A tidal wave in progress? I ♥ Innovation at the Women 2.0 PITCH Conference

The sold-out Women 2.0 PITCH Conference’s opening keynote features Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and Hunch,* on “Making and the True Path.”  The rest of the sessions look great too: case studies by Robin Chase of Zipcar and Julia Hu of Lark, and the “$50 Million Panel” featuring Deena Varshavskaya of Wanelo, Leah Busque of TaskRabbit, and Sheila Lirio Marcelo of Care.com.  There are a bunch of intriguing finalists for the pitch competition — including Tara Hunt’s Buyosphere!  And the judges for the competitions are no slouches either: Aileen Lee of Kleiner Perkins, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, Naval Ravikant of AngelList, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy of JOYUS … looks like a #diversitywin to me, and some great networking too!

A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with Pemo Theodore, who’s interviewed dozens of investors and entrepreneurs for her excellent  Why are Women Funded Less than Men?.  We both had the same feeling: momentum has steadily built over the last couple years** and it feels like there’s a tidal wave in progress.  The women-in-tech and women-near-tech communities are extraordinarily well networked.  And the data is compelling.  Here’s Vivek Wadhwa’s summary from his recent Inc article:

An analysis performed by the Kauffman Foundation showed that women are actually more capital-efficient than men. Babson’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found  that women-led high-tech startups have lower failure rates than those led by men. Other research has shown that venture-backed companies run by women have annual revenues 12 percent higher than those run by men, and that organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management positions achieve a 35% higher return on equity and 34% higher total return to shareholders.

So while there’s still a long way to go, the trend is in the right direction.  Kudos to all the amazing women, the much smaller number of equally-amazing guys, and the outstanding organizations like Women 2.0, the Anita Borg Institute, Astia, Pipeline Fellowship, Women Who Tech, She’s Geeky, the Level Playing Field Institute, Geek Feminism and so many others how have worked so hard to make this happen!

Combine the momentum and community with great content and plenty of opportunity for networking, and it should be a great conference.   I’ll be live-blogging it in comments — and feel free to jump in as well.  Stay tuned!

jon

* and strong pseudonymity advocate!

** here on Liminal States threads like  Guys talking to guys who talk about guys, A #diversitywin as an opportunity, Fretting, asking, and begging isn’t a plan, The third wave and the anatomy of awesome, and Changing the ratio have some of the highlights

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In chaos there is opportunity (part 11 of Diversity and Google+)

Google+ in rainbow colors

I’m flashing! Back in 2006, the Ad Astra project proposed a strategy for Microsoft to outflank Google by leveraging its employee base and social technologies. One of the key insights: social computing technologies allow a company to tap into the combined energy of employees and their networks. This can be a huge asset — and one that potentially grows non-linearly as a company grows. Alas, Microsoft took another approach, investing in algorithmic search to compete with Google head-on, and ceding the social market to Facebook, LinkedIn, and others..

Five years later, it’s Google in the role of a large company trying to use its size as an advantage against a more nimble competitor. If Google’s 20,000+ employees can work together effectively and are sufficiently motivated, they’ll be a huge asset in the “battle for social.” Tying bonuses across the company to success gets everybody to focus on the company’s priority. From a strategy perspective, a great move by Google.

Which doesn’t mean it will work.

— me, in a comment Prisms, Kool-Aid and Opportunity April 2011

One way to look at Google+ through the lens of what Robert Scoble calls the game of all games: the battle between Facebook, Google, and “own identity on the internet.”  In that context, it was a brilliant move against all the other big US-based corporations run and owned primarily by white guys who are fighting over who can profit from mining our personal information and selling our eyeballs to advertisers.

And in a lot of ways, it’s worked out quite well:
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The Trend is in the Wrong Direction: Reflections on the Field Trial (part 10 of Diversity and Google+)

Also published on We Get Google Plus, Diaspora *, and G+

Google+ in rainbow colorsFor the past 12 weeks we’ve been in field trial, and during that time we’ve listened and learned a great deal. We’re nowhere near done, but with the improvements we’ve made so far we’re ready to move from field trial to beta, and introduce our 100th feature: open signups.

— Vic Gundotra, Google+: 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99… 100.9/20/2011

Many aspects of Google+’s field trial went extremely well. Hangouts are clearly G+’s “killer app”.* It’s been remarkably reliable for such an early stage project: no “fail whales” and (at least for me) a lot fewer bugs than Facebook. G+ has a lot of momentum with social media experts, photographers, and 20-45-year old guys; and most of the reviews have been positive.

From a business strategy perspective, Google+ has been a huge win, highlighting how many people want an alternative to Facebook. Facebook’s fighting back, copying and improving on many of G+’s features and completely reworking their profile page. But with so many users sick of the constant changes, declining software quality, and postponing the IPO, they’re in a difficult — especially with Google’s far greater resources. Advantage Google.

But there are a few flies in the ointment …

It’s beginning to look a lot like MySpace

Every time I post a photo of me or a female friend, the photo gets all sorts of

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Talk about a hostile environment (part 9 of Google+ and Diversity)

also posted on G+ and on Diaspora*

Google+ in rainbow colorsI feel very let down by Google’s behavior. I had hoped to escape the heavy-handedness that is Facebook, but that is not to be.

I’ll have a presence here; I have to, professionally. But the joy is gone.

— Kathy Gill, Google+ As An Identity Service Is Bait And Switch

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Constitution Day 2011: Freedom not Fear

In the aftermath of my events on Sept. 11, 2011, I feel violated, humiliated and sure that I was taken from the plane simply because of my appearance. Though I never left my seat, spoke to anyone on the flight or tinkered with any “suspicious” device, I was forced into a situation where I was stripped of my freedom and liberty that so many of my fellow Americans purport are the foundations of this country and should be protected at any cost….

This country has operated for the last 10 years through fear. We’ve been a country at war and going bankrupt for much of this time. What is the next step?

— Shoshana Hebshi, Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit, Tales from the Heartland

The F-16 fighters that had shadowed the plane before it landed in Detroit and the SWAT team that dragged Shoshanna and her two Indian seatmates from their seats was responding to the crew’s report that … somebody had been spending too long in the bathroom. On the same day, F-16s also scrambled for another flight where … three people made repeated trips to the bathroom. WTF?

Following a catastrophic national event, such as 9/11 in the United States, conditions are anything but ordinary. The people are traumatized, they long for someone to make them feel secure, and an ancient paranoia switch is once again waiting to snap on. Under these conditions, fear mongers thrive. Their characteristics are so hand in glove with the trauma reaction of the population that their identifying behaviors are scarcely “seen” at all. In short, after we have been thoroughly traumatized, we cannot see the devil.

— Martha Stout, The Paranoia Switch

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Booberday: Google+ and Diversity, part 8

Google+ in rainbow colorsSummary: it’s a “share pictures of your cleavage because of… breast cancer! yeah!” meme. That meta-meme is potent, folks. Got something you want people to do? Claim it’s about preventing or ameliorating or alerting or grieving breast cancer. You are now the untouchable saviour. The end.

— Mary, on Geek Feminism

A surprising number of guys don’t seem to get why so many women found the G+ weekend meme of sharing pictures of cleavage under the guise of “breast cancer awareness” offensive.   Mary’s article is a great roundup, with quotes from Christa Laser, Randall Monroe, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Peggy Orenstein, as well as links out to Twisty on I Blame the Patriarchy and Lauradhel of Hoyden about Town … but even so, there’s plenty of whining about “censorship” and mansplaining about how women who feel objectified are just wrong.  Sigh.

As M. M. Faulkner said six weeks ago on Pay Attention People in Why Women Users are Important for Google+,

Furthermore, although making a joke here or there, posting a somewhat mysogynist photo, or remarking on women’s love of Farmville may seem harmless enough, I think we need to recognize there is a larger picture. What I am speaking of is a collective conscience that forms when people are bombarded with the same images and messages over and over and over. The message for the past week has been ramping up and it seems to be suggesting that we are simply are not as “ready” for Google’s latest social media network. It reminds us, as women, we are in the “wrong place” at Google Plus.

Of course there are plenty of exceptions.  All of the people I’m following steered clear from Booberday, and guys like Randall Monroe and Mohamed Mansour (who worked overnight to get out Filter Stream for Google+) really stepped forward.  But still.

A heck of a lot of women have been talking for months about things that make Google+ a hostile environment to women … and Google’s largely ignored them.

I wonder what, if anything, they’ll do in the aftermath of Booberday?

Check out the previous posts in the series: A Work in Progress, Why it matters, #nymwars!, A tale of two searches, The double bind of oppression, Anxious masculinity under threat, and Still a Ways to Go

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Still a Ways to Go: the Suggested Users List (part 7 of Diversity and Google+)

Google+ in rainbow colors

Google Plus launched a “suggested users” list yesterday. I’m not on it, and I bet you aren’t either, particularly if you’re an educator — because, well, there aren’t any educators on the list.

— Audrey Watters, Personal Learning Networks and the Google+ “Suggested Users” list

The Google Suggested User List reads like the typical San Francisco Bay Area tech firm’s view of the World: most of the “interesting and famous people” are white, and if they’re black, they’re male rappers or athletes. Hello, Snoop Dog, Chamillionaire, 50 Cent, Dwight Howard, and Floyd Mayweather!

A couple of weeks go, Google community manager Natalie Villalobos asked for feedback on why people’s friends weren’t staying on G+.   One of the things that came up was that it was often very hard for new users to find people the thought would be interesting to follow and engage with.  There are a lot of creative ways to approach this, for example Ardith Goodwin’s suggestion of a welcoming committee.  Instead, Google+’s decided to take the same approach that worked out spectacularly badly for Twitter two years ago.  Will they fare better?

The early returns aren’t encouraging.  Dave, Robert,  and others immediately criticized the idea of a “suggested users” list and Bradley’s outreach to the Twitter elite.  After Bradley responded in Dave’s comments, and then  shared more details Saturday morningRobert asked to be removed from the list.  Bradley responded again in Robert’s comments.  And the discussion rages on.

Vic Gundotra: We value diversity. Including diversity of opinion

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Anxious Masculinity Under Threat: Google+ and Diversity, part 6

Google+ in rainbow colorsGoogle+’s naming policy isn’t failing because it’s poorly implemented, or because Google’s enforcement team is stupid. It’s failing because what they’re trying to do is (1) impossible, and (2) antisocial.

— Bob Blakley, Google+ Can Be a Social Network Or The Name Police — Not Both, Gartner Blog Network

I wonder what folks at Google thought of Chairman Eric Schmidt’s description of Google+ as an “identity service” which requires people real names? So friendly! So out of sync with what they’ve been telling the media! So … creepy!

It’s hard to see this going over well in the rest of the world, where everybody is sooo eager to share their personal information with a US company so that it’s subject to the PATRIOT Act. And here in the US, Gartner is only the latest to point out how destructive this is for Google+.

Despite its imperfections Google+ was on track for being a grand slam, taking a big chunk of audience from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and yes even Quora.* And now? The joy of the brilliantly-executed launch has dissipated. Passionate early supporters are now so anti-Google that they’re switching to Duck Duck Go and even Bing.

“Data-driven”?

“Operational excellence”?

How embarrassing.

Anxious masculinity under threat

Basically, any situation in which a group of less privileged people makes critiques or observations of the dominant group in a way that threatens to upset the dominance of that group, to change the established order somehow, or to at least make the established order seem less virtuous, normal, and inevitable, is a situation in which the tone argument gets pulled out.

Sheila Marie on “the tone argument”

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The double bind of oppression: Google+ and Diversity, part 5

Google+ in rainbow colors

Ever since it launched, I’ve spent most of my online time on Google+, and so far am very impressed from both the software engineering and business strategy perspectives. I think it’s on track to be a big success, so expect me to be talking about it a lot.

— me, in A work in progress, July 16

Google+’s first few weeks were incredibly exciting. It was social network magic, an updated version of my best experiences at places like Usenet, ezboard, tribe and free-association.  My stream was filled with visually gorgeous photos and art, great discussions, and interesting new people.  It’s got incredible potential from an activism perspective.*  Professionally, while it discombobulated the plans for my nascent startup qweries, it also presents huge opportunities.  Exciting!!!

And then the nymwars started.

Privileged much?

“I am a pseudonymous user in many, many [online] services. I appreciate the ability to go incognito and anonymous at times”

— Google VP Bradley “Bro” Horowitz**, quoted in Juan Carlos Perez’ Google Feels the Pain of Users Who Can’t Get on Google+, PC World

Bro’s boss, Vivek “Vicki” Gundotra, doesn’t go by his real name on Google+, so presumably also appreciates the value of pseudonymity.   But you wouldn’t guess it from their actions.

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A tale of two searches: Google+ and Diversity, part 4

cross-posted on Google+ and Dreamwidth
Check out the previous posts in the series
: A Work in Progress, Why it matters, and #nymwars!

Google+ in rainbow colorsHere’s a good example of how Google+ is already influencing search results. I’ve got screenshots below for two searches on nymwars, one when I’m logged into G+ and the other when I’m not logged in.

A couple things to notice here:

  • s.e. smith’s excellent Where Identity and Capitalism Collide on Tiger Beatdown is on the list when I’m logged in, presumably because I’ve circled s.e. on G+ and several other people I followed also shared or reshared the post. Go s.e.! It’s a very good example of the potential advantages bloggers (and businesses, once they’re allowed on) can get from being part of G+
  • Skud’s nymwars strategy discussion only shows up indirectly — the version reshared by Crystal Rehula. This is kind of weird, because Skud’s post has 123 shares, and I’m following her as well as Crystal. So it’s a great example of how Google+’s naming policy penalizes people like Skud whose names they don’t like.

Robert Scoble: SKUD isn't welcome here unless she uses a common name.

Sure you can read Skud elsewhere if you can find her. But what if she doesn’t show up in search?

And it’s not just Skud. After looking at Geek Feminism’s Who is harmed by a real names policy? and My Name is Me, whenever somebody says something like “no reason G+ needs to be for everyone” what I hear is “no reason G+ needs to be for women, LGBTQs, people with disabilities, activists, whistleblowers, teachers, etc. etc.” Because, y’know, why would anybody want those people in our search results?

It seems so obvious to me. I wonder why Robert, Joseph, Bradley, and Vic can’t see it?

jon

Update, August 18: in the excellent G+ discussion, Fedor Pikus discussed the various “signals” that feed into Google search, and highlighted that right now G+ is only a very small component. And sure enough, today s.e. smith’s post is high on the list whether or not I’m logged in. But Skud’s still rendered invisible.

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Why it Matters: Google+ and Diversity, part 2

Google+ in rainbow colors

Over the past 50 hours I’ve lost a lot of friends here, and all of my transgender friends and family and all the older gay activists I was sharing with have all quietly mothballed their accounts. They can’t have their “real” names out there – they work with human rights organizations and do HIV/AIDS activism, etc.

Violet Blue, in a comment thread on Google+

Just a few days before Google+’s doors officially open on July 31, Google’s latest communications from Vic (via Robert) and Bradley on the raft of account suspensions and “common names” policy seem unlikely to put the “identity crisis” to rest.   It’s certainly a positive sign that they’re engaging, and process changes like giving people with names Google doesn’t like a week to change their account name before suspending them are certainly improvements.  That said, the impression they’re giving is that they’re going to try to hold the line with the current policy even knowing that it targets transgender people, human rights activists, people at risk for stalking and harrassment domestic violence survivors, HIV/AIDS victims and caregivers, people with names that sound weird to Americans (or for that matter people in Hong Kong who would rather go by their English names) …

Hey wait a second, I’m noticing a pattern here.

So yes indeed, as I predicted a week ago in A Work in Progress, it’s a crucial time for diversity on Google+.  Given which it seems like a good time to step back and talk a bit about a couple reasons why diversity matters.  For me, it starts with some very intensely personal things.

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Google+ and diversity: A Work in Progress (part 1)

Google+ in rainbow colorsWith over ten million users in just two weeks, and plenty of rave reviews, Google’s latest foray into social networking is off to a great start.  Ever since it launched, I’ve spent most of my online time on Google+, and so far am very impressed from both the software engineering and business strategy perspectives. I think it’s on track to be a big success, so expect me to be talking about it a lot.

Unsurprisingly, I’ll start with diversity.

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