Lame web celebrity lists and gender equality
Yesterday, Forbes published its annual web celebrity list and last night, we had a bit of chatter on Twitter about it. I promised a post to further explain my thoughts on the list. Here goes.
There's more than one problem here, so let's start with the most obvious. Do we really need yet another web celebrity list?
If we truly believe what we say, that social media is about more than celebrity or rank, that it is about the democratization of media, that the long tail is just as important as the mass market, then we need to put our money where our mouths are.
We need to look deeper than the A-list. And not be fooled by lists like this one that merely scratch the surface of the richness of the blogosphere.
Now, I am not at all surprised that Forbes takes the easy way out by pandering to our culture of celebrity by creating a list that seems more appropriate to PEOPLE or the STAR. It's a chance to show that they are more than just a stodgy mainstream business publication. Oooh Perez Hilton in Forbes... who would have thought....
Unfortunately, this perpetuates a misconception about what social media is, and what it can become. What we can become as a result.
Not only is that a real shame, but also it goes a long way to explaining why so many companies get it wrong when they engage. If we treat social media just like everything else, why should we expect that they'd "get it?" That they'd understand the fundamental differences between mass markets and the long tail, between bloggers and journalists. And so on.
The other problem is the gender imbalance. The Forbes list, like so many others, suffers from an over-representation of white middle class men. Only four women out of the 25. That's 16%, for the math jocks out there. That doesn't match the demographics of either the US population or Internet users.
The Forbes list is merely one among many that suffers from this problem. In the tweet-around last night, Chris Baskind forwarded me yet another recent list that purported to summarize the definitive blog posts of 2007. Just as bad. I counted 38 different authors (many of the same ones as in the Forbes list by the way) and 5 women. That's about 13%.
Quite often, these lists mention the same women. Not to take away from their work and significant contributions, but there truly are more than a handful of women engaged in social media. And don't get me started on the fact that the "definitive posts" post attributes CommonCraft's great "RSS explained" video to Lee Lefever alone. No mention of business and life partner Sachi LeFever.
Now, we could say that these are stupid, lame lists, and why would women and minorities want to be on them anyway?
Unfortunately, that would miss the point of true equality.
True equality means that women and minorities should be adequately represented everywhere.
Certainly anything that claims to be a definitive summary of web influence.
And even lame web celebrity lists.
Tags: Forbes, gender, web celebrity list, a-list
Posted @ 10:12AM in Blogging, Gender
While I share your passion that the idealistic barometer of what represents quality and influence, I can't agree with your specific concern about numbers. It shouldn't have to match the US population nor the US population that's online. It should have to match those in social media that are influential.
There should be no other standard.
If we look to include people because of their gender or because of their race, we are creating tokens.
The problem here, it would be my guess, is higher up, so to speak. It's my guess that the decision makers for this list probably share the same mentality. Yes, I'd bet that most of them are white males, but I'd say that even those that aren't probably fit right in.
That type of mentality may well get a bit too concerned about celebrity, or what seems to be hot. Being that way, they'll miss out on taking a look at the three founders of BlogHer, who definitely should have been on the list. For some reason they didn't list Ariana Huffington. Beth Comstock, president of NBC Interactive comes to mind as well.
Susan, what I'm saying is that it isn't about numbers...it's about the mindset of people who choose these lists. Simply placing more women on a list of 25 solves nothing. Broadening mindsets of decision makers will be the key.
I guess I wasn't clear enough. I think the women that are being included now *are* being included as tokens. These lists generally represent the dominant power group in this country, white middle class men, and we should be changing that dynamic. Not adding women and minorities to reach some magical 50-50.
Because, yes, things should reflect the population. Everything from lame web celebrity lists all the way up to the leaders of our nation.
We should be using social media to change the world, not reproducing the same crap culture we already have offline.
I don't just want to broaden the minds of the decision makers. I want to change the decision makers, full stop.
Yeah, I don't want much for christmas --just equality. Some year. Hopefully in my lifetime.
I can't fully agree with you and, as a white middle class male, I don't feel all that empowered because of it.
And I don't think it should reflect the population per se. It should reflect the influence. And in agreeing with you me, the 84%-16% is way off.
But for me, I say we should first challenge and then change those decision makers.
Here's a point, then a question.
I had heard that you were upset at the gender breakdown of the New New Internet Web 2.0 conference down here in DC a month and a half ago. 60 speakers. 57 men, 3 women. I was too. Now, part of that can be explained away. The DC area is filled with more of the engineering side of tech types, not the social side. And that's heavily make to begin with. But 95%-5% ratio is absurd. I wasn't able to attend, but when I heard that, it kinda riled me up. Problem is, many of the people who put together the nuts and bolts of the conference were women in their mid 20's through mid 30's. I know many of them.
How does one get around that?
nice rant. the word that kept coming to my mind was "lazy."
Bottom line: More thought went into your post than into their list. Seriously - even the meme is tired. we always see the top whatever of the year come mid- to late-december. The only lists I like to see around this time of year are things like FP Magazine's "10 stories you missed" because it shows they did some work.
I honestly believe that sexism and intellectual laziness are first cousins. If asked, this group may very well support things like equal pay for equal work, affirmative action, and all sorts of stuff. But catch them when they're settling for the intellectual default and this is what you get - abiding by the political correctness of selecting a woman or two, but not looking for the best content and settling for the first one they see. They just checked a box. Whatever.
And then, "definitive blogposts?" seriously? How about being honest ans saying "here are some things I thought were really thoughtful and smart." Make it just A list, not THE list, and you avoid these problems.
All this ranking nonsense only serves to dumb us down.
Curious to know whether you got past the title of that blog post ("The Definitive Posts of 2007"). If you had, you may have noticed that it says...
"While this may not represent all of the year's best marketing bloggery, it's a start. Are there posts by other bloggers you'd like to see on here? Let us know with a brief comment and (so long as it fits) we'll add your suggestion to the list."
And once again at the end where it reiterates...
"Did we miss something? Probably. There were so many eye-opening blog posts this year that we need your help updating this list so that it is definitive — or close to it. What were your favorite posts this year? Leave a comment and/or link to let us know."
If you'd like to add your favorite posts of the year to the list, we'd love to have them. No one person or blog can create a "definite" list on its own, nor have we claimed to.
Anyway, thanks for the link. I usually enjoy what you have to say.
Robert - thanks for stopping by. Yes, I did read the post as well as the list of posts you initially included and appreciate your call to the community to make additional suggestions. But I have to ask - did you notice how "male" your selections were before I pointed it out? I truly believe that we have to do better at this than we are or things will never change.
No, gender did not play a part in our selections.
It would be great if you would voice your concern in the comments on our blog post for the rest of our readers to see. If/when you do, please share a few of your favorite links. If gender is a factor in your selections, that's your prerogative. We'll be sure to add them to the list if we think they're some of the year's best.
Robert -- I will certainly pop over to your blog and leave a comment later tonight.
I would never suggest that gender should be part of our judgment of the quality of a person's thought. That needs to stand or fall on its own.
However, I do believe that when we publish "collections" that are meant to be representative of the best thinking in a population, it should be representative of the population, not just the prevailing "power structure" of the group.
It is a fact that Western society is dominated by middle class white guys. Which is bleeding over into the online world, in large part because the initial dominant population online was, you guessed it, a buncha white guys sitting around coding. Now, we can let that stand as an accurate reflection of the offline world. And many people would be content to do so. Because the folks you list in your post are smart. They are writing and saying smart things. But so are a lot of other people further down the long tail.
Which is why I think we can do better. But it means we have to think about it. Is it "blog affirmative action?" Perhaps. I am however personally convinced that it is necessary if we want our social media world to become a better place than our offline world. Without large populations of disenfranchised people who do not have representation at the table of influence.
As to posts that merit inclusion in your list, if you read this blog, you know I'm not generally a fan of lists anyway. Remind me too much of a high school popularity contest. That said, I will point you to a couple of bloggers who generally day in and day out share some pretty smart thinking on their blogs: Kami Huyse, of the blog Communications Overtones, and Ike Pigott, author of Occam's RazR.
If you're still counting, that's one boy and one girl :-)
Sorry about the delay in responding to your comment. TypePad has something new and different for comment spam, and is dumping some comments into it -- including one of mine on my own blog, go figure.
Anyway, I think Wescott answered your question, even though he didn't know it. How does a speaking roster at an Internet conference become dominated by the same old same old names. Laziness, pure and simple. It is easier to find, and go with, the known, the tried and true.
Push harder, folks. Find the new voices.
As to reflecting the influence, versus the population. The problem is that the influence SHOULD reflect a population. And not just in blogging. Everywhere.