UK women barely visible in Web 2.0?

// 25 November 2008

A list of the 20 “most visibile” people in the UK’s digital landscape contains only one woman, at number 11.

NowPublic compiled the list based on what they say is a “metric-driven” formula, looking at “whose voices are most heard in the digital landscape as new channels—Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and the like”.

As far as I can tell, Suw Charman-Anderson is the only woman on the list.

On the one hand, I think the idea of this list is… weird, to say the least. The point of ‘social media’ is surely to encourage mass usage of tools like blogging. The idea of Web 2.0 celebrities, or chasing after a list of leaders speaks to a failure to embrace the distributed nature of the internet.

But on the other hand it’s disturbing that, if there are going to be these influential voices, that they are so very lacking in diversity.

Comments From You

Zenobia // Posted 25 November 2008 at 11:08 am

On the one hand, I think the idea of this list is… weird, to say the least. The point of ‘social media’ is surely to encourage mass usage of tools like blogging. The idea of Web 2.0 celebrities, or chasing after a list of leaders speaks to a failure to embrace the distributed nature of the internet.

Well, the whole idea of Web 2.0 isn’t really to encourage more democratic forms of communications. Well, in a way it is, but it’s mainly a set of business opportunities set up by libertarian businessmen (look up the guys who set up Facebook for instance, they make Ayn Rand look like an inoffensive centrist).

So, the idea of it being a democratic form of communication would be that we all set out with totally equal opportunities, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and only the best! of the best! of the best! will become successful at it, everyone having absolute equal opportunities from the start, no outside influences, or anything. It’s a medium based on libertarian ideas about freedom and democracy, not humanist / socialist / feminist / whatever ideas about freedom and democracy.

Remember the times I’ve said that feminist blogging was problematic by default (my point being undermined by the fact that I do rather a lot of it myself)? I wasn’t having my period and I didn’t have my knickers in a twist, and I wasn’t just slagging off people’s hard work just for the sake of it. This, in fact, is exactly what I was getting at.

This also shows exactly why in our thinking we should be looking at more than the kind of oppression caused by more traditional right-wingers, and see how a libertarian businessman or businesswoman, who might have really ‘progressive’ views on stuff like abortion or women generally getting to do cool stuff, might be just as bad as the likes of Nadine Dorries or Jeremy Clarkson. In fact, worse than Clarkson – he’s just an admittedly influential buffoon on TV after all. He doesn’t actually make the media we use.

Emilicon // Posted 25 November 2008 at 11:14 am

I can’t find the ‘metric-driven formula’ / ‘a completely transparent, metric-driven basis’ workings linked on their site (surely if it’s transparent they’d link from the article so we could learn how they’d weighted people, which would actually be interesting?) – but going from this list it looks like they need to go to Google to re-work their algorithm. Perhaps NowPublic’s underlying objective is to link to people with public profiles (and high googleability) and gain many links where people debate this list and so boost their own site? That would make sense, because this list doesn’t. Further, from a quick review of twitters posted by those selected, it seems that many on the random list agree.

While there are some great people included here (@suw @stephenfry @euan etc) it’s just odd, and they seem to have incorporated an age-weighting, as I don’t know if there’s anyone young in this ‘digital’ listing – I’d add @jemimakiss @sarahblow @cubicgarden for a start, but then there’s no point in adding names to a pointless list.

Usually, such lists are written up to formalise/bolster professional reputations and re-write history – with many on them being ‘old school’ and not at all representative of those ‘most public’ in the digital community – but this doesn’t even seem to be the case here – perhaps NowPublic just checked those with the most links to traditional media (BBC/Guardian) in addition to having profiles on lots of social media sites – however that doesn’t really correlate either. It seems we’re going through the phase of any group where the initial pioneers/explorers are focusing on the things they’re interested in, while the traditional people are moving in and trying to claim the territory (though they were seldom there at the start as they’re not exploratory enough and seldom take risks) – and choose people like them as NowPublic seem to have done, it’s usually the old networks that do this and they use the media to consolidate their position though it actually has little relevance or meaning to anyone except companies/institutions they’re trying to sell their public profile to when they vie for membership/contracts.

/rant – I have way too much time at the moment as a student, sorry


Ian Betteridge // Posted 26 November 2008 at 12:49 pm

I remain, as I’ve said elsewhere, somewhat baffled at my inclusion. I think I score highly on the engagement stuff (I comment *everywhere*), but I’m certain I don’t get many points for traffic on my personal blogs (circa 400 RSS subscribers, as it has been for years). I rank pretty well on Google, because, well, I’ve been online a LONG time and have written a lot, for many people along the way.

But leaving my own (unlikely) inclusion aside, I’d take issue with something Nic mentioned above:

“…with many on them being ‘old school’ and not at all representative of those ‘most public’ in the digital community”

What is this “digital community”, and why should we care about it? When people talk about “the digital community” they tend to be talking about a pretty articulate bunch of techies*, which is a relatively small group. Sure, Ian “Cubicgarden” Forrester has great reach within the “digital community”, but does he really have more reach than, say, Robert Peston? The fact that Robert is on TV and radio will inevitably increase his reach online, too.

Remember that in the UK, there are over 16 million broadband-connections now. The “digital community” that someone like Ian has reach in is a very, very tiny fragment of that. Ian has high visibility, and high reach, with a very, very small number of Internet users.

(*I’m not using “techie” here in a derogatory way, by the way – just as a way of distinguishing people who do tech for a living, and people who live with tech.)

Emilicon // Posted 26 November 2008 at 3:31 pm

Hi Ian – as you’ve seen I toned the above down a bit for the subsequent NowPublic site post, and they’ve now provided the summary of workings – which explains the disconnect.

Perhaps the issue is, as always, with definitions – as you point out above, when referring to ‘voices in the digital landscape’ many think of techies/those focused on tech. (such as @sarahblow and @cubicgarden) – hence the disconnect between what NowPublic published and most people’s perceptions (and also the age skewing).

Perhaps these lists will never reflect the important voices in any case as they will only ever be able to identify the ‘celebrities’ who make fewer contributions of importance and yet are good at promoting themselves (I’m not referring to you here Ian because the fact that you comment really means you’re contributing rather than promoting yourself) than the ones people in the field are actually watching because they’re doing the interesting work, creating the interesting communities, starting the interesting online businesses and really shaping the digital landscape – often those people only come to mainstream attention later.

Anyway, it’s been interesting as I’d not heard of a few on the list, so now seeing what they have to say – and thanks for helping clarify this odd list, by the way!

Anne Onne // Posted 27 November 2008 at 12:38 pm

The digital community doesn’t exist. At least, we online are not one bunch of people all talking to each other. There are loads of different communities. Yes, there are very immature communities full of trolls making rape jokes, exchanging porn and harassing people for the lulz. They tend to be pretty vociferous if they leave 4chan, but luckily they’re not tolerated in more tolerant spaces.

Personally, I find lots of women online,and not just on feminist blogs. There are a lot of women in various fandoms and art communities (I’d even suggest that most are women) and I think the web has been a great resource for women who feel alienated in communites where men talk over them, or sideline them because they are female. It’s wonderful to see so many women interacting. Obviously, it’s not strictly all women, and there are men, too, but on the whole the men who get involved in the areas that are mainly female tend to be less misogynistic.

There are so many female bloggers out there that do reach a large audience, but we have to remember that not everyobdy out there is feminist or feminist friendly, and the amount of trolling and rapre threats probably discourages some women, and means women bloggers who do stay have a second shift that male bloggers don’t have: dealing with the added rape threats, disrespect and trolling. I know male feminists who blog about feminism or other ‘controversial’ topics, and although they get called manginas, they admit they don’t have anywhere near the amount of hostility or hate mail directed at them.

Also, let’s not forget that people have been conditioned to view men with more respect, on the whole. If more male bloggers are seen as important, it could be because we as a society see men more important as a whole, and judge men who write blogs more preferentially than if they had been women.

It could also be that the way they choose to guage them works against some more than others. I’m not even sure why being the most popular blog is important: I would have thought most people want to only bring in people interested in what they like, and keep out the trolls. Most blogs and bloggers can’t handle high visibility, and women are less likely to see high visivility as a good thing in itself, due to the larger backlash.

So, interesting, but I’m not sure what it really means.

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