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State of the Hobby 2024

A brief reflection and look at how far our community has come since joining. I’ve been in the mechanical keyboard hobby for a very long time. It started as a high school student’s search for a keyboard for writing novels back in the 2008-2009 school year. I thought I wanted to be an author and I felt I needed a keyboard that I could sit down to at my desk and just write. After researching, joining forums, and saving money, I made my first purchase in the hobby, a blank black Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2. I still own this keyboard and while it is heavily modded now, it remains one of my all-time favorites. 

My HHKB Pro2 with MitchCapped Accents
Many people would have stopped there, but keyboards became a hobby. I enjoyed learning about them, and early on, I enjoyed hunting for them in thrift shops. I would dig through bins at Goodwill and Salvation Army while popping keycaps off with paperclips looking for mechanical switches. I searched for a birthday Model M but never found one. If you have a 10/10 production date Model M, let me know! Back then, Deskthority was the go-to place to get information on vintage keyboards. Deskthority has had a tumultuous time with the new site owners, so check out, the follow-up project to Deskthority's extensive Wiki.  Outside of keyboards themselves, I’ve always loved the Mechanical Keyboard community. I’ve built friendships with other enthusiasts and love going to local meetups. I found it easy to make friends with other hobbyists, you’d see the same names chatting in Geekhack and Reddit threads. We had fun trends like Lego minifigures on keyboards, matching your keyboard to your shoes, and constant jokes about MX Browns. The community felt cohesive. However, the community was small but growing steadily. 

My table at the April 2022 Chicago Meetup
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the community was growing quickly. However, nobody was prepared for the explosion of new hobbyists. This drove aftermarket prices up, strained vendors, and led to an explosion of new products. It also led to a fracturing of the community. Before the pandemic, there were two main platforms for the hobby, Geekhack and Reddit. These two pillars of the community were great for checking in with the community intermittently. They are two forum-style websites, meaning you’d comment, refresh, and wait for someone to reply or add their comment. In a word, the communication was slow. With the pandemic came stay-at-home orders. We as a community were able to be online more. The slow pace of the forum-style websites wasn’t conducive to conversations, so the community moved to Discord.  The movement to Discord fractured the community. There were larger keyboard Discord servers, but those quickly splintered into small groups of like-minded users. With the community splintered, there was a coinciding rise of gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is the attempt to limit the feeling of being accepted into the community based on arbitrary measures. The most common form of gatekeeping seen in our community is a rift driven between budget-minded hobbyists and bespoke hobbyists. Because mechanical keyboards were such a niche hobby, and in reality still is a niche hobby, pricing on early products was high in general. It was accepted that because there weren’t the numbers to reach minimum order quantity discounts, we would have to pay higher prices. With the influx of new hobbyists, companies and vendors took notice, and started offering lower prices as achieving higher minimum order quantities was more feasible. 

My Mira SE with vintage Cherry MX Blacks and GMK Dracula
Drop was one of the first companies to offer more affordable prices on items like keycaps (even the seldom discounted GMK) and keyboards. Early in the hobby, it would have been impossible to purchase a full aluminum keyboard kit with custom switches and keycaps for $200 like the Drop Sense75. The lowering of prices is what really allowed to expand the hobby into what it is today. Today, there are competitive aluminum case boards in the $100 range, something that was unheard of years ago. We have brands competing for customers outside of typical gaming keyboard brands, and that is great to see. On the other side of the spectrum, you have bespoke designers pushing to make the best possible keyboards that they can, regardless of price. For some, this is their preference in the hobby. They consider keyboards more than just input devices, but art pieces as well. There are options for bespoke designs, custom one-off keyboards, and private friends and family buys. There are great options for everyone new or old to the hobby at any price point.  To get where we are today, the community did suffer growing pains. Recently, there has been an uptick in vendors who poorly managed group buy funds, and we’ve needed some established vendors like Oblotsky and Cannonkeys to intervene in sheer good faith to help the community. This has rattled the community’s trust in vendors to appropriately relegate their group buy dollars to the actual group buy they are supporting. These vendor failings have sparked the idea that our community is ‘dead’. I strongly disagree with the sentiment as it is shortsighted. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the community is much larger. There are more products in stock than ever before, but yes, fewer products are running than there were during the pandemic. The community has course-corrected and is back to the steady growth we saw pre-pandemic, but we are certainly not at the numbers we once were during the pandemic. 

My Custom Frog (Cerakote by Loobed Switches) with Loobed Pines and GMK Boba Fett
It's a little late, but May the 4th be with you!
Today I’d like to think we are returning to stronger designs when it comes to Group Buys, especially for keyboards and keysets. Hobbyists aren’t as eager to support projects as they were during the FOMO-fueled pandemic. As a result, designers are truly working to bring the best products that they can to the market. This is especially true of the boutique side of keyboards. I recently joined in on the AKB Studios Caerdroia in-stock purchase and was blown away by it. A return to thick plate keyboards, and integrating a USB-hub made it a perfect pairing for my work setup. The fit and finish are incredible and it features a beautiful weight resembling a stone-carved maze. For those who are looking for a more budget approach, companies like QK, Wuque, and TKD have brought custom-quality products to the masses in their offerings. QK’s QK 100 gives people looking for a full-size keyboard a great option, Zoom continues to reiterate on their wildly successful Zoom 65 line-up. TKD shocked the market with their Cycle 7, showing that new layouts are still a welcome addition to the hobby.  Drop has brought their spin on the hobby in the form of the modular CTSM-80. You as the user get to decide how far you want to take your build. You can add a custom weight, pick a different plate, and even add an accent top piece. With Drop’s selection of switches, keycaps, and cables, it’s a one-stop shop for a new hobbyist. While Drop is not the only one-stop shop for a new hobbyist, I do love the collaborations they do with Marvel and Lord of the Rings.  At the end of the day, looking at the state of the hobby in 2024, I think we are moving in a positive direction at a healthy rate. Are we experiencing the number of new products that we did during the pandemic? No, but I don’t think the hobby’s rapid expansion was healthy. This is confirmed by the number of vendors who have inevitably failed the community. Today we have more variety in what is in stock and ready to buy. You as the hobbyist have choices. There are plenty of options for switches, so many that at times it’s confusing what the difference between switches is. We are back to a hobby where you can purchase in-stock GMK keysets, it was rare before and unheard of during the pandemic, but now you have quite a few options for a design that fits your wants. Outside of GMK, the number of quality keycaps readily available is incredible. No matter what your budget is, there are options in this hobby for you. The most important thing is that you find a keyboard that you enjoy typing on. 
Today for me, I’m really enjoying AKB’s Caerdroia with Gateron Lunar Probe dual rail switches, topped with GMK Hanok! What are you typing on today? Are there any boards, budget or boutique, that you are really looking forward to picking up? Let me know down below! 

I really love your observations here, and this is an excellent read! Really interested in the pandemic move from Reddit/Geekhack to Discord. I agree that it created a million tiny subgroups. One area that I've found life-giving on Discord is our Chicago Meetup Community. It is easily where I spend the majority of my keyboard time, and is still somewhat generalized, although most people would say that all they do is talk about artisans... :)
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