Posts Tagged ‘Technology


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?


Looking Beyond Tech

Looking outward is not always easy or natural. I see this firsthand through my own life. If something isn’t a part of your day-to-day routine or perspective considering its impact on the bigger picture can be a challenge. Last night I had a chat with Chris Brogan about how the tech community, for example, struggles with looking outward. He beat me to the punch, posting on our conversation early this morning.

Going beyond Chris’s suggestion of solving real-world problems, I wonder why groups are so resistant to recognizing the impact of outside influences. Last year at Gnomedex, a couple of the presentations had political overtones, which seemed to infuriate some of the attendees. Some of the feedback boiled down to, “Why are we talking politics at a tech conference?”

Why not talk politics at a tech conference? Despite our preferences otherwise, the potential impact of outside influences on the tech world is huge. Political issues that directly impact the tech community include: media consolidation, net neutrality, internet taxes, patent applications, and copyright enforcement/duration.

Technology, and every other industry, doesn’t have the luxury of operating in a silo, focusing only inward on the cool toys. Despite our desire to maintain the purity of our sandboxes, too many outside forces are at work trying to muck things up for the rest of us. If we aren’t proactive and willing to address related issues, political or otherwise, someone else will do it for us, often in a way that doesn’t best meet our needs.


Changing Definitions to Avoid Responsibility

UPDATE: While my original concerns about adult attitudes still stands, the teacher I quoted below, Steven Maher, commented in this post and kindly pointed me to the original transcript of his full interview. Clearly, Frontline made an effort to edit his interview to the greatest effect. I’ve added the additional parts from his interview below that clarify his remarks.

Reality check. I’m currently watching Frontline‘s latest episode, Growing Up Online. I’m less concerned about what I’m hearing coming out of the kids’ mouths and more what I’m hearing from the adults. If you haven’t seen the show, go here and select Chapter Two, skip to 3:47 and listen to what a supposed adult (a teacher no less) has to say about cheating, or sorry maybe it’s not cheating:

Steve Maher: You take it as a given that they’re gonna take stuff from Sparknotes and from other sources like that. The question is how we react to that. And we can react and say, “Ok, this is something we have to fight against.” The other way to react to it is to accept it as a reality and say that’s how the outside world works. If I can find someone who’s working in advertising and who knows how to push a product and they can collect information from other sources and borrow and steal and put it together and reshape it, isn’t that a skill that I want them to have?

Interviewer: Are you saying cheating is ok?

Steve Maher: I’m not saying cheating is ok. {Sidenote: At this point I’m yelling at the television, “Yes you are!”} (Update: Sigh…comments taken out of context…I was wrong.)

Steve Maher: I’m saying that cheating is something you have to look at closer to say what is cheating, what’s not cheating.

[Full text from original transcript: I’m not saying that cheating is OK. I’m saying that cheating is something you have to look at closer to say, what is cheating and what’s not cheating? Copying another student’s answer on a multiple-choice test is cheating. The way to deal with that is not to put a book between them and say, “Don’t look at that other student’s test.” The way to deal with that is to replace the multiple-choice test and say that you’re going to do something else that you can look at other people’s projects, but the way I assess what you’re doing is going to take into account that you’re going to look at what other people are doing. Your work still has to be original, but to get inspiration from other people and to craft your work in response to theirs or alongside theirs is not something that’s necessarily a problem. …]

Huh? If borrowing, stealing even, doesn’t meet this teacher’s definition of cheating, then what does? Going beyond that, I’m listening to these parents wigging out about how immersed kids are in technology and the “dangerous” Internet. Here’s a suggestion: if you’re worried quit buying the technology. Yes, they may access it at school, a friend’s home, or Internet cafe, but don’t aid and abet then toss your hands up in dismay.

One kid had two monitors plus a flat panel television in his room. Then, his dad comes on screen shaking his head over how he always feels like he’s intruding or interrupting his son when he goes into his bedroom. Maybe you shouldn’t have purchased all the expensive gear. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this particular kid bought his toys with an allowance buoyed by inflation. Same thing with the cell phones. Parents can’t believe how the kids refuse to separate themselves, even when on vacation. Sigh. When did parents stop being parents? To clarify, I’m not advocating against technology. I am advocating for a little common sense.

Perhaps I’m stuck in a time warp, but I always felt that I had boundaries growing up. I knew what was acceptable and what would create consequences. I never had a computer in my room, and I didn’t get a cell phone until I turned 16, and only then because I was driving back and forth to basketball practice and games during early mornings and late nights. Based on the interviews that I saw this evening, I want to shake some of these parents. You’re buying the cell phones, putting computers in bedrooms, then wondering why your kids have created such separate lives that appall you. I keep hearing the argument that everyone’s doing it. That’s the same argument I used growing up, too, and it got me exactly no where. I must have missed when that logic suddenly became acceptable.

As part of the show, they also interviewed danah boyd, one of my favorite social media researchers. She makes the very valid point that the Internet and these other technologies are a part of daily lives. They aren’t going away, so adults need to learn and kids need to be taught how to deal with the issues surrounding them. However, she also advocates that individuals need to be responsible about their participation, something I didn’t hear from many people in the show.

Please watch all of Growing Up Online because I think it has revealed as much about the adults as it does about the kids. The language used blows me away. The rationalizations by some, and this idea that parents and other adults don’t play a role in what’s happening, is ludicrous. For example, allowing kids to believe that analytical thinking and reading can be replaced by technology or that it’s somehow a benefit to know how to borrow and steal does them a disservice. The words adults use, regardless of what kids may say, do register at some level. Changing the definitions, because we want to avoid the fight, isn’t the answer.




Billie Jean, Tara Hunt, & the Bionic Woman

I’ve had an idea percolating for about four days now, and it took watching the pilot episode of Bionic Women for everything to gel. Let me start at the beginning. This past week, I heard a brief mention on the radio that it’s the 34th anniversary of “The Battle of the Sexes” between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (CBS Sportline; Wikipedia). I paid attention mostly because of my recent viewing of a bio on HBO about Billie Jean.

I grew up after Title IX was firmly in place and enjoyed every benefit as I ran track and played basketball through much of junior high and high school. While I knew about the match between King and Riggs, I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal until I saw the bio. Beyond the historic value, something else about this anniversary was nagging at me.

Women in Technology

Then, a few days later, courtesy of Robert Scoble‘s link feed, I got another piece of the puzzle when I saw Shroki’s post on Tara Hunt‘s recent article for O’Reilly. Tara, from what I’ve read on her blog and in interviews, gives a voice to women in technology, pointing out the value they’ve brought to the industry as a whole. She also does an excellent job of highlighting the blind spot that pops up when the story relates to women and technology. In this particular article, she addresses the question, “where are the women in tech” with an impressive list of participants:

If you look around, you’ll see that there are many Sandras. Some of the hottest companies of early Web 2.0 (and before) have been co-founded by women: Flickr (Caterina Fake), Blogger (Meg Hourihan), SixApart (Mena Trott), Mozilla (Mitchell Baker), Guidewire Group (Chris Shipley), and Adaptive Path (Janice Fraser).

My exposure to the tech world is relatively recent, not quite a year. But I have met some amazing women at some of the seemingly all-male conferences I’ve attended. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Gina Trapani, one of my favorite tech bloggers, at SXSW. I’ve also become friends with Rachel Clarke at JWT. Then at Gnomedex, I saw Cali Lewis and her husband Neil talk about their experience with GeekBrief.TV. Also at Gnomedex, as part of the Ignite Seattle group, I greatly enjoyed Deborah Schultz. These women are just a few of the amazing individuals I’ve been exposed to since my entrance into the tech world. Now for the final piece of the puzzle.

The Bionic Woman

Tonight, I watched the premiere episode (via Amazon’s video download) of the new Bionic Woman. The original was on the air from 1976–77. This new iteration uses the same basic premise. A “normal” woman, through a series of events, is “rebuilt” and ends up with super-human skills and healing abilities, courtesy of a shadowy government group. I like sci-fi, so the story was interesting to me anyway. But what drew me in was this idea of melding women with technology into something that could easily overpower a guy—and not for the reasons you might be imagining.

For a long time (forever actually), women have had to rely on their brains for the majority of their survival. Physical prowess is not a natural ability gifted to the female form, so we balanced it out with mental skills. What do you think the world would be like if men and women were actually on a level playing field (if such a thing exists), mentally AND physically?

Combining Brains & Brawn

Billie Jean proved that she had the physical and mental ability to beat Bobby Riggs at a time when women in sports had significantly lesser status. Today, some of the biggest stars on the tennis circuit are the female singles players—Venus and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to name three. It’s taken time, but these women are garnering their own endorsement contracts conquering other terrain normally reserved for the male superstars.

Tara Hunt has shown that many women have the necessary mental power to be the leaders in today’s technology industry, a field heavily dominated by men. Women are coding their own programs, creating their own companies, and getting funding from VCs. Now that they’ve found their tech voice, women are using it.

What brought all these random thoughts together was the Bionic Woman (if I remember right, the character’s name is Jamie). For me, she represents a melding of these two realities. Physically, she’s a match for any man, and mentally, she’s got the brains to outwit anyone, too (her IQ score is higher than her genius boss). Plus, she’s got $50 million in technologically advance body parts.

I’m willing to admit I’m stretching this concept a bit, but isn’t that what this medium and everything else haphazardly categorized as Web 2.0 is about? Stretching, testing, discovering, imagining. Maybe Web 3.0 won’t be about any particular technology or toy. Maybe it will be about a level playing field that accepts anyone—woman or man—that dares step onto the turf.


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