March 7, 2008

Online soup could use more women, right?

How do we make our own online, stone soup? What's up with all these mom sites? And are woman at the multimedia, web table?

Steve Yelvington got me rolling with the soup imagery. He started by pointing us to a review by Neil Thurman of City University, London, on how British news media are using the tools of interactivity. And moved onto the idea that many newspapers, media sites, web sites want contributions thrown into the pot - without losing control.

That made me think of the Stone Soup fable, where nothing turns into something. Think of an online community site filled with user-generated content created the way the hungry men enticed village folks to make a new soup by starting with a pot, water and a stone and them enticing others to toss in a carrot, onion, potato, etc. The men end up with a tasty soup through a collaborative effort.

That's not what is happening on many sites. Too often, there's a head chef and he knows how the soup will turn out

The folks in charge want to hold onto the right to approve what you want to add to the mix (no, we already have a politician writing so you can't) They remind you to peel the veggies (use full names, write your head like this, put your item here).

The site shows us the pot, then gives the list of acceptable ingredients rather then risking a surprise, something unique for each community.

Is it really a user-generated site if the users only get to fill in the "holes" allotted to them?

Over in Jason Falls' Social Media Explorer, he looks at similar concept in a review of preview of a newspaper's new design. He focuses on the idea that just because you give someone social media tools, it doesn't mean you are a social media site.

The next big hurdle is how many sites do we need?

If I am already -----ing, do I need your ----ing tool? (Blog Friends, My Blog Log, Google Shared items, ... LiveJournal, Blogger, WordPress ... Diggs, delicious, stumbledupon...)

I know of at least eight places to get a list of Flint Michigan restaurants. Seven of the eight ask me to rate the restaurants.

I can go to at least five places now aggregating content from Flint. I'm not even counting specialty stops, such as GeneseeFun.

That takes me to the growing number of mom sites.

Does every town need one of those too? We have them in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and on and on and on.

Seriously, isn't most of the content generic? What I might need is an online neighbor telling me which pharmacist will add cherry flavoring to my kids meds. But the National Institutes of Health government site is where I will get my advice on the latest flu.

Which brings me to the role of women in developing, creating, growing the network of online community and its information. Are they out there? Are they in the pipeline?

When I think of folks out there trying new things, I can think of Rob Curley, or Zac Echola, or Adrian Holovaty, or Ryan Sholin, or Shawn Smith or ... notice a pattern there?

It does look like a fair number of women are over at the "we're all in this together" Wired Journalists site - and we have some great role models in colleges and heading up grant programs (Think Nora Paul or Jan Schaffer or Vikki Porter.)

But I am still outnumbered at too many digital media, computer-assisted journalism events.

So why aren't women already in the newsrooms learning how to be multimedia journalists?

If it is money, there's a possible solution for a few women. I recently learned that 3 projects are going to get grants (up to $10,000 each) Head to the site for a ton of research showing fewer women staying in journalism, fewer women leading news operations, and fewer women expecting to stay or lead.

What I did not find is a number to back my theory that fewer women then men are in the pipeline learning digital journalism, multimedia techniques, web stuff.

My gut reaction is little has changed since one of the first computer-assisted reporting conferences at Indiana University was attended by mostly men.

Even last fall, only 3 of 40 or so folks at a "multimedia tricks for news" workshop were female.

Yet, women and men are online in equal numbers, according to this NTIA study.

Are they watching, not creating? What can we do to fix it?

Maybe it is not limited to our newsrooms.

Twelve years of teaching workshops to Girl Scout adults and I am still finding women who use their husband's email account. Twelve years, and many know nothing about security and privacy issues because their husband does that computer stuff.

I think we get better soups with more women at the table.


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