Monday, January 31, 2011

Is Web 2.0 Gender Biased?

According to a study published last year (and written about in The New York Times today), only 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors are women.

I can't help wondering as I continue planning a new digital history project: what role is gender playing in web 2.0 more broadly defined? Does interactive mean mostly male?

The New York Times reporter argues that the Wikipedia contributor bias is reinforced by "the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women."

But, in 2008, the same newspaper published a story that argued a very different point: "among the youngest Internet users, the primary creators of Web content . . . are digitally effusive teenage girls."

Now, I realize that "web content" does not mean Wikipedia entries, but why doesn't one type of content breed another?

Meanwhile, journalist Kara Swisher wrote just last month about the absence of female board members among the biggest web 2.0 companies (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), pointing out that each of those companies have a huge female audience. Yup, in case you missed the good news in amongst the bad: these sites have a huge female audience.

So is there a digital gender divide or not?

For those of us interested in creating and playing with digital history, this topic is well worth considering. How do we encourage participation by many different types of people, and how do we know if we're succeeding?

1 comment:

  1. Analysis of female:male ratios in digital/technology industries and academia do and will continue to show a disproportionate number of males to females. Because of the high percentage of males in the profession, the deployment of technologies is de facto male-centric with little to no sensitivity to or interest in gender biases. Women are obligated to engage under rules, language, and parameters that were defined exclusive of their voice. Unless it’s social media or targeted marketing, there are few e-opportunities that girls and women can participate in without having to agree to the invisible contract negotiated and enforced by men. Want to make this more complicated? Add the race and class question to the equation.