||The Gem and Jewelry World's Foremost Resource on The Internet.|
The Ganoksin Project and The Orchid Community
This paper is part of a speech about the history of the Ganoksin Project Website and its growth.
The Ganoksin Project is now 12 years old, born in Bangkok and Calgary in 1995-96. In Thai Ganok means pure gold, Sin means art, and together they can be thought of as meaning 'The Art of Gold'.
The Ganoksin logo was designed by Eran Shakine, an Israeli artist whose work is on Ganoksin, a childhood friend of Hanuman, who says "The logo represents human culture and existence. It is almost a blending of the selves. It represents nature and the universe. You will find a stylized tree, human figure, fresh leaves, moon and the sun. It also might be looked as the connection between an individual and his culture."
Ganoksin has grown a lot. A web site, a library of information, the 500 plus pages of my writing which started the project, the Orchid list, bench exchanges, galleries, the Orchid archives and more.
Ganoksin now has agreements in place with a number of magazines to publish their articles, going back years in some cases.
Ganoksin is the worlds largest educational internet site for the jewelry, gemology and metals field. And then there is the orchid community which has emerged from this project.
Ganoksin is a place for knowledge and discussion to make metal-artists lives easier. It is a place to dismantle the traditions of secrecy and not sharing information found globally in the jewelry world. It is a place of information exchange, lively debate and documentation. Ganoksin is about community and sharing. It is through this access to each other that we all learn and improve production and our business. It is about making jewelers lives easier and safer.
Although English is the predominate language at this time, and most Ganoksin and Orchid participants live in the United States, each year more participate from other countries. Translation engines have improved to the point that many site visitors actually read the pages in other languages. Ganoksin provides metalsmiths worldwide with a way to communicate, which was its intent.
Ganoksin is the most important single source for jewelry/metals information and searchable archived content on the web. A search on Goggle for 'Ganoksin' currently brings up over 400,000 web pages. Hanuman comments: "Today we are transmitting about 150 gig/month of data through our website and lists. We occupy 1gig of disk space just for text and an additional 3 gigs for graphics and videos."
The Orchid list is a moderated discussion group which has over 5200 members who receive it daily. The list is moderated by Hanuman and his assistant Ton, and delivers up to 80 messages a day to each recipient. Because Bangkok is 14 hours ahead of much of North America when they edit and post the list during their day. Therefore the digest is a collection of yesterday's input. Orchid traffic in terms of the number of postings increased by 30% from 2002 to 2003.
Because getting 80 different messages at once is a large chunk of reading and deleting many recipients choose to get it in digest format, where all the days messages have been edited and reformatted and then delivered in one easy to read large email. 65% of Orchid participants prefer the digest because it is easier on their mail account.
The list was born in the summer of 1996 several months after the project began, and has been archived and searchable since 1997. Aside from the registered orchid members who use the site thousands more use the orchid archives for research and mine them for information. Many read there daily. These orchid users are not counted except as site visitors, but they constitute a significant number of regular and repeat Orchid information consumers.
From the orchid discussion group, from the place of exchange and sharing that is the heart of the site, has emerged a grassroots community, quite intriguing how it grew by itself, an expression of group mind, of belonging, and the word ‘family' is used by its members. This group has had marriages, births, deaths, shared events beyond the business of learning and educating each other about the metals field. Group members now meet for celebratory dinners and get togethers, usually linked with industry events like the MJSA show, Tucson Gem show, SNAG and others. Up to 350 people have shown up for the Tucson gathering. This community is very diverse, vibrant, and sharing, about helping each other, and that, at the core, is what the project is all about.
So how did it happen?
The intertwining paths that led us to each other were made possible by the net, where like minds can reach towards and touch each other. The stories are hard to tell all at once, so we'll approach it with each other's paths outlined.
Hanuman was trained as a Doctor in Israel . He writes: "I was fortunate to get my medical education in what at the time was considered to be a revolutionary new institute, a community oriented medical center in the Negev , the southern desert area of Israel . We were educated in medical sociology, a new science at the time, and where encouraged to do community work. We trained to see the patient in his whole environment, rather than concentrating on the illness itself. The use of cartoon drawings to convey information, medical drama (imitating illnesses) and body language made us better physicians with a better understanding of the human being."
"We where designed to be culturally sensitive doctors, who approached any treatment with respect of the patient's beliefs. Being only 18 at the time, this was a major influence on my attitude as a grown up. With the years of not practicing medicine, I forgot many of the drugs names, but not the essence of human nature I learned about. I am still using a lot of my knowledge gained at this community oriented medical school to moderate orchid."
He worked with a mobile care unit with Bedouin, performed General Surgery, Pediatric Surgery and as a young Doctor at 24 was in charge of the Trauma Emergency Room at his hospital, one of the busiest in Israel .
From what I can see he cared a lot for his patients, more than is perhaps wise or bearable. He says "At the time I felt just too young to deal with such pain and sorrow everyday. I was a good, fast and gifted surgeon. I was not able at times to be detached, as required by the profession. Some cases really touched me, leaving me sharing the patent's miseries. It became clear to me that I needed a change. “Hanuman lost his father at this time at age 48 to heart disease, with many of his dreams unfulfilled. His understanding that time is limited and the difficulties of medical responsibility combined to bring him to reevaluate his life, and to visit Asia and its cultures, something he had yearned to do for years.
He continues: "I was dreaming of a tropical climate, palm trees and fresh open air. I decided to go Far East , to Thailand . Soon, what was lost in long years at the university and hospitals was gained back on the exotic beaches of South East Asia . I was happy and suntanned, but as usual I was looking for new things to do. On the road, traveling, I started dealing with silver Jewelry. I found myself increasingly involved in the Jewelry trade, and decided it was time to set up a small workshop." "Jewelry was the prefect profession for me, it had so many similarities to medicine, the interaction with humans, the art and the science behind it. It was a natural transition."
"In Thailand , It is a tradition to get a monks blessing before starting a new business. I thought that it would be a good idea. When I told the monk that I was born on Saturday, the year of the tiger, he closed his eyes in deep concentration and made me wait for long twenty minutes. He was mysteriously calculating my destiny. Than he looked at me and said, "Your company name should be Ganoksin, and by the way, you might not become rich, but you will be famous". That is how Ganoksin was born in 1993.
While he maintained his jewelry company he later worked as a buyer for the French company Societe Francoise, and dealt in silver jewelry and antique clothing. As the Ganoksin site grew his workshop could not produce enough income to pay for the site. Hanuman rented his services and his internet skills. He worked for a large jewelry company as production and product manager and eventually became managing director.
Thailand was a powerhouse in the early nineties. The economy was great and foreigners from around the world arrived looking for opportunities. Hanuman writes "cultural differences kept many of us, the foreigners, isolated. In Bangkok in those days, the infamous chaotic traffic made it very difficult for people to socialize. For example, I could talk with my friends everyday on the telephone, but I would meet them only twice a year. I could lose hair, gain weight, even have my eyelids pierced with weird body Jewelry and they would not know about it." In 1994 "All that changed with the arrival of the most important peripheral of the decade - the modem." Hanuman got his first modem and shortly after joined a local BBS (bulletin Board).
Hanuman says "The need for communication explains why the first virtual community in Bangkok , The SalaThai BBS, was an immediate success. With the opening of SalaThai suddenly we had News groups, Chat rooms, everybody was having fun using fake identities and 'out_of_this_world' screen names, but the most important thing was that it was a major source of information for us. Members would post information about new visa regulations, New drinking holes and cultural events in town."
"I noticed though that the most powerful thing about it was that people were more then willing to share and exchange information online. For some reason, more then they would do in real life!! Everyone felt that they are on stage, and every one else was listening to their words of wisdom. This was a fundamental observation. Actually this was, and still is the seed, the concept that made Ganoksin what it has become today. "
By 1995 he had decided to start Ganoksin. He was experimenting with the new medium and wanted to find ways of promoting his business. The first name for the site was Ganoksin Online. The site was scheduled to open in January 1996, but because of delays at the domain name registration body it was launched in April. Our conversation with the Orchid and the discussion group's birth was in May and June of 1996.
Hanuman writes: "We started as an online Catalogue. Let us be frank. Catalogues are boring. I tried to spice it up with bits and pieces of interesting professional information. Basic alloys data, charts and stories from the gem trade in south East Asia, were put together to create the 'Tip's from the jeweler's bench' Website.
We opened our site to local jewelers and designers. Content was the magic word that was driven us these early days. We were fortunate. We did not have to wait long. One morning two months after starting I received an email from Canada . Charles Lewton-Brain a writer, a man with vast knowledge and experience was offering us what I was dreaming of. Professional, valuable content, and for free. Over the years Charles became a guide, a friend, an advisor, the mentor."
In 1996 Hanuman wrote "I am dedicating all my efforts, time and resources to make it work" and "I took a leave from my daily job and until October 1997. I was building the site, and publishing Charles's articles. By October 1997, a few months into running Orchid, I realized that the snowball was rolling. Input to the list was steady and the community, yet young, was actually born.
Orchid in its first months was not moderated. Spam was not an issue. Our main issue was infinite loops, where "Out of the office" vacation messages were sent to the list and in one case generated 5000 emails to every user within an hour. This incident made me close the list and start the moderation process. Moderation solved other issues we were struggling with, especially repeating quotes within posts, the visual feeling of the text formatting and maintaining the correct noise to content ratio."
In 1997 - 1998 there was a major Hardware Upgrade. For 6 months the digest version was off line because Hanuman did not have the time to create it by hand. He writes "A second major achievement was that we installed the first version of the Orchid archives, under the name "The orange pages".
In 1999 Ton joined the Ganoksin team as a part time volunteer. He wrote a script to convert the mail box to a digest format and the digest was back on line. Orchid doubled its users overnight, by offering an alternative to the open forums.
In 2000 there was another Hardware Upgrade. Ton joined us full time, and was now on a payroll. Hanuman and Ton upgraded the archives into daily auto-generated static pages, index and thread sorted. The same scripts are used for this today.
In 2001 the search engine was upgraded. The site had no income from 1996-1999. In 2000 and 2001 donations and banner ads paid a little of the bills.
By 2002 the mass of spam was growing. Email harvesters and other leeches hit Ganoksin badly on a daily basis. For example a company might send in a spider program to sample our entire site for comments about them. Every time one of the larger companies did this to us it could cost us some $200 extra in server fees for the bandwidth they used up in scanning us.
In response to this clear privacy terms were applied and scripts written in 2002 to mask and encrypt all email addresses in the archives. The server rules were configured with the aid of few scripts to automatically deny access to Bad-bots. In 2003 there was another Hardware upgrade.
There was a redesign and rewrite of the Library directory, and an addition of the shopping site script.
Although during the last few years other internet forums have emerged Hanuman decided to keep the original engine that runs orchid instead of the new technologies.
In 2005 The Ganoksin project has finally got it's own dedicated server with the power of broadcasting up to 1,500Gb of jewelry content monthly.
Hanuman believes that "the simplicity of the system helps to keep the forum sprit alive, it has the correct balance between anonymity and user interface that generate the correct dose of content rich postings versus chit chat."
My journey began as a workshop teacher and writer. Starting in 1987 I was translating the German Theory and Practice of Goldsmithing into English and bought a Mac SE for this labor - an improvement over yellow legal pads. I assembled a set of eclectic teaching notes, information for the field, on stonesetting, critique of work, gemology, good sources for tools and equipment and the like. I would permit people to copy these when I taught workshops and the handout ended up at about 180 pages. One day in 1992 I asked a group of people in Los Angeles who amongst them would like a disc instead of paying to have the handout copied. Half the class, some 14 people said 'Yes', and I knew something had changed in my world. In 1995 I got onto the internet, and after looking around for six months or so realized that there were a lot of jewelry sites, but almost no content. There were one or two places, like the Society of American Silversmiths and the ArtMetal project which did have information, but in general there was lots of 'front end', with nothing behind it, just emptiness: no content of note.
I felt I was a perfect fit for the net. I was used to giving information away widely, was interested in an idealistic position on sharing information, and I had hundreds of pages of my writing and technical drawings already on my computer ready to go. When I searched the net and found a site I thought educational, and open minded I would offer my writing,, tons of it, for free to publish, with the only stipulation being a byline and an email link as well as a rule that readers were free to read, print out and share my information, but were not permitted to duplicate it or publish it for commercial gain. My thought was that I wanted to build such a strong and widespread web presence that any question about jewelry making would find me, and near the top of the results at that. This goal has, through my partnership with Hanuman, been fulfilled exactly as planned. I hoped as well that the articles and increased profile would sell my books. I am not sure whether putting up so many extracts from them has had a positive or negative effect on sales. But there has definitely been an increased profile for myself and my writing as a result.
The occasional site would accept my offer of free content, but only to the extent of a cautious article or two. None wanted to really go for it. It was as if they distrusted the offer of all my writing, as if they thought I was scamming them, tricking them. All the North American sites I offered this to rejected the offer. I came across Ahmed Shareek at Jewelrycombine.com in Sri Lanka whose site was starting and he welcomed the idea. It was early 1996.
Then I found the Ganoksin site. It had just started and I liked the statement on the site, the feeling that it was altruistic and wanting to help goldsmiths. I offered Dr. Aspler all my writing, for free, he said "Great!' and I began to send him articles, which he installed in the Tips from the Jewelers Bench section. He had taken a year off work to build the site. With the new content Ganoksin now began to grow, and to attract visitors. Our partnership, friendship and collaboration developed as well. It was six months of working together before I thought about and even figured out that Hanuman lived in Bangkok . I remember saying "you live where?!!"
I often wondered why I had such a hard time getting a North American site, even a public education one, to take me up on the offer. At one point I realized that the two people who had really welcomed the idea were Buddhist. Coincidence? Maybe.
Its worth mentioning what Ganoksin taps into in terms of the field, why people are so committed to the site. There is a sisterhood and brotherhood of metalsmiths. I found this out when at age 21 I traveled around the world on a ship for four months, visiting goldsmiths and jewelers in every country we went to, dressed politely, carrying my camera, notebook and a handful of my pieces, my chasing hammer and a selection of tools. These served to validate me a fellow goldsmith, and I was universally accepted and welcomed, fed in people's homes, taken care of, treated with respect and my questions about life as a jeweler answered in depth. Ganoksin taps into this place, a place where our tactile understanding of the material, our intimate understanding of this stuff we work with and the important role that jewelers play in rites of passage and in everyday life come together. Jewelry is important: anthropologists claim that ornamentation of the body was one of the earliest acts that define humanity, and came before organized tool use. And as a jeweler you share understandings with others in the field, no matter what the culture or language you live in. Other factors include the sense of belonging to a group, access to information otherwise unattainable and the practical demonstration of the old adage "If you want to make a friend ask someone for advice". One of the effects has been innumerable friendships and activities between members in their everyday lives off the computer.
The careful construction by Hanuman of the Orchid message format helps as well. There is a clean, simple, uniform style to the presentation, the way a snippet of a previous message is quoted, the way that the name of the poster is placed on the page. All designed to feel warm rather than cold. The formatting unifies the feel of the posts, offering the user a clean look regardless of the system they are using. The ease of posting to such a moderated list rather than a newsgroup's extra steps makes a difference as well in the immediacy and closeness that people on the list feel.
Hanuman believes that "once a message is delivered to someone's mail box, they naturally feel a sense of intimacy; after all it is their own mail".
Content is the Sticky Trap.
Shortly after we began to collaborate Hanuman suggested adding an email news list, similar to rec.crafts.jewelry news group, which was at that time a mess of commercial messages and flames, which led to a public vote on whether to make it a moderated list.
SNAG's Peter Rowe stepped up to the task and has tirelessly slaved away as the moderator of the news group ever since, and because of his writing there and later as a very active Orchid participant has achieved through the net some of the renown and respect that his intelligence deserves.
My memory of Orchid's birth is very distinctly that as Hanuman and I were talking about creating a new discussion group an Orchid blew in the window and landed on his desk. Even my wife remembers this. Hanuman however does not. He says he saw the flower from his window while we were talking, "but not actual flying flowers'. Ah well, I'll keep the romantic image in my mind, it is nicer that way.
Orchid developed as less commercial, more specialized, more professional place than other lists on the net.
Hanuman says "What is Orchid for me? At the risk of sounding mysterious, Orchid is my second self. It is a space where I find my own identity; it is a magic space that fills me entirely. It is the family I never had, and the friendships I never forged. I believe that many Orchidians also find this magic space, and I hope it opens new paths for new creative ideas and maybe some new perspectives on our trade for jewelers and metalsmiths world wide."
Orchid has also been a place for critique, and repair of business mistakes on the part of suppliers and companies who sell products to the jewelry industry. Some regularly trawl the archives to see how they are doing, and many have employees and managers who monitor the list. If a problem comes up and a company is being criticized we will contact the company to offer them a chance to address critique and post an answer to the Orchid community. This research aspect is used regularly by companies, magazines and book authors. The list is used a group mind by its members and by others. As an example I remember a problem with a development project in Nepal . The village was so high in altitude that torches were having problems working. Orchidians piled in with comments, and the problem was addressed in short order. This type of thing happens all the time.
Here is a hint of what editing the list is like for Hanuman and Ton. For a start there are between 40 and 50 postings every day sent out to the Orchid list. This works out to be over 200,000 outgoing emails a day from Orchid. Anyone who is on vacation or whose mailbox is full bounces everything back to Ganoksin, creating a huge amount of incoming bounces. Then there is spam. And finally there are the real emails. There are 5000-8000 incoming emails a day, 70% spam, 4% viruses, the rest bounced undeliverable mail. Hanuman says “these are the skins we have to peel in the correct order to reach the true orchid posts. Then we create the digest and send it out first. Giving a couple of hours for the digest reader to have an opportunity to respond before the next wave of posts begins".
This used to be a horrendous manual sorting job for Ton, but he wrote programs to filter and sort better, lowering the work time a lot. It does not however cut out much of the hands on work. Each genuine Orchid content has been carefully filtered to remove the junk from the genuine. Each is formatted to make the list content as clean and readable as possible. Flames are not allowed (though sometimes comments come near that boundary). If a posting is meant for someone particular then the message is hand forwarded to the correct person. Commercial ones are allowed if phrased with taste. Suspect ones may be sent back to a sender for clarification. And all have extraneous letters, address information, and email junk individually removed by hand. Only then are the final groomed messages published to the list itself.
Since 1996 we worked together on ideas for the site, on putting up articles, and Hanuman paid for the site. He has funded the whole thing from his own pocket since the beginning, and it is just in the last couple of years that donation income and support has offset the costs of the project to any degree.
In fact large parts of the story have been figuring out where to find funding, and striving to do so in as many ways as possible. I for instance wanted a subscription base at an early date, and Hanuman resisted on idealistic grounds. We both agreed that the site should be available easily and free for the world, and that access to information was vital. Hanuman believes that "those who can benefit the most can afford the least". We did eventually come to an agreement that if a subscription was offered that the fairest thing to do was to ask people to pay the equivalent of three hours pay a year, so if you were a store owner in New York it might be $150.00, but if you worked as a goldsmith in a third world country maybe this was three dollars. We never implemented those subscription plans.
By 1999 I was writing extensive business plans, grant proposals and proposals for backing the site. I contacted many large jewelry industry companies, with some positive response from some, but no real deals at that point. Hanuman was trying to make deals as well, and we were looking for major sponsorship. Early on we decided that any support would have to be arms length that we would not give up the service ideals of the site, or compromise comment because of sponsorship. The idea we were working with was Co-spheres. While Ganoksin was still small, we had content, lots of it that could be offered to the clients of a sponsor's site. And we would provide density on the web, thus attracting people through the Ganoksin site to the sponsors site.
Because of our clean, trustworthy profile we would attract an educated class of user, self motivated, interested in self improvement and learning. We knew we had an economic good that might be of interest to sponsors. However, we saw our visitors primarily as information users and participants in education, not as customers for a sponsor. We were very close at one point to consummating a partnership with a large, well funded diamond selling site. But then the dot com bubble burst, and companies crumbled around us. Hanuman continued to subsidize the site, and continues today to pay Ton's salary out of his own pocket.
Orchid grew, the archives grew beyond all count and we continued to seek content partners for the site. Other authors added articles to the tips pages. And Dave Arens started a dinner at the Tucson Gem show, for Orchid members to attend. The first one had twelve people. This action was to grow into dinners and get togethers at most of the major jewelry events in North America . Dave and his wife organized another one in Tucson , and then it began to grow.
Dave Sebaste organized one at the Richmond SNAG conference in 2001. Kenneth Singh has organized several in New York and elsewhere. Sam Patania organized the first really huge one at the El Parador in Tucson , then another and another. The dinners are attended by the press, magazine editors, company representatives, Ganoksin sponsors, and of course crowds of Orchidians. Speakers from the industry address the meetings, for instance at the 2004 Tucson one Rich Youmans of AJM magazine and Andrea Hill of Rio Grande spoke as well as Hanuman himself.
There have been dinners in New York , San Francisco , Santa Monica as well as Tucson . Kenneth Singh has been a long time Ganoksin supporter and participant as well as his putting together Orchid meetings. The SNAG conference in San Francisco had forty four people come. It was organized by Molly Guettinger. This time in Tampa there are over 55 people coming, organized by Joel Schwalb. In general there are innumerable times that Orchid members have helped the project and offered their aid and advice. These meetings have been organized by Orchidians for Orchidians and Hanuman, Karen and myself have been lucky enough to be guests at a number of them.
And the dinners served another purpose besides celebration and meeting face to face. This was to let people know about who was behind Ganoksin, to let people understand that it was not a corporate entity, but a huge construction with just a couple of people behind it, that Hanuman had built it by himself, and was paying for this idealistic place to exist. There were some banner ads, especially from Daniel Grandi's Racecar Jewelry who gave solid support from the beginning. Alan Revere and Amy O'Connell were also strong supporters.
Fund raising became part of the Orchid group gathering's activities. Silent auctions were added to the dinners, and all kinds of wonderful items auctioned. This has become a tradition at Orchid events. In 2003 the Rio Grande Company who had looked kindly at our business proposals in 1999, really threw support behind us. They donated a super high tech J2R casting machine for the raffle, and did it again in 2004, joined by Lee Marshall's Bonny Doon Engineering, Inc. A number of other suppliers have sponsored tables at Orchid dinners. Rio Grande continues to be strongly supportive to the Project in all kinds of ways.
In 2002 Karen Christians of Metalwerx began to offer occasional ideas, as well as critique. After the 2003 Tucson Orchid dinner Karen offered to help the project and spoke on Ganoksin's behalf to SNAG. Later in 2003 Ganoksin and SNAG announced they were looking at ways to support each other and work together. Karen has really leapt into work for the project since then and has been a driving force in the progression of events. Her work and untiring energy have really got things rolling and her time tabling, action plans and great professional attitude have been vital in Ganoksin's increasing success.
The last three years have brought recognition from the Industry, from magazines and from suppliers and other major players in the jewelry world. Ganoksin is regularly quoted as a source in magazine articles, and is seen as a major resource for the field.
Those partnerships that we've been working on include collaborative projects with MJSA, AJM and SNAG. MJSA has donated Orchid booth space at shows, as had Rio Grande . There is an Orchid Tips book underway, drawn from the archives, a partnership with AJM magazine who will publish and market the book, with more to come down the road.
From Susan Wade's article: Seeds of knowledge.
"For me, the best thing Orchid provides is a huge breadth of responses," says Larry Seiger of LS Hancock in Cary , North Carolina . "[For example], I put out a message asking for help finding someone to custom cut a watch crystal for a watch I am building. Though no one had any idea about where to contact a watch crystal cutter, I received several responses with such innovative solutions that I began to refocus my attention to making one myself. I was able to create my own crystal out of Pyrex glass in my studio. You just never know with Orchid where your question will take you."
"One of the things that I simply love about Orchid is the 'A-ha!' experience I get almost daily," says Karen Goeller, an artist-jeweler in Doylestown , Pennsylvania . "Someone writes in about a problem or a technique they've used, or a new material or tools they've tried, and light bulbs go on in my head. These are not things you'll learn in school or even from a single apprenticeship. They are the collective wisdom of multiple generations of artists and craftsmen worldwide, passed along in an oral tradition."
The list archives are another important resource. "An example [of the usefulness of the archives] is my recent interest in a magnetic pin finisher," says Allen Beck, a goldsmith and lapidary from Meridian , Idaho . "From the Orchid archives, I learned valuable tidbits such as: I could use it for stone-in-place castings; Ajax dish detergent works better and is more economical than burnishing soap; dropping the water level slightly gives better results; flat Rubbermaid containers work as well as the original bowls; and small, round stainless shot does better on flat surfaces than the supplied pins. All that from one episode of archive searches!"
Beyond sharing tips and tricks, Orchid's deepest value to jewelers is as a community of peers. "It's not the mechanical or tangible result that makes Orchid so valuable to me, it's the people," says Dave Sebaste of Sebaste Studio in Charlotte , North Carolina . "For once in my life, I feel connected with people of like minds and spirits. The friendships and acquaintances I've made through the Orchid community have given my life an added richness that cannot be measured."
"Many of us work in a fairly isolated setting, often spending a whole day in the studio with no outside contact," agrees Joel Schwalb of Joel Schwalb Studio in Nyack , New York . "Orchid has become a major source of communication with the world outside my studio. The constant open exchange of information is important, but it is primarily the sense of community that is most important to me. This is a very giving community, and we all benefit from participating."
"Orchid has been like an online apprenticeship for me," says Brad Smith of West Los Angeles , a retired engineer and Web site designer turned jeweler. "A given class only exposes you to a limited set [of techniques]. Books and workshops give you a wider appreciation, but it is the Orchid forum that has built the depth of my knowledge. Orchid educates me on the finer details of a process, allows me to ask questions (where a book doesn't), opens up my mind to problems I would never have considered, alerts me to scams and pitfalls, and gives me a sense of community from an otherwise solitary workbench."
For jewelers located far from the jewelry centers of New York , Los Angeles , and Providence , the forum has also provided a much needed resource for locating suppliers. "I found two suppliers-one caster and one die maker-on Orchid," says Sam Patania of Tucson. "I have been in the jewelry business all my life, and I need to work with quality suppliers. Without Orchid, I would not have been able to get to know these people before I started doing business with them. Orchid gave me an informal meeting place to meet others in the industry where I would never have been able to."
For suppliers, Orchid is a way to stay in touch with their market. "As a supplier of tools and equipment to the jewelry industry, Orchid discussions are a valuable resource for ideas for new products and services," says Elaine Corwin, vice president of technical services for Gesswein in Bridgeport , Connecticut . "It's like attending a focus group of jewelers every day."
The Orchid community extends beyond the electronic, and beyond business relationships. Orchid members frequently meet other members who live nearby, enjoy get-togethers at trade shows, and even stay in each other's homes when traveling. At least one marriage has resulted from contacts first made on Orchid.
While the Internet may not have lived up to the early hype of changing the world, in this little corner of the information superhighway, Orchid has created a genuine global village.