Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Geoff Livingston goes after "vote for me" syndrome

On a blog devoted to Bad Pitches, Geoff Livingston explains why he won't be voting for all the people begging him for votes...for conference panels, for blog awards, for "influencer" lists, and so on.

He says: "For the magazines or products behind it, this is complete self-promotion--and for the request-makers, it feels like desperation!"

I do feel his pain, absolutely.

Not even bringing up their egregious Influence Project, but when Fast Company decided to shift from doing their own reporting and homework to name their "Top 25 Women in Tech", as they've done for the past two years, to running a popularity contest instead, I was deeply disappointed. Traditional media goes on and on about the value of "real" journalists and "real" journalism, But I guess they discovered the lure of getting others to do the work for them...and of racking up meaningless, valueless page views in so doing. [Full disclosure: BlogHer was on this list the past two years, and I fully expect us to drop right off of it, given we haven't "campaigned" at all.]

But I also know why organizations enable community voting...reasons beyond the obvious answer, which is: Link bait.

Sometimes organizations actually want to honor and act on what their community thinks or likes or supports. And whether you provide a public forum for the community to share such thoughts, or ask for those thoughts in non-public ways, it's unrealistic to think that people won't want their community to support their efforts. For many in the BlogHer community, their communities want to support them...and might feel disappointed not to have the opportunity.

I also know why collecting such support publicly makes sense for organizations. It answers one of social media's clarion calls: Transparency.

But it also can set up popularity contests...which are by very definition exclusionary and antithetical to community-building (if you care about building a diverse community, of course).

Geoff asks for a better way to crowdsource, and I'm with him on that. BlogHer has tried a variety of ways to collect community opinion, and none seem perfect.

But he's also right that the crowd needs to take a harder look at their community and how they communicate with them...because in all likelihood, their community has radically changed since just a few years ago.

Back in the day (oh, say, two-three years ago) your community may have mostly been found via your blog and the blogs of those you followed. I'm not going to get all crotchety old man on you and call it the good old days, particularly since I'm a full-on Twitter fiend, but it is likely that people who read your blog chose when and how to read your blog. Whether they visited your site or subscribed in a reader, blog reading wasn't quite a real-time, always-on kind of activity. And it's quite easy to scan headlines, especially via a reader, and decide what topics interest you and dig deeper to read about them.

Fast forward and now our communities also encompass Twitter and Facebook.And now the headlines pretty much *are* the content, what with that pesky 140 character thing.

And, at least on Twitter, your community is very unlikely to be going to the landing page of each person they follow and see what they're up to one by They're going to dip their toes into the river of updates coming at them via a Twitter stream or Facebook news feed.

Twitter and Facebook are also both more conducive to casual banter and keeping in touch with those with whom you have looser ties.

If you blog about the contest your blog is participating in and ask your readers for support, you are more likely to be reaching people who have a vested interest in you, your success, your blog, your talent. And let's face it: You'll probably blog it once. Maybe once again when voting comes nearer to a close. You probably take great care that your blog content is of value to the reader community you know you have and balance any self-promotion with a whole lot of the kind of content that got you those loyal readers to begin with.

If you FB or tweet the same plea, however, you're likely reaching that reader community...PLUS a bunch of people who don't really care. I don't mean they don't care in some harsh heartless way, I just mean that they're expecting your banter and bromides in that forum...they may not even really follow the more substantive expressions found on your blog.

And then add this little wrinkle: Because the stream of information is so full and goes by so fast, you start re-tweeting or posting your little plea more often...maybe once a day. What's the harm? OK maybe once for the morning crowd, once for the evening crowd. So what?

Well, before you know it you're begging...frequently and annoyingly. The "harm" is that you've crossed a line into spamming. Maybe not for everyone. And maybe most folks are like me and just turn a blind eye to the content that doesn't interest me. "Take the best; leave the rest", that's my motto.

But it's also likely that a whole lot of your friends, fans, followers and readers think exactly what Geoff is expressing...and just aren't taking the time to tell you or tell the world.

So we, as an organization, keep looking for that better way to crowdsource that Geoff asks for.

But we, the crowd, can also be a part of the problem or the solution.

Which are you?

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Monday, December 27, 2010

The early days of Google, and hiring women

Enjoyed this brief interview with Google's Marissa Mayer in Newsweek.

She was Google's first woman engineer, and she shares a couple of insights about their early days and how they overtly and openly considered and talked about hiring women as an asset and important to their team. They also made sure at least one woman was on every interviewing team...a tactic I absolutely love.

Apparently they didn't worry about securing "diversity instead of quality", which is my number one most-hated straw man argument and bad excuse.

There's a little unintended irony, though, as Mayer talks about not encountering obstacles as a woman engineer in her career. I'm quite sure she didn't (and it didn't hurt to be at one place for virtually all of her adult career, and being engineer #8 to boot).

But right there in the comments of Newsweek, only a half dozen of which are on display on the landing page, you see one comment about her physical attributes and another asserting she got her job because of her looks.

As I tried to say on Facebook, before it cut me off without alerting me that it was going to:

Sad and unsurprising how some of the comments, of course, are talking about Mayer's looks and physical attributes. Mayer says she never encountered obstacles being a woman...and I'm sure in her direct interactions she didn't. But it is an obstacle. It is a problem. It is an issue that no discussion of a prominent woman in tech can happen without this being an accepted part of the discourse. And it is *is* obviously accepted, since it is not deleted.

Mayer estimates the percentage of women engineers at Google is at about 20%. I'm going to guess the percentage of Google users who are women is at about 50%.

This interview, which I generally love, and the ensuing comments, which I do not, are part of the reason BlogHer launched our new conference for women in business and technology.

So, if you're a woman with a big idea in tech or media that you want to see implemented...whether by your own start-up or your place of employment...check out BlogHer|bet (Business, Entrepreneurism, Technology) this March in Silicon Valley. Mentoring, Networking, Programming...all designed to send you out from the conference with your next steps to make your big idea happen.

More info here.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Time Magazine on the "Sheconomy"...was there an "aha moment"?

A couple of weeks ago Time published a piece: Woman Power: The Rise of the Sheconomy.

The first two pages of the three-page article states something I actually thought was obvious, well-known, old news: Women control household spending. Even in segments thought to be electronics or car repair.

The third page is about how the advent of social networks has harnessed women's buying power and their natural inclination to compare notes and turned their individual spending power into collective commercial power.

Again, possibly I'm a little more up on that since, well, that empowerment is what BlogHer's publishing network business is partially built around. But even so, I didn't think this was news either.

The description of this intersection is, also not surprisingly, somewhat condescending And more than condescending, Time continues the mainstream media's ongoing habit of focusing on this myth that bloggers are just waiting for the next company to bring down with their "wild west" mob mentality:
"A cross between a girls' night out and the mother of all organizing tools, these networks have given women the kind of muscle that can be a blessing or a bloodbath for those it's flexed upon."

Interesting that Motrin Moms is still the go-to anecdote, given it was two years ago.

Ad it looks like Old Spice may be the positive go-to anecdote for at least that long!

Bottom line: I don't feel I learned something new in the article...and excitement over the "sheconomy" is somewhat tempered by reading a post from six months ago by BlogHer' Feminism editor, Suzanne Reisman: "Why I'm Boycotting the "She-conomy". Turns out that women may indeed be making gains at the top, but we also comprise the majority of those at the bottom of the economic pile.

As Reisman points out:
"I want to be excited about women's economic security, I really do. It's just hard for me to get behind these indicators of progress when they don't include most women. If that's what the "she-conomy" means, I'd rather try and improve the regular economy for everyone."

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