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On Building The Things You Want

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Credit: flickr / ericconstantineau

I think my best reason of why we need more women working in technology can be explained with two websites.

OKCupid is a dating site, it’s very successful, and they have a great blog. Part of the premise is that users answer all these questions – it’s very data-driven.

The other one is a Spanish dating website I read about some time ago (cannot find the article), aimed at women. I say dating website, but really the main purpose was to meet other women, but women could recommend guys who could then join.

So here we have two solutions to the same problem – meeting people, that take very different approaches, almost to the point where the whole idea can be presented differently. The first one posits that more data will mean more sex, the other addresses the side effects of being single (not having someone to go see that movie with, for example) by providing a way to increase the number of people in your life, and turns a potential relationship into the side effect.

That is the benefit of diversity – not just solving problems differently, but seeing different problems.

There was this NYT article, which started horrifyingly, “Men invented the internet”. This is manifestly untrue – the first programmer was a woman, the field used to be dominated by women (see – ENIAC Programmer project) the internet was created by many, many people. Not all of them were straight white males.

But in terms of our experience on the internet, the World Wide Web, the things we used, the creators of those websites, mobile apps, software, the creators are dominated by what I will term nerdy boys.

Here’s the thing about nerdy boys – they build the things they want. So we have 4chan, and more porn than anyone could want. Shopping for electronics, comparing, recommending is really good. There are many, many virtual ways to kill people.

But there are other things that we are only just beginning to explore, that are nowhere near solved – online shopping and recommendations for clothes and accessories, for example. Or health care – there’s an interesting startup from the former CEO of Sun, for example. We know that women, statistically, are the primary caregivers for sick family members.

My point here, is not that women don’t like electronics (I do!) or may not want virtual violence, but that we live in a digital world, created by a group of people who are not representative of the population, and I think, if this digital world was built by 50% women it would look very different.

Creating ways to appeal to women makes sense – women are the predominant users of social networking, and the drivers of consumer spending. But Pinterest is derided as being “girly” – (fascinating article – it’s not actually that dominated by women, Wikipedia is far more dominated by men, but domination by men is normal, and around equal representation is “feminine”) – but if you look at the way traffic from Pinterest is monetized, being “girly” starts to look like an incredible business strategy.

We live in a digital world, but the secret that hasn’t been widely enough shared, in my opinion, is that we don’t have to just live in it – we can shape it. Edit a Wikipedia article. Create a webpage, a web app, a mobile app, a tech company. We – women – have to go out and build it, because there are a lot of terrible products out there – pink, underpowered laptops, as one example – which can be broadly described as “what men think women want”. Learning how to develop things gives you the power to make the things that you want to exist – whatever that might be.

8 replies on “On Building The Things You Want”

Saw a funny comment on TV from a comedian, who sarcastically said that to make something for women, “pink-it and shrink-it.” So absurd, it makes me laugh and is similar to the underpowered computers you mention here. I think Apple does a brilliant job to working in color and functionality without being girly at all.

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Loathe “pink it and shrink it”! And agree on Apple – lighter, sleeker than other laptops. My first mac was a Powerbook 12″, and I loved it so much.

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