Having your code pass a bunch of checks isn't the same as the code working properly. It makes sense to test the code's functionality on a test system before rolling it out. Also, changing things after the beginning of November is playing with fire. Shipping deadlines mean that the busiest season starts November 1, NOT US Thanksgiving.

  • bluefingerstudios

    bluefingerstudios said 8 years ago

    angelstuff said: Also, changing things after the beginning of November is playing with fire. Shipping deadlines mean that the busiest season starts November 1, NOT US Thanksgiving. very well put.

  • EarthyHabitat

    EarthyHabitat said 8 years ago

    I agree with angelstuff's comment...Etsy's efforts are great and we all appreciate the improvements but something is still not working right and needs to be revisited. Bucket testing is great but why does it have to happen on the live system? I'm sure you guys can set up a test server and not only allow Etsy members to participate in the test process of new features but also to reinforce your commitment to provide sellers with a high quality product. Releasing an update to be user tested on the Live site is simply a bad practice. What happens when all your sellers/buyers complain about the update? Are you prepared to roll back those changes? Will you simply work on a fix at that point and leave your customers wondering about their future for a while? (Also, Facebook might get away with the whole 'surprise' bucket testing... but that's because they don't directly affect our income) I understand that you had the best intentions but I also think that the timing was not right. Yes, we can benefit from improvements during the peak of the season but in the case of the new "buy" page it was "better the devil you know than the devil you don't". Sometimes what might appear to be a 'prompt decision' comes out as a 'rushed' one. Perhaps you are forgetting that most sellers on Etsy are truly committed to their craft and business. We invest probably too much time doing our part to be successful on your website (so many hours spent on getting perfect product pictures for example). Sellers don't just 'hope' for Etsy to provide us with a great website or improved selling tools; we demand it.

  • thetimetravel

    thetimetravel said 8 years ago

    amazing work :)

  • kimmchi

    kimmchi said 8 years ago

    my god i love coupons codes!! THANKS!

  • Gynx

    Gynx said 8 years ago

    Awesome!

  • southpawstudios

    southpawstudios said 8 years ago

    love the new renew tool! just great and just in time for the holidays

  • shellsherree

    shellsherree said 8 years ago

    And I thought Santa's little helpers were busy! You're all awesome. I love the coupon codes and the option to use my own currency in my store {still deciding on whether to use it, but wonderful to have the choice}. And the Copy feature is a huge time saver. Thank you, dear Etsy!!

  • BoutiqueDeBandeaux

    BoutiqueDeBandeaux said 8 years ago

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for all these new features! I'm so serious. The coupon codes, renew sold copy, the sales tax feature, the wider pages...they are making Etsy so much easier and better to use and sell on. Thank you for all the work you've done and continue to do for us :)

  • JaniceCordeiro

    JaniceCordeiro said 8 years ago

    A standing O for Etsy's engineering team. You all do a great job at keeping this site up and running and adding improvements as you go. They are well appreciated and make doing business easier. Many thanks. Now, take your bow!

  • LaceyClaireDesigns

    LaceyClaireDesigns said 8 years ago

    Thanks to you and your team for all you do! It seems like an amazing place to work (a lot better than the IT placebo work at). Thank you for always taking into account our suggestions and striving to make etsy as great as it can be.

  • ladyrachelscreation7

    ladyrachelscreation7 said 8 years ago

    Chad, Thank you so much for the great presentation of behind-the-scenes, especially for us "Newbies". You are much appreciated. Keep up the good work. Christine

  • ladyrachelscreation7

    ladyrachelscreation7 said 8 years ago

    Chad, Thank you so much for the great presentation of behind-the-scenes, especially for us "Newbies". You are much appreciated. Keep up the good work,Christine

  • orglamix

    orglamix said 8 years ago

    Thank you Chad and etsy team tech. I hope acetone had a wonderful thanksgiving with zero glitches.

  • GalleonGal

    GalleonGal said 8 years ago

    Hope that everyone can benefit from the techno wizardry of the Etsy departments

  • finickyfinds

    finickyfinds said 8 years ago

    I appreciate that the reliability and the speed of the site has been worked on. For most of the other changes, giant photos, profile pages and the new 'buy' page, just to name a few, a huge thumbs down. Also, please stop making threads to announce the changes, that asking for opinions and then totally ignoring all but the few positive comments. It is insulting when thousands of posts are ignored ;)

  • JustPlainVintage

    JustPlainVintage said 8 years ago

    Where are people posting their positive feedback for the new Home Buy page? I have been looking for positive comments on this now complete rollout but I can't find any. Not one. I had hoped that after 1,000 or so negative comments in the community forums over two days that somebody with authority would say or do something, especially since quantitative feedback is something you say you rely on. But you didn’t. You just rolled it out (twitter links to the Buy Page as of 7 hours ago.) So I am just wondering where I can see some of the feedback you guys used. Maybe it’s on a graph?

  • JustPlainVintage

    JustPlainVintage said 8 years ago

    Where are people posting their positive feedback for the new Home Buy page? I have been looking for positive comments on this now complete rollout but I can't find any. Not one. I had hoped that after 1,000 or so negative comments in the community forums over two days that somebody with authority would say or do something, especially since quantitative feedback is something you say you rely on. But you didn’t. You just rolled it out (twitter links to the Buy Page as of 7 hours ago.) So I am just wondering where I can see some of the feedback you guys used. Maybe it’s on a graph?

  • uncljohn

    uncljohn said 8 years ago

    I wish as buyer I had something positive to say about any of the subject area covered. As an established long time member, You Might Like is so far off base that I find it a bit hard to buy into that a new member with no history would find it useful and it goes steadily down hill from there accompanied by Admin generated threads announcing a new feature and welcoming in advance comments and then in many case just flat dissappearing leaving things one sided and frankly quite negative. The implied emphasis on a social new work shopping site with neither goals or objectives defined raises questions of credibility which also include why it is that known problem areas are not be addressed and no explanation as to why. A social network also includes part and parcel of anti-social, a characteristic that is fast becomming an issue which is strange if the objective is actually to market something.

  • gigantour

    gigantour said 8 years ago

    You said that large monitors were hanging in Esty offices so that staff could intensely monitor the Esty system; "like a hawk" were your words. However, in the picture that you provided nobody is looking at the screens--I thought that that was funny. Other than this all systems appear to be a go.

  • StoneRiverDesign

    StoneRiverDesign said 8 years ago

    As a new shop on ETSY - I love the new look and features. I would like to see a custom list of tags, like the one for shipping. Since most of them are used on each item entered - it would be great to choose a default and then edit it as needed per item. Thanks again.

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