Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sorry dudes, I think it makes you seem kinda skeevy

Jake McKee, who I've met IRL and is a good guy, is enamored with this post by Martin, the blogger at the Community Spark blog.

The premise: "Why your online community is like a beautiful woman"

I have to say that I think that these posts make both of these guys seem a little skeevy...which I know Jake is not.

If the premise was "Why your online community is like a lover", I could totally go with it. The concept is that an online community and a beautiful woman both need:

To be well treated
To be kept interested
To be allowed to be seen and appreciated
To also have personality
To accommodate occasional conflict
To get past occasional jealousy

Sorry guys...we all need that, no matter where we fall on the beauty scale.

Adding the "beautiful" part, plus each guy adding a picture of a beautiful woman to the post to illustrate the point? Kinda skeevy, sorry. Not only that, but by specifying the "beautiful" part and illustrating as you have (instead of leaving to the imagination) you send a message of exclusivity not inclusivity. Which could be fine if your online community is meant to be exclusive, I don't know, but I'm guessing most companies have their hands full enticing and sustaining any kind of community...most of them are not in a position to be exclusive!

Meanwhile if you simply opined on "Why your online community is like a lover" you would be equally edgy without being so off-putting to at least some significant portion of your readership...whether most people will speak up about it or not. Hey, I see what they're saying and why they like it as a jumping off point, I merely suggest that the analogy could work a lot better...and feel less icky.

Hi Elisa

I'm Martin, the author of the article 'Why your online community is like a beautiful woman'. Thanks for mentioning the post; I would like to address some of your comments.

Sure, I can understand how you feel that the title of the article can come across as 'skeevy' (I did have to look up what that word meant, by the way!) however that was not my intention.

The title of the article was used to make it memorable, and make it stand out so I could get the core messages of the article in front of an interested audience; indeed, at the end of the article I write that the article could just have easily been titled something differently.

The title 'Why your online community is like a lover' wouldn't have worked as well as a title as I really wanted to get across the point about beautiful websites not necessarily being the best - therefore I needed to bring the word 'beautiful' into the title.

I don't think the article conveys a sense of communities being exclusive rather than exclusive just because of its illustration or content, either.

At the end of the day I respect your opinion and appreciate your feedback - I am always looking to improve as a blogger. I do feel however, that the title of this article is appropriate to its content and that your alternative suggestion wouldn't have worked quite so well - particularly as the article contained a strong focus on the importance (or lack, thereof) of the aesthetics of a community website.

Thanks again for the mention.

- Martin Reed
Hi Martin: Thanks for stopping by and for your positive attitude about feedback.

Yes, one element of your analysis was about aesthetics, but so much more of it seemed, to me, to be about relationships and respectful behavior.

In your attempt to service one element of your analysis you actually created something that undercut the rest of your analysis.

You know, IMHO :)
I'm with you. The "woman" looks very young and I think it pushes a message of blatant sexuality.

Everyone wants (and deserves) to be treated well.
Thanks Ashley, I was feeling a bit like a voice in the wilderness on this :)

But I can tell you every woman in the BlogHer office groaned when I showed them the posts, which was my sanity check before deciding it was worth writing about.

Thanks for the non-skeevy vote of confidence...even if I am now put into a position of having to defend my skeevy status. :)

One thing I've noticed over the years of convincing clients, friends, and the world to come around to new ideas (the web, the social web, whatever the next web is) is that analogy is an extremely powerful tool. With equal weight, I've also noticed that there has yet to be a perfect analogy for everyone or every group. Perhaps "lover" seems like a less charged term to you, but to me that's a bit more risque and actually makes me think of Will Ferrell's SNL character!

At the end of the day, any analogy is going to bother some while not bothering others. If I ask a group of my male friends if they see anything wrong with the "beautiful woman" analogy, probably no push back. If I ask the BlogHer staff (as you say you did), obviously a different story.

I absolutely disagree that the use of the word beauty creates or implies any sort of exclusivity. In fact, I think "beautiful" was absolutely the right choice of word simply because it conveys a very clear point: significance. To use a word like lover, or girlfriend, husband, friend, etc. carries far too many other potential messages depending on the reader. To simply say "woman" (or "man") carries no message at all. But when we read "Beautiful woman/man" most people add a layer of context that further backs up Martin's point - community is important, treat it as such. IMHO.

We've all had an experience where we find ourselves being better people (or at least acting like better people) because of the attraction we have to the person we're dating/married to/interested in.

Enamored? Well, not sure I'd have used that word, especially in this context, but I do think that Martin's post was spot on. Analogies are tough to get 100% right though, I'll give you that.
Hi Jake: It's hilarious you bring up that SNL sketch, because it is one that my S.O. and I are totally skeeved out by and like to kid around and skeeve each other out by imitating :)

I thought we were the only ones!!

The content of Martin's piece to me *was* clearly loaded...he didn't need to *say* lover, husband, wife, whatever...it was implicit in the sub-points of the analogy.

What you're missing is that, at least to the women I've mentioned this to, the fact that two guys are saying "beauty=significance" or "beauty=importance" is...right there...skeevy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sure, and men might think nothing of the analogy. But were you talking only to men? I certainly don't speak for all women, but many many women, particularly in this country, feel a tremendous amount of conflict over the standards of beauty and how those standards *seem* to be used against women more than men in all aspects of our lives. It is a very common topic on blogs and not on blogs.

I just think the analogy pushes buttons you might not want to push, given what I assume was meant to be a message about nurturing authentic community for all people.
Ha ha - yeah, unfortunate for ol' Will that his most memorable (for me) sketch was one that we use to joke about skeeviness.

OK, back on topic...

First of all, yes, he did need to use the specific call out to "beautiful woman". He doesn't have a title otherwise, certainly not one that readers (even women) can wrap their heads around like any good analogy helps them do.

Secondly, please don't extrapolate words into my mouth. I didn't say that "beauty = significance". I said that (in the context of word choice) the word beauty added an additional meaning.

"Beauty" is a reality of the way our brains work. We buy the iPod in droves not because its the best music player (it's not), but because (at least in large part) because it's the most beautiful. We love Wired magazine because (among other reasons) the page design is beautiful. We enjoy sushi because (again, in part) because the presentation is beautiful. And of course, we are attracted to people for many reasons, including that we believe they are "beautiful". Beauty adds a level of significance and emotional connection to a product or a person.

I understand your larger issue that beauty is incorrectly focused in our society. I agree. But I don't think that the goal should be to remove beauty as a concept, it should be to work at redefining it. (Or at least increase the scope of its definition)

I'm not missing your point, I just happen to disagree with some of it. It bothers me that that rates me in the "skeevy" column. Since I now have one of the founders of BlogHer associating me with skeeviness, it's probably better for me to respectfully bow out of the discussion. I do respect your point and will certainly consider it in future postings.
Jake, the main point I think it's worth considering is this: You spoke about wanting to incorporate Martin's idea into your own presentations, and I honestly think that if you do so, particularly if you include an image such as the one you did in your post, some non-trivial number of people in the room may react negatively to it.

A much more extreme example is how some folks reacted when Spock used a search on the term "Victoria's Secret models" as part of their demo at (I think it was) Web 2.0 last year.

Sometimes when we believe in something enough, we're willing to weather any such reactions. That may be the case here. I just think there could be a way to make the same points and have a catchy title without something that has such potential to backfire.
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