Who’s Missing From Forbes’ Web Celebs

Yesterday, Forbes posted “The Web Celeb 25,” including a list of near misses (my bff Chris Brogan for one) and others who had dropped off the list. According to the authors, here’s how the list was created:

To generate the Web Celebs ranking, we first defined a “Web celebrity” as a person famous primarily for creating or appearing in Internet-based content and for being highly recognizable to a Web-based audience. That definition excludes people who were significantly famous before they hit the Web–like author and pundit Arianna Huffington–and leaves us with a pool of people whose fame depends on the Internet.

Next, we created a candidate list of over 250 Internet personalities. Each candidate was ranked in five areas: Web references as calculated by Google; traffic ranking of their homepages as calculated by Alexa; Technorati rank of their primary Web sites or blogs, TV and radio mentions and press clips compiled from Factiva; and number of followers on microblogging site Twitter. We gave extra weight to results from Alexa, Google and Factiva. All five categories were totaled to produce a final score, and sorted to arrive at our rankings.

That list of 25 ended up including one woman, Heather Armstrong. Women who just missed the list or dropped off it included Gina Trapani, Xeni Jardin, and Kathy Sierra. Where the hell are all the women?

First and foremost, the authors used a clearly defined and objective process for selecting the peeps on their list. Second, I don’t perceive any active role of sexism. However, I’m left scratching my head over why so few women made the numbers cut. So much so, it woke me up at 5:30 this morning.

Having no wish to spend the time double checking Forbes‘ numbers (and doubting there’s anything wrong with them), I’m left with my theories about the dearth of women on the list due to the numbers game.

Women Do Things in Groups on the Web

BlogHer comes to mind as one the largest such groups to combine the efforts of women on the web. When things are done as a group, singling out any one individual for recognition becomes tricky because how do you weigh impact, especially in a large, active community? It’s sometimes easier to measure in offline communities when women can run for PTA president (huge job by the way…do you know how much fundraising they do?) or other public offices.

Women Pick Unsexy Niches

Shiny gadgets can be seen as infinitely more attractive than the day-to-day details of being a mom. Women also show a willingness to talk about things our other halves can be less comfortable with (note: I don’t say always): emotions, relationships, personal introspection, etc.

While I don’t agree with everything she does, I’ve been a little surprised at the flak Penelope Trunk gets for her openness about all aspects of her life and not just running a startup. We devour celebrity gossip but wag our fingers at individuals sharing personal details? Seems contradictory to me.

Women Run Things vs. Star in Them

It’s a common enough saying, “behind every great man, is a great woman.” Not to imply that the men who made the list aren’t great in their own right, but I suspect several wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have the help of women to run day-to-day things. Robert Scoble has always been very open about his appreciation for Maryam, his wife, who blogs, too.

Whether it’s wives, girlfriends, or mothers, women often end up in the nonglamourous roles, leaving little time for stardom. The same is true for women in business. Sometimes we end up managing the details to make sure the bigger picture happens.

Measuring By Numbers Creates a Gap

I could go on with the list, but the point would be the same: measuring exclusively by numbers creates a gap. Perez Hilton took top honors this year on the web celeb list. Forbes noted that a new post appears every 12.5 seconds and his site attracts 4.8 million viewers a month. I’m curious though, how much of his content do you think will matter in six months or even a year?

I don’t believe the core of this argument is about men versus women, but rather about how we place value on what people do. Yes, the ability to generate money matters from a survival standpoint, and numbers help determine the potential money generation. However, as recent market events have shown, numbers can be twisted, hiding the reality. Don’t we stand to benefit if we can look beyond the numbers?


5 Responses to “Who’s Missing From Forbes’ Web Celebs”

  1. January 31, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    It’s interesting. My version of internet celebrities would be much different, but I travel in a very different web neighborhood than the editors at Forbes, I guess. Moreover, I agree with you- on the whole, women tend to work more on group projects and tend to be less prone to grabbing the spotlight. (Travel and speaking at conferences can also be tricky if you have, say, kids at home and a working spouse.) This is a great post, and made me think seriously about the “why’s” of fame, especially on the net, and the whole issue of form vs. substance as well. Thanks for a great post!

  2. 2 Robert Banks
    January 31, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Yes, but perhaps part of the problem is that women in this area haven’t exactly helped matters. For example @pistachio. Please explain to me what she does? When you look at the credentials, it’s clear she is simply presenting herself as a know it all though she has no chops. You also get the benefit of having @ijustine? WTF. Really? To be fair, us men get the likes of the Calacanis and Scoble, 2 loud mouths that lack objectivity. We also have Chris Brogan. Please tell me how a guy with no credentials is an expert?

    The whole industry is screwy.

    Deb Schultz is someone that should have been on the list. Ditto with @conversationage and Ann Handley.

  3. 3 Ranter
    January 31, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I had the same dumbfounded experience when I read who made the alleyinsider top 10 list http://www.alleyinsider.com/sa100. At the time, I didn’t read past the top 10, but now I see some woman start to trickle in around 15. Still the list is male heavy for sure. I didn’t necessarily think it sexist, but it left me feeling puzzled. Where are all the women?

    After I read that article, I read about this amazing technology entrepreneur Tan Le who was featured in Inc. Magazine. So I know they are out there. But I when searching for this article (it was a bit hard to find), I found another article which was asking why aren’t more women founders of big companies… their answer is “choice”. Women choose not to take their companies big because of the lifestyle balance. They just don’t choose to sacrifice some basic fundamentals of living a balanced and fulfilling life.

    Great article. I wish more women would dialogue about this. Or maybe they do and I’m just not finding the articles.

  4. January 31, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Personally I think there are much better goals to aspire to, for both men and women, than being on the Forbes list of internet celebrities.

    • 5 Britt
      January 31, 2009 at 8:47 pm

      @Whitney: The idea of celebrity in general is an interesting one. Celebrity on the web is a completely different animal than say the celebrity of a movie star. When I meet someone I consider a web celebrity in person I’m still surprised (pleasantly so) at how open and friendly they act. The web still makes it possible to interact, regardless of the size of following, on a level that traditional celebrity doesn’t allow.
      Like you, the individuals I define as “celebrities” are people who add a specific type of value to the work I do. The web supports niche celebrity in a way that would be unsupportable in other mediums.

      @Robert: You raise a fair point that a lack of clarity can work against someone on the web. I believe the same applies to both men and women. You mention iJustine. Doesn’t the same argument apply to iJustin? Much of what makes the web so exciting is its very flexibility. I can’t speak personally to the value of @Pistachio. I suspect she would argue that her work can speak for itself, and if her clients are happy with the advice she provides and the results she helps produce, isn’t that a better measurement than credentials?

      The beauty of this screwy industry is that we can control the flow of information. You have the luxury of turning off Calacanis, Scoble, and Brogan. I’m curious again at your mention of credentials, implying a validation or authority that someone without credentials doesn’t have. Isn’t part of the web’s success the ability to move beyond the idea that someone needs initials behind his name to be worth listening to? (note: I may be misunderstanding what you mean about credentials.)

      I’m also in total agreement with the women you mentioned being worthy of recognition. I’d also add Charlene Li and Liz Strauss to your list.

      @Ranter: Without planning to, I believe the feminist movement has made it difficult for women to have these conversations. If we admit that we don’t “want it all” or want a different life in general, we’re somehow betraying all the advances made. In the same way that we acknowledge our own personal strengths and weaknesses, I believe we’re doing a disservice to ourselves, both male and female, by not being honest about what we want. There’s stereotypes galore for both sexes, in some ways more now than ever due to political correctness.

      If a woman talks about wanting to spend more time with her kids and work only part time, or not go back to work until the kids are in school full-time, there’s comments that she’s not serious about her career. However, if it’s the reverse, then there’s discussion about whether or not she’s a good parent, if she’s sacrificing her children’s happiness in the pursuit of advancement.

      When we reach a point that we can acknowledge that what’s right for each of us—male or female—needn’t fit a movement we’ll be in a better position to honestly discuss the value of individual contributions without using numbers.

      @Shannon: As long as lists continue to be used as measurements of value, people will continue to aspire to be on them.

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