Thursday, April 13, 2006

More about the SXSWi women's visibility panel

(reposted) Here's my notes from before the panel. It's still rough notes - I tried to lay out the idea very quickly.

I also want to note that Ayse, Jan, Tara, Virginia and I all talked a lot over email and then again before our panel, and it was super interesting to see the evolution of our conversation. And I hope we can all post some of those conversations as well as what we said on the panel!

An immodest proposal

We need protocols for identifying authorship. At BarCamp at many of the women's discussions, we talked about people as tag clouds. Gender is just one of the possible tags. Put gender, identity into html markup just like the xfn markup for relationships. Or create some other protocol or standards.

Try doing some studies. We know what importance rankings look like with a genderblind algorithm. Then try labelling authorship and identities, try dividing the web and see what happens. Actually test it. Then re-integrate.

If you are going to ask a question like "who are the most important/relevant (to a topic) women bloggers" then you need to be able to identify them. Right now we can't.

Other people could maybe tag or ID you, but your self-identification is the one that counts in the most important way for most algorithms.

More information is good. The individual author or blogger has control over their own flexible cloud of identities. More information could then be put into transparent algorithms that are flexible, so you can have a technorati-like engine but adjust it to your own (or someone else's ) vision of importance.

Think of it like thermodynamics... through the identity-tag webs, right now you have a power imbalance on the net echoing existing power inequalities. I have this whole weird analogy of patriarchy as maxwell's demon, as an invisible, imaginary gatekeeper that keesp imbalances going. If this system existed, then, what mechanisms would you invent to reverse its workings? You can't kill Maxwell's Demon - that's not allowed, and it's just too hard. Making it past the gatekeeper on an individual level is how you get tokenized, and it also keeps up the myth of meritocracy. You have to invent structural workarounds, other maps and roads.

It's cheaper to experiment with restructuring technological spaces than it is to restructure society.

I think women need to be visible *to each other* in order for important conversations to develop. Trying to be "genderblind" doesn't help women, because we still have many systemic inequalities which stack the deck against us. I think self-identification in the form of tagging, or identity authentication like I've heard Kaliya (Identity Woman) talk about, or a new XML standard, would help with this: if we're going to ask who the most important women bloggers are, then we need to be able to find them in the first place. I'm arguing for identity-based markup and search, not just for all genders, but for any kind of identity like race, multiracial identifications, class, ethnicities, age. Authorship and identity in the mind of a reader (and the mind of a search algorithm) can't be separated. Self-identification should be differentiated from the ways other people identify an author. Visibility should also be broken down into frames of references, so that we can ask, "visible to who?"

For example, we could do a gender-based technorati search to see which women other women think are important; then which women men think are important; then which women everyone does - and see if those rankings are drastically different. I suspect they would be different, and those differences would be *interesting information*.

We need many ways of looking at visibility. If I'm a firefly, I don't care if humans see me. I want other fireflies to see me. Humans might *want* to perceive me. Or to put it another way, if I were an alien fnnargh artist, doing the fine art of fnnargh for other aliens, those aliens would want to be able to judge my fnnarghing compared to other aliens' fnnarghing. Humans might think fnnarghing is totallly hilarious and weird and cool, and so they might want to be able to find it too and talk about it compared to opera; but the aliens don't *care* what the humans think or how Snarx's Forty-Third Fnnargle is really similar to Wagner. And if they do, they can search on what humans think, or on what humans think with a little bit of what aliens think weighed into the mix. In other words, we need identity, authorship, and open, flexible search parameters.

Digg this

No comments: