GeekMom Is On Instagram!

Follow us on Instagram @GeekMomBlog. Logo courtesy of Instagram.
Follow us on Instagram. Logo courtesy of Instagram.

GeekMom has joined Instagram as @GeekMomBlog! Follow us to see the products we’re loving right now, events we’re attending, great DIYs, and some old favorites from our archives.

We’ll be kicking things off with some back-to-school ideas and photos from PAX Prime this weekend. We’ll also be at DragonCon!

Tag your geeky photos #geekmomblog so we can see your geeky adventures, too.

DIY Black Widow Fix for My Daughter: #WeWantWidow Too

I am sure you have all seen the hashtag #WeWantWidow going around, imploring Marvel to include more of the Black Widow character not only in merchandising, but to the collective Avengers movie universe.

A movement is growing. It was exciting to get the update from our friends at Legion of about the Black Widow Flash Mob that took place on June 6. The idea was created by Kristin Rielly, founder and editor of Geek Girl Network. The outcry was sparked by the Avengers: Age of Ultron’s lack of the Black Widow character. The voices included female Disney and Marvel fans from around the country, coming together to take change in their own hands.

My four-year-old’s untimely demand (most of them do come when I am in the shower) seems to be right in step with this social media uprising.

Left: Target Avengers hat, with no Black Widow Photo: Melody Mooney. Right: Target Let’s Go pink girls’ shirt. Photo:

So after my shower, we went searching for Avenger team items. The cute hat above was found at Target and did not include Black Widow. Sadly, it didn’t shock me. I think I had gotten used to the gender inequality when it comes to finding female Marvel, DC, or Star Wars characters in merchandise from local stores. Most of Ella’s geekware items have been purchased in the “boys” section. In all fairness to Target, just this summer there has been a recent influx of superhero clothing, so they seem to be taking steps to offer more for girls and women. One was even found that included Black Widow. It’s a good start.

Photo: Melody Mooney

Choosing to get the hat, I asked Ella why she thought Black Widow was not on it. Her answer was, “She was off saving people and saving Hulk and Captain America.”

We decided to add her to the hat ourselves. We found a picture of Black Widow in Ella’s Captain America: The Winter Solider coloring book. It was chosen because it had her on the cover. Coloring the picture together, I mentioned that sometimes if we want to change things, we need to find solutions and do it ourselves.

Maybe someday Ella will be writing for Marvel or designing clothing. She might be packing up this hat as a sentimental reminder of her youth on her first astronaut mission to Mars. Those DIY, problem-solving skills may just come in handy if her mission team needs something important mended.

Whatever her future, it is my hope as her GeekMom that she remembers that she is the architect of her own life and to put on a towel before jumping out the shower with ideas to change the world.

In her own way, she is joining in by saying #WeWantWidow too.

Marvel Avengers hat with Black Widow inserted. Photo: Melody Mooney.

Hey Pinterest Users: Stop Saying This, Please!

Photo by Natania Barron.

Hey you. You use Pinterest, right? Cool. Awesome. Love to see you here. Love your Doctor Who board—like whoa. And your recipe collection was seriously inspiring.

But could you do me a favor?

Could you stop it with the phrase, “I could never?”

Not sure what I mean? Here. Let me help you.

I could never pull off that lipstick.

I could never find the time to do that craft.

I could never get the recipe right.

I could never be that fit.

I could never get my husband to agree.

I could never manage that hair color.

Sound familiar?

Why do we do this? Why do we see things we like/want to try/aspire to be/want to experience, and immediately cut ourselves down? Is it societal? Must be.

Think about it this way: If you heard your child speaking that way, what would you say? I’d turn around immediately and tell my daughter that she’s wrong. That she can try and do anything she wants, whether it’s teal hair or knitting herself a full-length Doctor Who scarf or perfecting a baklava recipe. That even if it doesn’t work right, that’s not what matters. Lipstick can be changed. Recipes can be tried again. Hair will grow.

Life is too short to cut yourself short! Not to get all Stuart Smalley on you, but y’know what? You. Are. Awesome. 

Sure, Pinterest is good for dreaming. And sure, there are going to be things we never get to in our lives. But please, please. Rock that pin. Rock the ensuing selfie. Rock it, love it, embrace it. If it turns out wrong, tell the story, pour yourself a glass of wine, and laugh it off.

How to Keep Social Media from Eating Your Life

Image: Fran Wilde
Image: Fran Wilde

Let me be the first to say it: This is kind of a horse-has-left-the-barn post for me. My day looks like I ran smack into the opening credits for The Matrix. That’s in part because what social media sites do is incredibly powerful: They unite communities across great gaps of space.

For those of you who still have a life to save from the ever-present pings of social media, I’ve got five quick tips for keeping the information onslaught at bay.

Here’s why doing so is important: Your time and presence are valuable to the folks at Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, Instagram, Goodreads, and all of the rest. They need that time and they think they need it more than *you* need it. That’s why they’re set up to email you about every change and update. They’re lonely. They need you. Please write.

Truth is, they’re not lonely. They just wouldn’t exist without you. (Well, Twitter might devolve to a bunch of Oscar Wilde* bots sending messages back and forth.)

But guess what? They’re all programs, designed to do one thing beyond all others: Whenever you get out, they try to pull you back in.

So here are a few ways to keep them from eating your life (some of which you may already be familiar with, but they’re worth revisiting)–allowing you to enjoy social media sites when you’re ready, but don’t feel the need to come running every time they call.

  1. Digests. Digests are your BFF. Every chance you get, whether it’s on a message board for a favorite interest or group, or a book site, go into your profile and find where they’ve stuck the “send me updates every:” followed by radio buttons with increments like “five minutes,” “daily,” and “weekly.” (this is usually in “notifications” or “emails”.) Checking a desired time frame will keep messages from coming to your inbox every time your nephew updates his status; instead, you’ll get a collected, shortened version, in one handy packet.

    Sample settings. Image: Fran Wilde
  2. Never.  Along with the daily and weekly updates, there’s another choice for how often you are notified about new things: never. You can elect to only see updates for certain sites when you choose to visit them. This is totally freeing, though you may miss out on some news because of the next thing.
  3. Filters. Facebook infamously filters what you see when you’re on the site, based on some mystery algorithm that brings you cat photos while hiding birth announcements and posts about your best friend who moved away coming back for a visit. But you, too, can play the filter game on most social media sites–you can select to always see items from “family” or “inner circle” members that you designate.

    Sample settings. Image: Fran Wilde
  4. Social Fixer, HootSuite, etc. Tools like Social Fixer and HootSuite allow you even greater control over what you see. You can plug in a number of filters on Social Fixer (donations welcome); you can manage multiple social media accounts on HootSuite (for a fee). It feels funny that we’re using overlays to control rampant problems in information flow on sites that are supposedly all about us… but that’s for another post.
    This saves me. Daily. Image: Fran Wilde


  5. A babysitter for your eyeballs. Can’t keep yourself from checking twitfaceboogle while you’re supposed to be writing that article on Social Media management? (ahem.) Or your next book? (COUGH.) Check out Anti-Social 1.0. Once you’ve downloaded it, put in a list of sites, set a timer, push start, and whammo, those sites aren’t available for the length of time you set. Don’t think you need this? Give it a try and see how many times in an hour you actually try to “just check what’s going on.” Better, realize the power of taking back control over when you do check. I’m going to go set mine for an hour right now.

*no relation

Sample Excerpt: It’s Complicated, The Social Lives of Networked Teens

It's Complicated by danah boyd. Photo credit: Yale University Press
It’s Complicated by danah boyd. Photo credit: Yale University Press

danah boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society who recently completed eight years of field work interviews with over 160 youth in order to write her new book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. The book winds up being a nuanced treatise on teen social media consumption that moves beyond accepted assumptions and digs into the research to answer questions like:

  • Is teen use of social media addictive in nature or a new extension of typical human engagement?
  • Is it true that teens are uninterested in privacy and prone to over-sharing, or instead, are adults limiting teen privacy and then taking teen social media content out of context?
  • Is social media use amplifying bullying and increasing the risk of sexual predation, or are the causes of these issues more complex and less ubiquitous than we’ve been lead to believe?

Yale University Press has kindly allowed GeekMom to carry an excerpt of boyd’s new book. I found this section on social steganography particularly interesting—it would seem that while parents are trying to protect their children from danger, teens are also trying to protect their parents as they carve out their emerging social identities.

Social Steganography
By danah boyd,
Author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

Children love to experiment with encoding messages. From Pig Latin to invisible ink pens, children explore hidden messages when they’re imagining themselves as spies and messengers. As children grow up, they look for more sophisticated means of passing messages that elude the watchful eyes of adults. In watching teens navigate networked publics, I became enamored of how they were regularly encoding hidden meaning in publicly available messages. They were engaged in a practice that Alice Marwick and I called “social steganography,” or hiding messages in plain sight by leveraging shared knowledge and cues embedded in particular social contexts.

The practice of hiding in plain sight is not new. When ancient Greeks wanted to send a message over great distances, they couldn’t rely on privacy. Messengers could easily be captured and even encoded messages deciphered. The most secure way to send a private message was to make sure that no one knew that the message existed in the first place. Historical sources describe the extraordinary lengths to which Greeks went, hiding messages within wax tablets or tattooing them on a slave’s head and allowing the slave’s hair to grow out before sending him or her out to meet the message’s recipient. Although these messages could be easily read by anyone who bothered to look, they became visible only if the viewer knew to look for them in the first place. Cryptographers describe this practice of hiding messages in plain sight as steganography.

Social steganography uses countless linguistic and cultural tools, including lyrics, in-jokes, and culturally specific references to encode messages that are functionally accessible but simultaneously meaningless. Some teens use pronouns while others refer to events, use nicknames, and employ predetermined code words to share gossip that lurking adults can’t interpret. Many teens write in ways that will blend in and be invisible to or misinterpreted by adults. Whole conversations about school gossip, crushes, and annoying teachers go unnoticed as teens host conversations that are rendered meaningless to outside observers.

These practices are not new. Teens have long used whatever tools are around them to try to share information under the noses of their teachers and parents. At school, passing notes and putting notes in lockers are classic examples of how teens use paper, pen, and ingenuity to share information. Graffiti on bathroom walls may appear simply to be an act of vandalism, but these scrawled markings also convey messages. As new technologies have entered into teen life, it’s not surprising that teens also use them in similarly cryptic ways to communicate with one another. Texting gossip during class serves much of the same purpose as passing a note, yet it doesn’t require having to move a physical object, which reduces the likelihood of getting caught. But encoding messages guarantees only that if all else fails, the meaning will not become accessible, even if control over the information itself is unsuccessful.

When Carmen, a Latina seventeen-year-old living in Boston, broke up with her boyfriend, she “wasn’t in the happiest state.” She wanted her friends to know how she was feeling. Like many of her peers, Carmen shared her emotions by using song lyrics. Thus, her first instinct was to post song lyrics from an “emo” or depressing song, but she was worried that her mother might interpret the lyric in the wrong way. This had happened before. Unfortunately, Carmen’s mom regularly “overreacted” when Carmen posted something with significant emotional overtones. Thus, she wanted to find a song lyric that conveyed what she felt but didn’t trigger her mom to think she was suicidal.

She was also attentive to the way in which her mother’s presence on Facebook tended to disrupt the social dynamics among her friends. Carmen and her mom are close and, for the most part, Carmen loves having her mom as one of her friends on Facebook, but her mom’s incessant desire to comment on Facebook tends to discourage responses from her friends. As Carmen told me, when her mother comments, “it scares everyone away. Everyone kind of disappears after the mom post.” She wanted to make sure to post something that her friends would respond to, even if her mom jumped in to comment.

Carmen settled on posting lyrics from “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” This song sounds happy but is sung during a scene in the Monty Python movie Life of Brian in which the main character is being crucified. Carmen knew that her immigrant Argentinean mother would not understand the British cultural reference, but she also knew her close friends would. Only a few weeks earlier, she and her geeky girlfriends had watched the film together at a sleepover and laughed at the peculiar juxtaposition of song lyric and scene. Her strategy was effective; her mother took the words at face value, immediately commenting on Facebook that it was great to see her so happy. Her friends didn’t attempt to correct her mother’s misinterpretation. Instead, they picked up their phones and texted Carmen to see if she was OK.

Part of what makes Carmen’s message especially effective is that she regularly posts song lyrics to express all sorts of feelings. As a result, this song lyric blended into a collection of other song lyrics, quotes, and comments. She did not try to draw attention to the message itself but knew that her close friends would know how to interpret what they saw. And they did. Her friends had the cultural knowledge about what references were being made to interpret and contextualize the message underneath the song lyric. Thus, she conveyed meaning to some while sharing only a song lyric with many more.

The above is an excerpt from the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd. It is a digitally-scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2014 danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

The reviewer received a copy of this book for review purposes.

Is Facebook My Happy Place?

Do you keep your Facebook timeline real? Or do you keep it happy? I've been exploring my Facebook alter ego recently. Image: Patricia Vollmer.
Look at those smiles on my Facebook page. Do you keep your Facebook timeline happy? Or do you keep it real? I’ve been exploring my Facebook persona recently and I think I do quite a bit of manipulation. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

Please allow me to say upfront that I’m not judging Facebook personae. This is merely an exploration of my own social media livelihood and my thoughts on whether others do the same thing. I would also like to point out that this discussion could apply to any social media, not just Facebook.

A Facebook friend recently said to me in a private message, “I’ve never seen anyone as busy as you seem to be!” She and I have spent time together (in real life) in person in the past, but currently we don’t live near each other geographically. So her knowledge about my recent life is mostly what’s seen on my Facebook timeline.

Another friend — who also doesn’t live near me — once commented that she wished her life could be as happy as mine.

Those statements really got me thinking. I don’t feel super busy these days, although I don’t sit around watching TV all day long either. I’m also not necessarily happy all the time. Just ask my sons how I get when they’re running late for school.

Facebook (along with other social media such as Twitter or Instagram) is a great place to keep friends and family apprised of what’s going on in your life. Every social media user has the choice to post what he/she chooses to post. You can turn your online life into anything you want. Apparently I only post the happier stuff. Why worry people?

Does that make me a fraud? Am I manipulating my posts into a happier presence than I really experience? Am I living a lie in this little online slice of my life? Do I really want several hundred people knowing when things aren’t hunky-dorey? Am I better off posting nothing at all, or should I be doing the Vaguebook thing to indicate that things aren’t perfect?

I can’t tell you what’s going on but it isn’t good.

I honestly never gave it much thought until very recently. I routinely put up photos of the crafts I’ve done, my GeekMom posts, the travels and activities that my family have done, and I share the occasional newsworthy item. In addition, I have several apps that automatically feed items into my Timeline, such as my MapMyFitness workouts. Some folks think I’m on Facebook all the time. To be honest, I’m not directly on Facebook as much as some people might think. I have a “Share This” button on my Bookmarks Bar for links, I post my photos directly from my iPhone, I reply to post comments via email, and several of my apps take care of the rest. But when I actually am on Facebook reading up on my friends, I post occasional status updates about general things going on in my life, such as:

Another happy status. I don’t want to worry or offend anyone…. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

The “Incline” mentioned in the caption above is the Manitou Springs incline, a 2000′ high set of stairs that people climb for fun. I posted a picture from the top later that day.

I thought about the “negative” posts I’ve put up recently. They aren’t earth-shatteringly negative. It turns out most of the information about the bad things in my life don’t go up on Facebook until I’ve had a chance to smile, laugh, or come up with a silver lining about it. I will paint the post into something that should make you laugh, smile, or look on the bright side along with me.

I don’t post super-deep negative emotions. Typically, by the time I decide to write about it, I’m already laughing at myself, so it reads more lightheartedly than if I posted immediately after the fact. Image: Patricia Vollmer.

A bit of a caveat is in order. Since Facebook came along, my life hasn’t been so horrible. I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, my husband hasn’t been fired from his job, nor has anyone close to me died since Facebook became mainstream. My family is in pretty good health, and my marriage isn’t falling apart. I haven’t had any big social-media fallings-out either. I’ve been thinking about how — or whether — I would present such sad news to my online circle of friends. As of this writing, I wouldn’t know what to do. Perhaps I would fall off the radar altogether.

Do you get this way too? Are you shy about posting the bad news in your life? Do you worry that your mother — who might be a Facebook friend — will get concerned and call you? Do you worry that your boss or another work colleague — who might also be Facebook friends? — will use the information against you? Or do you just not want to worry anyone?

Perhaps you want to run for office in the future. Can you imagine how social media histories will be used in the near future for those running for Congress or President?

It turns out there’s been quite a lot of study done on the psychology of social media. Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and the director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, has addressed the issue of keeping up with an e-personality. GeekMom Kay recommended her book, Alone Together:Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, to me and even suggested her TED Talk about it for a great summary of the main points of the book.

I have no plans to really change what I put on social media. I’m certainly not going to try to find sad news in my life to share. I am usually careful to convey a professional image for the sake of my Air Force Reserve leadership position, but I don’t see the harm in keeping positive either.

What are your thoughts on the image you convey in social media? Do you keep it real? Or do you keep things happy and lighthearted? 

First Look and Giveaway–Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives by Randi Zuckerberg

Randi Zuckerberg signing her book. Image: Zuckerberg Media,
Image: HarperCollins

This post is sponsored by HarperCollins.

Randi Zuckerberg is known to most because of her familiar last name. But where Randi and her brother Mark deviate is precisely where she begins her new book, Dot Complicated. It’s that moment where, after an immense town hall event with President Barack Obama goes off without a hitch (though not without an absolute metric ton of work), that Zuckerberg—in her last weeks of pregnancy—realizes that her life can’t be just about the big blue F. That being part of Facebook, a company she joined with reservations and later defined herself there as a forward-thinking (see her involvement in the 2008 elections and her contributions to the conversation) and unforgettable presence, isn’t a good fit any longer. There’s something more, even if at that moment she isn’t sure what it is.

And it’s that event that really propels the book forward and brings Zuckerberg to her new calling, that of a social media guru of sorts, digging beyond the technology and through to the real meat of the matter: the people, the connections, and the complications brought on by social media. Since she’s had such a front seat to the social media boom, she’s definitely an ideal host, and the book is very much an extension of her website, DotComplicated.

Zuckerberg comes to the realization after an extensive tour around the country that her career should be more about the stories and less about the tech. She comes back with all sorts of questions—personal questions—that the rise of social media had provoked among her audience members. They’re questions anyone who’s visited a GeekMom convention panel will likely have heard: How do I protect my kids? How much is too much technology? How do I keep my husband from bringing his iPhone to bed? And she’s got great answers. Because it’s not just about a work-life balance, she insists; it’s a tech-life balance.

What follows are Zuckerberg’s personal stories (her son trying to get a picture frame to play his favorite Barney video is particularly endearing, as is the tale of all the Zuckerberg kids filming a Star Wars homage in their house as kids) and advice on maintaining privacy, balance, and sanity in the online world. Sure, Facebook features from time to time as would be expected, but Zuckerberg’s bright personality shines through. Perhaps no one on earth is as close to social media as the Zuckerbergs, and yet it’s clear that the author still struggles with finding balance, changing her relationship status, and accidentally sharing things that should have been kept personal. That measure of experience goes a long way in a book like this.

But Zuckerberg also touches on the thought behind social dos and don’ts. Particularly informative for the geeks among us are the sections that put the social boom into perspective. When talking about the “grey zone” of privacy, she says:

Before the Internet arrived, the gray zone was there, but it was much smaller. You could be fairly certain that if you showed your vacation bikini pics to your friends, it didn’t mean your aunt and your aunt’s friends and some random guy you once went to high school with were also going to see, distribute, and comment on them.

Suddenly, a yearbook message doesn’t mean what it once did, especially considering that so many of us aren’t just in touch with our high school friends, but in some cases even elementary (or earlier) because of social media. With those connections, though, friendships can suffer. And Zuckerberg is clear that you can’t have it all. Yes, gadgets and connectivity are wonderful—and addictive. But if you don’t take time to take a deep breath and back off, to “retro” and “go out alone” (meaning without devices) every once in a while, you won’t truly experience life.

That sentiment reminds me of a similarly “retro” movie. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris is, without a doubt, a bit of a tech nerd. But he doesn’t have a cell phone. He doesn’t have Facebook. And yet he still understands that there’s so much noise out there, we’re all at risk of losing out what’s really imporatant. In his case, he makes life interesting simply by performing in his own movie and pushing everything to the very limit. But his sage advice is even more pressing now: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Dot Complicated reminds us that life is full of awesome things, online and off, but how we manage it is up to us. A truly fulfilled life isn’t perfect, but it’s balanced and approached with both eyes open. And possibly also carrying a lightsaber. Y’know, just in case.

Dot Complicated is available online and in stores, MSRP $27.99.

We’ve also got 3 copies of the book for our lucky readers. Just leave a comment below by midnight 11/7 and let us know how you keep your life from being too Dot Complicated, and you’ll be entered. We’ll pick three random commenters. 

This post is sponsored by HarperCollins.

IBM and Hult Business School Design First Joint Digital Services Curriculum

Image via 123rf stock photos.

It’s not news that business and technology are unavoidably linked, never to be parted again, but educational systems do not always reflect this new world, leaving many students unprepared.

Recently, IBM conducted another skills gap survey, which showed that there was a serious lack of instruction around digital services, social business, and data analytics.

Seeking to fill that gap, IBM collaborated with Hult International Business School to target students who have substantial prior experience but are seeking a more practical, relevant skills. This new initiative was spearheaded by Dr. James Spohrer, IBM’s Director of University Programs World Wide.

This initiative may at first seem interesting only to those whose livelihood revolve around digital services, but programs like this are indicative of a larger growing movement towards the adaptation and individualization of education.

It is one more global step towards personal interest and practical experience creating a new generation of tech and business jobs that move away from the old methods of standardization and conformity. It also addresses the need for more well-rounded candidates, such as professionals who have knowledge in a variety of areas like computer science, management, engineering, and social science. This kind of breadth and diversity will play a crucial role in the future of many industries, which according to Spohrer will be about “making jobs not taking jobs.”

In other words, positions will become flexible to fit the need and the person, rather that the other way around.

According to Spohrer, the program mentors students by “developing on their own personal brand to understand how to support personal ecosystems globally,” and has not only IBM, but many of their affiliates as a platform for learning and experience.

Our “personal brands” mean the electronic tools (like  an iPhone) and social media we choose, and a personal ecosystem is how we use them in combination with each other to make our life more entertaining, streamlined, and connecting to our personal and professional communities.

Given that every one of us has a personal ecosystem, you can see why developing a program that attaches the concept to business students would be relevant. These are the people who will connect fast changing technology with what we really need.

The program, which is an MBA Industry Praticum elective, focuses on service thinking using principles that can be applied to any tech platform. Service thinking is the design and marketing of services that improve a customer’s experience. What makes you choose one product over another? It’s how well the company has connected to your personal brand and integrated their product into your personal ecosystem.

In other words, the better something is designed to fit into your life, the more likely you are to use it. PERFECT!!

When asked if the program addresses open source development or issues, I was assured that it would be integrated into the program soon. I asked because, while IBM is admirably looking for ways to fill a gap in skills needed for the next generation of employees, they are a corporation with a history of proprietary products.

Open source  software and hardware fosters independent innovation by promoting works in the public domain and allowing anyone to learn, not just a select few, and expanding the possibilities of adaptation and use. An integration of both approaches would be more likely to foster the mission of this program.

While this program was distinctly created for graduate students, IBM also has a program called Students for a Smarter Planet for University students, and PTECH (Pathways in Technology) for high school students in New York. I hope IBM continues to expand their offerings of educational supplementation, or support those who do at a younger age level. Sparking interest early is essential.

Why Do Geek Moms Like Pinterest?

We love our social media here at GeekMom, Twitter to  G+,  Facebook to Erly.

Lately we’ve been talking about Pinterest, the virtual pinboard that lets you create, organize, and share what you find online. Because it’s a visually-oriented site, it attracts us using something other social media sites haven’t done nearly as well: images. While online we tend to be seekers. We look for information, distraction, connection, and inspiration. Pinterest lets us find (and revel in) all these things through compelling images.

The site was launched in March 2010. One of the founders, Ben Silbermann, said in an interview that the idea stemmed from his penchant for collecting. As a child he was particularly taken with entomology. He realized that collecting bugs said something about him, just as any of our interests say something about us. Co-founder Evan Sharp noted that he too was a collector as a child. As an adult that tendency shifted to amassing images in folders on his desktop. So they, along with the third co-founder, Paul Sciarra, developed Pinterest as a way for users to collect and share related images, linking back to the originating site.

Pinterest didn’t catch on immediately. But within a few months users began applying it in ways the founders hadn’t anticipated. They posted Star Wars memorabilia, travel destinations, Etsy items, wedding plans, and gift ideas.  And it’s really taking off.  From Oct 2010 to Oct 2011, Pinterest went from 40,000 to 3.2 million monthly unique visitors.  Big retailers like Nordstrom and Lands End are seeking to integrate Pinterest into their sites.

Articles about Pinterest often focus on how it can drive sales or be used as a PR tool. For example TechCrunch predicts Pinterest could change consumer behavior, causing them to seek out goods favored by other Pinterest users. This may be true.

But what’s noted but little understood is that the primary users of Pinterest, at least so far, tend to be women.  A regular look at the Everything front page indicates that these users aren’t necessarily on Pinterest primarily to share consumer recommendations, although there are plenty of tempting pins for fashion and home décor products. They’re using it to share inspiration for ways to live; with more humor and less angst, with beauty found in an evocative landscape, with clever ideas for raising kids or making gifts or building a garden shed. This in itself makes Pinterest seem like a blessed relief from the endless marketing found online.

What do Geek Moms like about Pinterest?

I’ve fallen for it for several reasons.

First, it’s hubbub free. Unlike FB, Twitter, or G+ you don’t need to scroll past drama or post repeats, nor do need to hop in regularly lest it seem you’re ignoring ongoing conversations. Instead of all those voices clamoring for your attention, Pinterest has a peaceful vibe. It’s like moseying through a quiet gallery of images, each one ready to tell you more with a click.

Second, it’s a wonderful way to store visually inspiring ideas for later use. Going back over your own boards can be like flipping through magazines made entirely of what you love.  Previous pins can help you find the appetizer you want to serve at tomorrow’s party, the shelves you want to build in your kitchen next summer, and the project that teaches your kids about the periodic table as soon as they’re old enough.

Third, it’s a way to browse freely and casually within any interest you might have. Yes, you can create circles on G+ and lists on Twitter, but on Pinterest it’s easy to follow any chosen user’s specific boards.

And finally, it’s a way of sharing what delights us with others. By organizing what appeals to us, we make it easier for other people to find interesting ideas and images. It’s heartening, in a way, to find that a woman I know as a writer of math books also has a thing for Spanish architecture, punk t-shirts, frothy cocktails, and Daniel Craig movies.


find me on Pinterest 


I like finding ideas for handmade gifts. It has become a good addition to Twitter because it is photo based instead of word based.

Cathe Post

find me on Pinterest


I tried it out and was hooked immediately. I love seeing new/funky stuff and Pinterest has constantly evolving new and funky stuff! It’s like the best part of every magazine I would buy, minus all the ads.

My kids love it too. We all have our favorite categories. Early on I created a board for each of them, as things kept reminding me of them. My daughter loves the fashion and hair and nails posts. My son loves the animal and humor posts. I love sifting through the ‘everything’ category, so I don’t miss any treasures!

I have to admit, we have had several evenings, when we are all sitting around, waiting to go somewhere, or just deciding how the night will play out, and someone will pull up the humor section of Pinterest and we’ll laugh and laugh together, calling out our favorites. (‘click on that one!…click on that one!..”)

It works great with facebook. For Thanksgiving I was able to find some fun, funky pictures to post for the holiday. I had planned to make simple ornaments for nieces/nephews, gluing pics from Pinterest, of things they love, onto wooden circles. Still may do it.

I also love the food sections. I’m not a cook, hate the whole idea of being in the kitchen. But I find so many easy, clever things that even I could do, that my kids have been pleased that I have become more inspired.

I think Pinterest helps a mom nurture her geekhood. Through the tech and science categories, it opens up new ideas and information that would be hard to find on your own. I personally don’t cruise the ‘home dec’ boards much, because I’m not much of a designer. But I love that my boys even click over to the science related boards, and discuss things for hours afterward.

I don’t get to visit as often as I did when I first found it, but I know its always there, with great pics and ideas. My only warning for people is “Be careful! Make sure you have LOTS of time to kill on the day you first try it!”

Judy Berna


I used to keep a binder with magazine clippings of future projects to try, but now I have Pinterest for inspiration. I’ve even made some of the items I pinned — bracelets, wreaths, and Halloween decorations. I feel like a DIY Queen.

Whenever I need a smile, I take a look through the “Geek” category. It’s usually heavy on Harry Potter and Doctor Who images, along with other geeky goodness.

I love browsing the site and looking for my next big project!

Kelly Knox


I’ve never been one to do more than look at a magazine photo and decide that I love it. I’ve not collected images in a folder, and have never really sat and compared different looks. But with Pinterest? I can easily glance and see that I seem to be drawn to very *beige decor. 😉 I’m using it as a way to gather my ideas together. I’ve always bookmarked links that I like, but the visual that pinterest offers is SO much easier for me to maneuver.


find me on Pinterest


It’s funny, for all I’m such a social media junkie, Pinterest hasn’t grabbed me. I occasionally crosspost my “daily swoon” G+ posts there, but when I start clicking around other people’s pins, it pretty much just creates a mountain of want–so much gorgeousness out there to admire and yearn for!

But I have a number of friends who have never been keen on Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc—but they love Pinterest, LOVE it. I think part of it, for me, is that I’m a word person, not a picture person. When I go to Twitter, I’m sucked right in. So many conversations! I’m in heaven. But Pinterest doesn’t absorb me in that way. I get overwhelmed by all the beautiful visuals and find myself clicking away.

OK, now I’m LOL because I just went to Pinterest to follow those of you who’ve chimed in on this thread, and the first post I saw was this one about how to draw hair.  Which I know my manga-drawing daughters will be interested in—so it just occurred to me to create a pinboard especially for them, a place where I can share things they’ll enjoy. Now *that* I might be able to get into…




I am the only one on it at our house. To me it was a long awaited solution to my magazine addiction. I get several magazines a month and I love looking through them and dog earring pages with stuff I like, want to make, etc. Then they would sit by my bed for months, sometimes years, at a time and I would never get to do anything with them. Eventually I would just recycle them. When I found Pinterest I realized I can find all those projects, ideas, and recipes and pin them. Then when I have a few minutes, I can go to my crafts or recipes board and find something I have wanted to make instead of having to search through magazines to find it.

My only problem is that is seems to crash quite a bit.

To me, it is different that FB because it is less of a social outlet for me and more of a barrel of ideas. I still check FB more than Pinterest but I have used Pinterest for decorating ideas and gift ideas for this Christmas.

Jen D.

 I’ve been on Pinterest for a few months now. I’m using it in a way much different than I had expected when I first started. At first I treated it like a social network, creating boards of things I want to share with others, same as my Facebook profile with lists of my favorite books, favorite kid books, favorite movies, etc. Now I use it not as a place to share with others but as a place to save things for myself. My repository of DIY projects I want to do, new recipes I want to try, home decor inspirations, or even just saving the picture and link of an item I want to purchase at a later date.

I recently bought a new house and during escrow I spent hours and hours browsing the home decor thread and saving pictures of things I liked. I’ve always been a beige, brown, and red kind of girl, but reviewing my home decor board I noticed everything was blue and grey! Finally I decided the paint color scheme for the new house would be white, dark grey, and bright teal. I don’t think I would have gone for it if it wasn’t for Pinterest teaching me a thing or two about myself!

The app is (was?) super buggy in terms of connectivity. I do 100% of my social media browsing from my phone (during breaks, in bed at night, on the road if I’m not the driver) so I’ve had serious issues with it not pinning/repinning my stuff a lot of times. I don’t know how the new update is yet, I’m installing now. Fingers crossed!

I could never get used to Twitter. When it comes to words, I’m a verbose person. Being limited to X-number of characters drives me bat sh**crazy. FB and G+ are oriented towards making a people-to-people connection. No one on FB of G+ cares if I like this lamp or that lamp or that other lamp, and I wouldn’t want to bog down people with a million links and pictures to home decor items I’m considering for my new house. With Pinterest, we’re all there to find visual inspiration so I don’t feel bad to posting 15 styles of lamps or 37 rugs I like. I do follow my friends’ Pinterest boards and they follow mine so there is still a social element, but I really spend most of my time scrolling down the “everything” list to find new ideas and saving things on my boards for my convenience. I consider Pinterest more of a tool than a social network.

I also love to save cute bento boxes and DYI project ideas for my daughter when she’s older!


find me on Pinterest

Why Curated Content Matters: A Lament for Reader Share

Google Reader unveiled big changes this week, and the internet recoiled. Some folks (I’m one of them) loathe the new design: the excessive use of white space at the top of the screen, the heavy black-and-gray palette, the black-underlined links that have replaced the stand-out blue. But far more irritating to many users is the death of Reader’s Shared Items feature.

Screen shot of my new Reader. That gaping hole on the left is where my friends’ Shared Items should be.

If you used Reader Share, you’re probably in mourning today. No longer can you click the share button at the bottom of a post in your Reader, sending it to a sidebar widget on your blog and popping it into the “people you follow” section of your friends on Reader. No longer can you count on that easy click in Reader to show you the links shared by the people you follow—those trusted curators of content whose taste and judgment you rely on.

Sure, those folks can continue sharing the best of the internet with you via other means. Google is hoping they’ll share to Google+ instead, and there’s a button at the bottom of every Reader post to make it easy for you. But even if you’re a G+ enthusiast like I am, share-to-Plus is no substitute for Reader Share. Here’s why: Let’s say you read a great blog post and you share it to Google+. I follow you on G+, so I’m sure to see this post you’ve shared, right? Well, no, not if I don’t happen to be looking when it hits my stream. If I miss it, it’ll whisk on by. The current there is swift.

Same goes for sharing links on Twitter or Facebook. These platforms are terrific for sharing information with a broad audience all at once, but they’re like live-music festivals. You’re there in the crowd, you soak up what’s being broadcast through the sound system, you revel in the moment, and it’s wonderful. But sometimes you want to go to your shelf (or your iTunes, whatever) and pick out an album by an artist you know will move you and make you think. Good content curators are like that. Boing Boing, for example, became a force to reckon with because its founders were, from the very beginning, excellent at picking out what is noteworthy on the vast internet. Mental Multivitamin is one of my favorite curators: she reads, she thinks, she shares—I learn.

Google’s shift from Reader Share to Google+ seems part of a larger push toward stream content, away from curated content you can subscribe to. Last week, Felicia Day wrote a post on G+ about her frustration with websites that have abandoned RSS feeds in favor of streaming platforms like Twitter.

RSS is a way to consume a LOT of information very quickly, and STORE it in nice categories if you miss it. So I can catch up with a small blog’s output at the end of the week and, if I so choose, read EVERY article easily in one sitting. You think on Friday I’m gonna go browse that same site’s Twitter feed on their page (digging through all the messy @ replies) and see what they did that week?! Or go to their Facebook page that is littered with contests? No way dude, I’m too busy for that!

I feel like small blogs cut their own throat by taking away the RSS capability. I give this analogy a lot, but social media outlets are INFO COLANDERS! 5% of your followers will see anything you post, and that’s probably only within 20 minutes of posting. That’s the way it is and it’s gonna only get worse. Apart from email lists, RSS is the best way you can collect stuff across the internet to read quickly, and I am so irritated when that choice is taken from me.

And that is exactly what’s bugging me about the death of Reader Share. It was an info pantry, not a colander—a place well stocked with nourishing brain food. I followed a number of people who had demonstrated, day after day, a sharp eye for items worth my time. Every time I clicked that “people you follow” link to see what they’d shared, I could count on learning something.

Of course there are other ways to share curated content. (I’m using Diigo for now.) Reader Share was simply the most efficient, the most convenient. It employed the “point of first use” principle used by savvy homemakers: store things where you use them. Keep your measuring cups and mixing bowls in the cabinet closest to the counter where you plug in your mixer. Keep your link-sharing button right next to the place where you do the bulk of your online reading—your feed reader. And while you’re at it, keep the feeds of the curators you like there too. It’s common sense.

I love the social media stream. It’s thrilling, it’s an adventure. It can set amazing chains of events in motion. And if you want a quick reply, there’s no better method. Once, standing in a doctor’s office, arguing with his staff over why he did, in fact, have to sign a document I had brought in, I fired off a quick Twitter plea for the relevant chunk of California legislation. In less than thirty seconds—faster than I could have Googled for the information and sifted through search hits on my tiny cellphone screen—I had it. The doctor’s staff complied. It was magical.

But, as we all know, social media can generate a lot of noise. So can the big, busy blogosphere. A good curator finds the music among the static. Reader Share made it easy to tune into that music. I miss it already.

In-Your-Facebook: A Look at the Latest Wave of Big Changes on the Social Network Everyone Loves to Hate

As you’ve no doubt heard, Facebook rolled out some major changes this week—and even bigger changes will be hitting your Wall in the weeks to come. (More on those in a minute.) Many Facebook users were caught off guard by the new “ticker” that now appears in the upper right corner of the News Feed page. The ticker is a sort of mini-news-feed, designed for what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls “lighter weight” information. It’s a constantly refreshing scroll of your friends’ comments, likes, and other Facebook activity, magnetically pulling your gaze over and over again.

A TOTALLY UNSTAGED screen grab of my ticker. And by “totally unstaged,” I mean “yeah, we totally staged that.”

Here’s a really important thing to know: if you comment on a friend’s status update, the privacy level of your comment is determined by whatever sharing setting your friend chose for that update: public, friends-of-friends, friends only, or a customized group. This has always been the case—the difference now is that your comments are popping up in your friends’ tickers, and they’re much more noticeable than in the news feed. If you leave a comment on an update with a “friends of friends” setting, that comment will appear in your friends’ tickers, even if your other friends don’t know the person whose update you’ve commented on.

I’ve seen a lot of confusion over this issue in the past couple of days. For example, I wrote an update and shared it to “public.” My friend Jenny commented on it. Her friend Brian—a person I’ve never met—saw Jenny’s comment in his ticker, and clicked through to join the conversation. This is totally fine; I’d made the post public intentionally, and Brian made good contributions to the discussion. But it surprised the heck out of Jenny! She knew Brian and I had no connection other than that she is friends with each of us, and we’re friends from vastly different corners of her world. Suddenly, there we all were chitchatting together. If you’ve ever experience the jolt of worlds colliding on Facebook, brace yourself. The collisions are happening at the speed of light these days.

Like I said, it has always been the case that Brian could have left a comment on my friends-of-friends or public update, since we have a mutual friend. But before the ticker, the conversation probably wouldn’t have hit his radar unless he happened to notice a “Jenny left a comment on…” note on Jenny’s wall. The ticker is the game-changer here: it puts Jenny’s commenting and liking activity right on Brian’s news feed page. And vice versa.

You can hide a friend’s comments and likes by hovering your mouse over her name, then hover over the “Subscribed” button, and deselect the things you want to screen from your ticker. But there’s no mass setting for you to hide your own comments from your friends’ tickers—the visibility of your comments is always determined by the post you’re commenting on.

So just be aware: if you’re chiming in on a public or friends-of-friends post, people you don’t know will most likely be viewing your comment in their tickers. Even if all your own friends do that hover/deselect thing I mentioned above, your comments are still visible to strangers (and always were, on this kind of post—but now they’re not just visible, they’re decked out in neon lights).

How do you tell the privacy setting of a friend’s status update? Look for the gray icon below the update, to the right of the timestamp. If the icon is a globe, that post is public; if it’s a person’s head, the post was shared with friends only; and if the icon is a gear, the post was shared with a custom list. Hover over the gear to see details about the list—it may say “custom,” meaning it’s probably a smaller pool than the person’s whole friends list, or “friends of friends,” which is of course a much wider pool.

There’s a wave of “you hide my comments, and I’ll hide yours” sweeping over Facebook this weekend. That’s a whole lot of manual deselecting going on—but do be aware that this semi-fix doesn’t really make your comments private, it just means they won’t show up to the friends who’ve complied with your “please hide ’em” request. And let’s face it, the friends most likely to honor your request are probably the very people you don’t mind reading your random comments in the first place.

If you hate the ticker altogether, there are browser extensions that will let you hide it: here’s one for Chrome, and one for Firefox. (I haven’t tried these, so feel free to report back with your experience.)

As for your own status updates, don’t forget to check the setting of a status update before you post it! Another new wrinkle is that post settings are sticky to the previous update—so if you post one update to “friends of friends,” your next update will have that setting by default until you change it manually.

WELL. That’s a lot of change, but really, we ain’t seen nothing yet. At Thursday’s f8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the advent of the Timeline—the new, bell-and-whistle-filled incarnation of the current Facebook profile. (Here’s a link to Zuckerberg’s keynote address.)

Your Timeline will be a scrollable compendium of everything you’ve ever posted to Facebook, and—if you so choose—just about everything you ever do for the rest of your life.

Screenshot of Timeline from f8 video presentation

Everything you’ve ever shared on Facebook will be rolled into your Timeline—every photo, every status update, every like. (You can go in and alter the visibility settings for each item individually, after the fact.) A key component of Timeline will be serious app integration; users will be able to connect, say, a cooking app that allows them to chronicle and share every recipe they attempt, or a running app that uses GPS to log favorite routes. Facebook is partnering with Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and other media outlets to bring music, film, and television viewing right to the Facebook screen—and whatever you’re watching or listening to, your friends can do the same with a simple click.

Sound cool? Or seriously creepy? I’m hearing mixed reactions. Many Facebook users feel uneasy at the thought of handing over this level of personal detail to a social network that already has notoriously complicated and ever-changing privacy settings—and uneasier still at the thought of how much data on lifestyle habits all this Timeline and app integration is going to provide advertisers.

Once the Timeline rolls out (you can sneak it in early now, via the steps outlined in this Mashable post), the ticker will become even livelier, displaying updates off all the offscreen activity your friends are reporting via their shiny new apps. Kristen is running in Central Park. Ruth is cooking pad thai. Andrea just played the word “stalker” in a game of Words with Friends.

“Now,” said Zuckerberg in the keynote, “even before I start using Spotify, I can see what my friends are listening to live, in my ticker.” He went on to explain that patterns that emerge in all this ticker activity will be pulled into your main News Feed, as a story there. If several of your friends are watching Glee at the same time, that tidbit will appear in your feed. And if you want to watch the same episode, all you have to do is click.

A friend asked me what my take is on Facebook’s new direction. Here’s what I replied:

I’m extremely wary. I think the whole thing is a brilliant and seductive mechanism for deep, deep data-mining. Timeline has some mighty appealing characteristics—no longer do your old status updates disappear into oblivion at the bottom of your page. Now you have easy, crisply organized access to every morsel of your own Facebook activity. You can enter new info & photos for years past, all the way to the day you were born. It’s a giant digital scrapbook, and I think a lot of people are going to love it.

It’s cleverly done and has boatloads of appeal, and people will pay for the convenience by providing advertisers with even more information about lifestyle and spending habits than we already do. There’s a reports feature that lets you compile a report on your own (or your friends’) reading/watching/eating/travel/etc –and you just know that if we can compile these reports about ourselves, so can the app developers we grant account access to.

It’s like saying, Dear Advertisers, here’s my entire life: profile away.

For a lot of users, though, a decision to walk away from Facebook isn’t a no-brainer. It’s no secret I much prefer Google+ as a social networking interface (although Google’s rotten “real names” policy has considerably dimmed my enthusiasm)—but if I were to kiss my Facebook goodbye, I’d be missing out on the riches it does give me: a peek at the daily doings of a lot of people I love dearly, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t doing their online sharing anywhere else.

What’s your take? Is the ticker ticking you off? Or are you counting the minutes until your Timeline goes live?

A GeekMom Guide to Google+ Part One

I was lucky enough to land an invite to Google+ right away, thanks to fellow GeekMom Jules, and within minutes of my first exploration of Google’s new social networking platform, I was completely smitten. For me, Google+ combines the best things about Twitter and Facebook, and offers more besides. (Jules gave us a great post about her Google+ first impressions last week.)

But like any new platform, there’s a learning curve. Here are a few tips for finding your sea legs on Google+.

Part 1: Don’t let circles make your head spin

Google+ is built around the idea that we all have different “circles” of friends and acquaintances. On G+, these circles are literal. You create groups of friends—your circles—to help you filter the people you read and the people you share your own thoughts with.

This distinction between reading and sharing is the key to understanding circles. On Twitter, you “follow” people—this puts their public tweets in your stream. They may or may not follow you back. On Facebook, “friending” has to be reciprocal—when you friend someone, your status updates appear in your friend’s news feed, and hers appear in your news feed.

On Google+, you “put someone in a circle.” That means two things: you can read that person’s posts, and you can share posts with that person.

You read posts by clicking on a circle—or click “Stream” to see all your circles at once.

You share by sending posts either to Public, or to one or more of your circles. You can even send a post to individual people—including people who aren’t on Google+ at all, via email.

Let’s walk through it with an example: say I put fellow GeekMom Kristen Rutherford in my Friends circle. Now I will see all Kristen’s PUBLIC posts in my Stream. And also, if I click on my Friends circle, I’ll see her public posts there. This is a lot like following someone on Twitter. In this example, Kristen isn’t following me back—that is, she hasn’t put me in any of her own circles. She won’t see my posts unless she clicks on her “Incoming” stream.

• “Incoming” is where you can view the posts of people who’ve put you in their circles, but they aren’t in yours.

• “Following” is the opposite: people in your circles who haven’t put you in theirs. I use my Following circle for people I don’t know personally but I find their posts compelling—celebs, for example, and a bunch of Google+ insiders who post helpful techie content.

But wait! Kristen has put me in one of her circles. (She’d darn well better have, considering I’m the godmother of her child.) Now the dynamic is similar to Facebook-friends. My public posts show up in her stream, and hers show up in mine.

Also, she can see any posts I send to my Friends circle, and I can see any posts to whatever circle she has put me in. (“People I Love Even Though They Talk Too Much,” possibly.)

So: I can READ Kristen’s posts in my Friends circle (or my Stream), and I can SHARE posts with her by sending them to my Friends circle (or making them public). Reading vs. sharing, get it?

With Kristen, my reading and sharing wishes totally overlap. I want to read all her posts, and I want to inflict all of mine upon her. But there are other people I want to filter differently. Not all of my publishing-industry friends are going to want to hear every cute kid story I tell, and not all my relatives are going to want to hear me opine at length about Why Firefly Is the Best Show of All Time. So I create circles of people who share similar interests. That way I can target certain posts for the right set of friends and colleagues. Interest-based circles may also help you on the reading end. For example, I created a GeekMoms circle so I can easily keep up with what the awesome women here are posting on Google+.

• A handy circle tip: create an empty circle called “Notes” or “Links” for saving items you want to come back to later. Click on that circle to see all your notes. (I added my Evernote account’s email address to mine, which means anything I send to my Links & Notes circle goes directly to my Evernote as well. Very convenient!)

How are you using your circles on Google+?

In Part 2 of this series we’ll tackle Google+ Privacy and Profiles.

Ladies, Can We Talk (About Wikipedia)?

I had two stories about gender and social media cross my computer recently.

The first was The New York Times article “Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List” which explained that while Wikipedia–the  free, online encyclopedia “that anyone can edit”–is a top-ten internet destination with more than 3.5 million articles in English alone…less than 15% of the people volunteering to create and edit Wikipedia are women. Potentially,  our culture is being defined online by a homogenous community of “wikipedians” who are almost universally white, Christian, technically-inclined, formally-educated males from the northern hemisphere between the ages of 15 and 49. At very least (ramifications to culture aside), this skews Wikipedia’s content:

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Almost immediately after I finished reading the NYT piece, this TED Talk by Johanna Blakley on social media and “the end of gender and age  demographics in marketing” popped up in my feed. According to Blakley, marketers have traditionally used “old school demographics” to set advertising rates and have presumed that if you fall within  certain age and gender demographics  that you will have easily-determined (and in the case of women over 54, unimportant) preferences. However, in this age of social media that we now live in where “people aggregate around things they love, shared interests and values become a far better indicator [of decision-making] than demographics.”  According to Blakley, women’s use of social media outnumbers men’s use (making their tastes and preferences trackable), a fact that will rid us of many of the demeaning, “lame stereotypes” now visible in our culture. I question whether this is a victory for women or marketers, however.

So are women the new rulers of the internet? Alternatively, are they potential victims of systemic cultural bias? Or is there no real conflict between these two stories–is  it that women are more likely to be social-media consumers than online-content creators? Is it perhaps that they flock to Facebook walls while eschewing Wikipedia user pages? Both roles, consumer and creator, require base-levels of education and financial well-being: you must have the money to buy a computer and the time, infrastructure and know-how to surf the web…but the former role is relatively passive while the latter is creative, active and empowering…

Now, here’s the thing: I’ve lived in five states and two coasts of  the United States. My experience has been (and sure, this is anecdotal evidence, but bear with me) that women tend to know stuff. And have ideas. Generally? They’re also pretty damn happy to communicate what they know–often in elaborate detail. This discrepancy is not an issue of ability.

So why aren’t we bringing  our collective voices and knowledge to Wikipedia in greater numbers? As it turns out, this isn’t a phenomenon unique to Wikipedia. According to The OpEd Project, an initiative to expand the range of voices in public discourse, “a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common–whether in members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.”

Wikipedia wants to get to the bottom of this mystery, as well, and in tandem with United Nations University, performed a survey of Wikipedia contributors and readers that concluded:

  • Only 14% had a child.
  • The average age of a Wikipedia contributor or reader was 25.
  • Those that contributed, primarily contributed to fix errors or share knowledge.

Those that did not contribute most often claimed:

  • “I don’t have enough information.” (45%)
  • “I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake.” (25%)
  • “I’m happy to just read it.” (46%)
  • “I don’t have time.” (31%)
  • “Others are already doing it, there’s no need for me.” (19%)
  • “I’m not comfortable with the technology.” (16%)

Respondents were more likely to edit if:

  • “A specific topic needed my help.” (40%)
  • “It was clear that others would benefit.” (35%)
  • “I was confident that my contributions would be kept.” (25%)

So, looking to the future, what can women do to become active, creative participants on Wikipedia? Are there GeekMom readers  ready to write an entry? Or maybe you’re more interested in easing into the Wikipedia community. There are lots of bite-sized jobs that need doing:

This begs the greater question: Why am I so gung-ho on bringing the female voice to Wikipeda?

I suspect that if women continue to opt out of public discourse, important needs and issues will continue to go  unaddressed. As I read the NYT Wikipedia gender-gap article, I began thinking about another gender gap–the gender wage gap–and how, as a teenager,  I expected that issue to be resolved by benevolent feminists long before I reached adulthood. I also thought on how,  just recently, House Republicans tried to remove the voices of women from their experience of rape when they attempted in the “No Taxpayer Funding to Pay for Abortion” Bill to redefine rape in terms of a man’s active force, rather than a woman’s denied consent.

Even in the midst of raising families, working jobs in and out of the home and taking care of daily minutiae, women need to find the time to exercise their voices and remain active participants in civic discourse. Wikipedia is an increasingly-popular cultural cornerstone and women’s voices need to be there helping to shape its content and tone.

Special thanks to Dina M, who emailed asking me to write about the Wikipedia gender gap. Your email convinced me that this was an idea worth developing.

Johanna Blakley’s TED Talk: Social Media and the End of Gender