Stop Erasing Women From Tech History

Whitney Wolfe and the invisible women in tech


Whitney Wolfe is one of the co-founders of Tinder.

These were the business cards she carried.

So how is it she wasn’t mentioned once in the 30-slide explainer “A Brief History Of Tinder” published on TechCrunch just a few weeks ago?

Most of us hadn’t heard of her until Monday, when the news came out that she is suing the company and its majority owner, IAC/InterActiveCorp, for sexual harassment and discrimination. One of the lawyers told the New York Times that in addition to equity and lost compensation, the purpose of the lawsuit is “to make sure that her role as a woman leader in the company isn’t erased from history.”

In November 2013, fellow co-founders Justin Mateen and Sean Rad removed her co-founder title. She was forced to resign in April.

The complaint is difficult to read, suggesting repugnant abuse and coercion took place. Especially chilling are the moments described when Wolfe asked for help. Rad, the CEO, apparently told her she was being “emotional” and “dramatic” when she complained. Her job, he said, according to the complaint, was to “keep Justin calm.” Justin Mateen was responsible for the abuse (he was suspended following the lawsuit). IAC’s Sam Yagan, co-founder of OkCupid and CEO of Match.com, met with Wolfe after she left the company. She told him about the abuse and he said there was nothing he could do. In the document he’s quoted as responding, “I can still sleep at night.”


The complaint also tells a compelling story that without “Ms. Wolfe’s aggressive lobbying on behalf of the Tinder prototype, and without her remarkably effective marketing campaign, there would likely have been no Tinder.” The name of the app (which is brilliant) was apparently her idea. And in “or about July 2012, while in a car with Mr. Rad, Ms. Wolfe argued that they should ‘put Cardify to bed’ and really focus on [Tinder.]” Later, her job was marketing and outreach. Getting women to use it was not an easy task. It is a dodgy hookup app, after all. She started by visiting sororities at college campuses, where she was trusted as a former sorority sister herself. “I credit you 100% with the growth of Tinder and I think that sending you around the US to visit sororities was absolutely the best investment we could possibly have made on the marketing side,” wrote Joe Munoz, another co-founder, in an email.

Nick Summers, writing for BusinessWeek, confirms much of this. He reviewed his notes from last summer, after speaking with most of the people involved in the project for the magazine. He noticed that “Rad and Mateen seemed to be playing make-believe” with how Tinder was founded, but as the two dominated the company, they were the only co-founders named in his original story. A GQ feature last February mentions Wolfe only briefly, and with the title “vice president of marketing.” The writer describes her like a Red Bull promotions girl. She “might stand on a table in a fraternity and announce that there were 200 hot sorority girls on the app waiting for the men to sign up, then run to the sorority and tell them the reverse.”

And then there’s TechCrunch where companies write their own history:

Women are assumed to be tokens until proven otherwise.

Erasure happens even outside of hostile situations like what went down at Tinder. Take, for example, Xochi Birch, the co-founder of early social network Bebo. Last year her Wikipedia page was up for deletion because… the co-founder is her husband. So why not just redirect her page to his page?

Men are erased from history too. But no one is suggesting Michael Birch’s Wikipedia page redirect to Xochi Birch. Women are assumed to be tokens until proven otherwise.

Whitney Wolfe’s contribution to Tinder is exactly the kind of work that is essential to and undervalued at tech companies. It is emotional labor. The job is its own reward. She got to party with Greeks around the country —isn’t that fun? Isn’t that basically a perk? Women love talking to people, right?

Kate Losse, in her must-read 2012 memoir The Boy Kings, wrote about these frustrating gender dynamics at Facebook. Men, who typically work as programmers, have a clearly defined role at the company. It is harder to pin down the responsibilities of a community manager, or what the salary range should be. Losse’s essay, “Sex and the Startup: Men, Women, and Work,” published in Model View Culture, is essential reading to understand why female non-technical co-founders might find themselves saddled with tasks like buying groceries, while a boy in a hoodie with “hacker swoop hairstyle” is “valued and celebrated.”

Part of the reason the Tinder co-founders tried to erase Wolfe is they believed a “girl founder” both “devalued” the company and made Tinder “look like a joke.” The irony is, Wolfe might have been the reason early users trusted Tinder enough to sign up. It appears that Mateen and Rad were the ones who got by on their looks.

Next Story — How I Organized a Series of Six Panels on Technology with Only Women Speaking
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How I Organized a Series of Six Panels on Technology with Only Women Speaking.

#newtopics at Eyebeam. Photo by Jessie Daniels

A few weeks ago, I held the sixth and final panel in a series I hosted at Eyebeam called New Topics in Social Computing. The series was an attempt to reset the clock on the discourse around internet and technology in culture. This is a moment of transition and uncertainty and I wanted to gather the greatest minds to think through where society is heading. It just so happens that the greatest minds — the nineteen speakers invited to these events — were women.

It began as an idea for a single panel. I wanted my friend, the labor reporter Sarah Jaffe to meet another friend of mine, the artist Lauren McCarthy. Their ideas on the automation of labor and the emerging field “affective computing” were complementary in ways a panel format could demonstrate. While I was planning the event, I met the designer Sabrina Majeed and I wanted her to be part of the conversation too.

While I was looking at potential venues, I began a residency at Eyebeam and mentioned my idea. The organization just moved to a new location in Brooklyn and were eager for programming to encourage people to check out the new space. “Could I host three panels then?” I asked. Sure, they said. I sketched out some ideas for discussions and had trouble narrowing down the topics. So I checked in again: “Could I host six panels?” Sure!

Before I continue — Thank you Sabrina Majeed, Sarah Jaffe, Lauren McCarthy (Emotional Labor and Affective Computing), Sydette Harry, Erin Kissane, Melissa Gira Grant (Online Abuser Dynamics), Katherine Cross, Sandra Ordonez, Seda Gürses, (Free Expression and Online Anonymity), Karen Levy, Sarah Jeong, Alice Marwick (Consent and the Network), Bina Ahmad, Raven Rakia, Ingrid Burrington, Kade Crockford (Resistance Under Surveillance), Tressie McMillan Cottom, Sava Saheli Singh, and Karen Gregory (Data and Education).

SPACE

I often go to lectures and conferences around New York. Sometimes attending these events I feel unwelcome as a woman, often in subtle ways, but ways that I thought through while planning this series of talks. I took notes on events where I left immediately at the end and contrasted those environments with events where I felt comfortable to introduce myself to speakers and ask more questions. I wanted to create a space where an audience feels welcome and their presence is not about being a person sitting in a chair who is trans or is a high school drop-out or any other marker of identity — a space where people can show up and just be.

I am particularly uncomfortable in conference environments where there is a clear division between speakers, audience, and administrative staff. So it was important to keep the space informal and friendly. Events were free. I asked the audience to meet us at a restaurant after every event to continue the conversation. It helps that I had an institution like Eyebeam to host these events. It is a rare safe space in the tech art community and I would encourage anyone to apply for their residencies.

Every night drew a great audience. I love that people showed up even in polar vortex cold weather, but the smallest crowd happened the night of the grand jury decision on Eric Garner — people who wanted to come went to protests instead.

SELECTION

This was simple. I invited people I admire, that I learn from, who are the very best and most knowledgeable about these subjects. I could have thought of three times as many women to speak at these events. If you are wondering how I found them, well perhaps this tutorial I wrote with Divya Manian will be helpful.

There was always going to be a cis white woman on stage (me), which meant that if I didn’t pay attention, these “all women” panels might have reinforced other hierarchies. In the initial list of speakers I wanted to invite, I noticed that a significant number of them speak openly about their queerness, trans identity, or race. I never want to count and categorize people or tokenize. I don’t always know if someone is a person of color or not. I don’t know if people are trans unless they are out. But it seemed to be that about half of the speakers — again the best possible people to speak about these topics — are women of color, so I figured my list was solid and went with it. These speakers are all as busy as they are talented. I waited until I could get all of the speakers to confirm for the same date. It was not about filling slots but making sure the selected speakers could make it.

Still, I took it as a given that I was excluding someone or something relevant, and that these events were resilient enough to provide safety to more communities, the process of including people only made the events stronger. To give an example: before the first panel, someone called me out on Twitter for not doing anything about accessibility. For that I was grateful. Because I learned about providing captioning service and found a sponsor — Mailchimp — to cover the cost. I have no idea whether anyone from the deaf community showed up to some of the events or not. It’s not for me to know. The point is someone knew there was a space they were welcome and accommodated and they wouldn’t have to announce their deafness to be present at these events. Despite being vigilant, there were other issues with accessibility. The elevator at Eyebeam was broken at the time of the first two panels and the venue is on the 5th floor. On both occasions, we emailed all ticket holders to alert them. There seemed to be no easily resolution, no alternate venues that I could book at the last minute. If you were unable to attend any of these events because of the elevator, I am terribly sorry. I know just saying it doesn’t amount to much, but my embarrassment over the elevator has since made me prioritize accessibility and I will more forcefully advocate for it in any future events I organize.

TOPICS

I named it New Topics for a reason. This was an attempt to open up the discourse around privacy, surveillance, and online communication for multiple solutions, critical perspectives on solutions, and a deeper consideration of the power dynamics when these technologies are put in practice. How anonymity online can be a double-edged sword — providing safety for marginalized communities while also enabling the trolls doing them harm. The emotional labor of jobs like community manager. The technology to simulate empathy. We talked about patterns and dynamics of online harassment and tactical solutions. How “revenge porn” has broad implications for privacy, first amendment rights, extortion law, sex, surveillance, and consent. And user consent as a guiding principle of internet freedom. The talk on surveillance was focused on case studies rather than a more abstract conversation. The discourse around surveillance is already abstract, so we talked about surveillance as a lived experience. We ended with “Data and Education,” because so many people in tech think education is a solution, rather than its own set of problems.

FORMAT

The events were in panel rather than presentation format in the interest of collaborative discussion. I would email an outline to speakers beforehand with questions I’d likely ask and relevant links. Discussion typically went for an hour before breaking for a half hour of audience questions. When I started the series I began with excessively lengthy introductions but in later talks, I went straight to facilitating the discussion between speakers, which was more engaging. The audio for every event was documented but no video. This was both the most efficient use of resources and also a personal decision. I have (uncorrected) transcripts available to anyone who requests them and plan to do something with the written documentation — either a book or a dedicated website, depending on permission and interest from the speakers. A variation of Geek Feminism’s code of conduct was read at the start of every event and audience questions were progressive stack. I picked an hashtag — #newtopics — not commonly in use. There are a lot of little things I did like constantly rearranging which speaker’s name was mentioned first when I’d tweet out reminders about the events. In questions, I try to bring up as many names of women working in these spaces that I could.

LANGUAGE

I have “only women” in this headline to grab your attention, but I am conflicted about the language and flaunting this attribute. Nothing about the promotional material mentioned the fact that no men were involved in these events. This is important to me for a number of reasons. First of all — every speaker was there on her own merits. More importantly, I am hesitant to do things that reinforce the gender binary in my attempts at creating more diverse spaces. If a speaker at one of these events were to transition in the future, I would not want the documentation invalidating the individual’s maleness. This is where I am learning and I would appreciate any feedback from trans men and non-binary persons about how to dial down the volume on cis men without the unintended consequences of harming others.

Adding to where I feel conflicted about this is, as much as I hate for it to be the case, just pointing out that trans women are women remains political rather than obvious. That I need to type this in 2015 is a disgrace. Trans representation in feminist spaces is critically important when in just the past year, publications like the New York Times and New Yorker have hosted confoundingly bigoted voices debating this fact.

FEEDBACK AND LANDSCAPE

I am very lucky to have a friend in Melissa Gira Grant. Before moving forward, I ran just about every decision by her. I also reached out to Divya Manian, Courtney Stanton and Darius Kazemi for advice, and many many others. That so little went without a hitch is not just good fortune but because of this feedback, helping me think through potential setbacks.

The New Topics series is just one project in a landscape of initiatives that have emerged in the past few years. Leaders like Dorothy Santos, Leigh Honeywell, and Seda Gürses, events like Facets, AlterConf, Beyond the Code, and initiatives like The List, Deep Lab, Model View Culture, and Double Union are working for change. It is important we have a number of initiatives because people need options. Conflicts happen — (yes, in progressive activist spaces. Please read Revolution Starts at Home if you are doing diversity work) — and, moreover, people have different ideas of how best to accomplish shared goals. More initiatives result in more gates rather than new gatekeepers.

DE-CENTERING MYSELF

I was only the moderator of the series, which meant stepping back so attention was directed to the speakers rather than on me. My other tasks were administrative in scheduling and booking events (with ample support from the Eyebeam staff). The one place I will always center myself is in taking responsibility for any problems with the New Topics series. If anything went wrong it was my fault. Don’t blame the speakers, don’t blame the hosting institution. I organized it and any errors and mistakes were mine. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I have learned how to trick my body into not having a panic attack whenever a mic is in my hands. But there remain areas where I try hard and still screw up and it’s actually not okay that I screw these things up. For example, it is very hard for me to pronounce unfamiliar words. I can practice saying someone’s name over and over again and still stumble on it. This is unacceptable as a moderator of an event. So I try harder. There are many areas where I could have done more like providing childcare. I worked without a budget besides some travel expenses for speakers and the live-captioning transcription fees. This was easier for me because I did not have to worry about conflicting interests from a sponsor, but I also wish I could have properly compensated my speakers for their time.

MORE GATES FEWER GATEKEEPERS

New Topics let me demonstrate what I wish for the rest of the technology community. I hope this post is helpful to anyone planning events, but part of me wonders if I am selling the project short by calling attention to it as a diversity initiative at all.

I don’t consider myself a diversity expert. I’m just someone who tried to put together a series of tech events that aren’t bullshit. I learned a lot in the process of planning these events and can’t thank everyone involved — speakers, audience, and other supporters — enough.

Next Story — The Screen on the Screen
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The Screen on the Screen

An ongoing series looking at tech culture in film and television.

In this ongoing series of posts, writers from the Message will look at how tech culture is depicted in film and television.

Here’s an example from a film I love, the 2001 Japanese indie All About Lily Chou Chou, following the lives of teenagers on and off — this was 2001, there was a duality — the internet. It begins with a poignant visual metaphor with a student in headphones, alone, standing in a field, as the clacking of keyboards and text from a chatroom conversation appears on the screen:

At the other end of the spectrum is over-the-top campy stranger danger like the Canadian TV show, Darknet. The series, which premiered last year, and was remarkably renewed for another season, is for anyone who doesn’t burst into laughter at the likely pitch “Saw meets Silk Road.”

Rule of thumb: whenever the word “cyber” is in the title you can expect unintentional comedy. Cybergeddon made so little a splash, there isn’t even a disambiguation note on Wikipedia page for the word that “refers to cataclysm resulting from a large-scale sabotage of all computerized networks, systems and activities.” The 2012 series from Anthony Zuiker, the creator of CSI, was at the time the most expensive web series ever made, but it failed to find an audience. Zuiker returned this spring with CSI: Cyber on network television. Episodes begin with this voiceover in the precredit opening sequence, from actress Patricia Arquette:

My name is Avery Ryan. I was a victim of cybercrime. Like you, I posted on social media; checked my bank balance on; even kept the confidential files of my psychological practice on my computer. Then I was hacked. And as a result, one of my patients was murdered. My investigation into her death led me to the F.B.I., where I joined a team of cyberexperts, to wage a war against a new breed of criminal hiding on the deep web, infiltrating our daily lives in ways we never imagined. Faceless. Nameless. Lurking inside our devices. Just a keystroke away. It can happen to you…

I hope CSI: Cyber takes off and then eventually every tweet from the bot @CyberEveryword will correspond with a new TV series in production.

Some films like Sneakers, the 1992 film with Robert Redford leading a team of infosec consultants at odds with the NSA, have held up remarkably well. Others like Hackers, a joke from the jump, are approaching Rocky Horror style cult-fandom. Biopics like The Social Network, The Fifth Estate, and Steve Jobs have been a mixed bag.

Filmmakers have long struggled with how to depict everyday internet activity on the screen in a compelling way. That is why so many characters break or lose their phones. The series Sherlock was lauded for its innovative use of captions to indicate text messages received. Here’s a short video from Tony Zho looking at other examples of that technique while considering another complication — how to representing browsing the internet without creating a cloud of neon green 1s and 0s.

Television has given us depictions of revenge porn (Gossip Girl,) surveillance infrastructure(Person of Internet,) and 90s web zine office culture (Attachments.) Recent shows like Silicon Valley, Halt and Catch Fire, Mr Robot, and The Good Wife have have introduced subjects like venture capital, reverse engineering, crypto-currencies, holocracy, and brute-force attacks in accessible ways without leaning on sensationalist hacker-wizard cliches.

What are your favorites? Come join the conversation using Medium responses…

Next Story — An interview with a Google Street View driver
Currently Reading - An interview with a Google Street View driver

An interview with a Google Street View driver

“As long as the data gets collected, that’s all that matters.”

In 2007, Google Street View began mirroring our landscapes starting with several cities in the United States. It has since photographed most of Europe, North America, Latin America, and Australia and continues to add new territories to the map.

Checking out Google’s promotional material about this project, you might think the Street View cars were self-driving already, but there is always a worker steering every wheel and witnessing the image capture. Recently, I had the chance to interview a Street View driver over email, on the condition of his anonymity.

How did you get into working as a Street View Driver?

It was through a temp job agency. I was looking for a job after I moved to NYC and went through Craigslist. Found the offer for a driving position, nothing related to the actual job or Google or anything. Once I was approved by the agency, I was contacted by the Streetview team explaining what the job actually entailed. This way they didn’t have a ton of people applying knowing what the job was.

You mentioned you went to the New York International Auto Show with the Street View team. Do you hang out with the other drivers a lot? What’s the community like?

Yes and no. Most of the drivers treated it as an actual temp job and stayed for only a few months. My contract was renewed as I worked hard and knew the streets. I recently moved to NYC but I grew up there, so technically moved back I should say.

The auto show was more just for me to have fun, I love cars. Getting back to the drivers question, I found that most of them were there just to do a job or earn money and didn’t really associate themselves with others. Plus don’t forget, we are usually on our own most of the day driving, so we don’t really see each other too much. On occasion there will be meetings or events when we all meet up. But I haven’t really made any lasting friendships through the job.

How long have you been working for Google? Have there been significant changes in equipment since you started?

Lost track of the time, two years now about? And slight improvements, nothing major. Software updates are a regular thing, and sometime there might be a new medium of travel/photography. For example, when I first started, they were moving on to Streetview teams inside businesses, as well as non-road areas like hiking trails and underwater.

What do you think of Google’s fleet of driverless cars?

Don’t really have an opinion on them. I won’t see them being utilized in my lifetime or probably my kid’s lifetime (if I ever have kids). It’ll be a long time before they are fully legal and have laws set about them/insurance. I wouldn’t want one, I like driving.

How often are you followed by pedestrians?

The car is a moving billboard. Everyone wants to have themselves on an Internet-wide camera. They’re attention-whores. People flip the bird, they’ll moon the camera, sometimes if they know we are in town they’ll make a sign or something. They want to show friends they’ve become a lesser-known internet celebrity than a 10-year-old with a YouTube account primarily watched by their peers and family. It’s insignificant, but to them it’s the world. And it makes my job harder.

I was reading some of your Reddit comments and at one point you mentioned you shot the after pictures in a side-by-side comparison of Hurricane Sandy damage. How do you feel about your role archiving and representing cities this way?

It is fun capturing the city in what I believe will be represented for a long time. It’s a really interesting venture and with all of the emerging technology, it’ll be interesting to see how it progresses and will be utilized. It is really just a novelty, but can be helpful to see what the front of a house or business looks like before you get there.

Does it get boring? How much freedom do you have to take breaks or rest stops?

Anything you do every day eventually gets boring. Traffic sucks of course. And breaks and rest stops are whenever. As long as the data gets collected, that’s all that matters.

What kind of music are you listening to while you work?

Music every so often, it’s actually more audio-books and podcasts. If I’m stuck in one place and can only listen to things, it might as well be informative and interesting. I listen to a ton of NPR podcasts they record, Car Talk is great for example. Stuff You Should Know is really cool as well, love those guys. Rooster Teeth’s Podcast is great as I love video games.

As for music, it’s super random. I love creole jazz, modern rock, 80–90s rock, mushy acoustic songs. It’s basically whatever mood I’m in.

What are the company’s policies around recording activity in violent, illegal, or crisis situations? Are you allowed to intervene?

No different than if it was you driving a regular car. I don’t get involved in anything. I’m not a cop. If I record something that isn’t to the requirements, I go back and record it again. I’ve had some harassing people trying REALLY hard to get into shots and even followed me. I’ve called the cops on them after several warnings.

Could you tell me about the camera in use? It’s video, right? Do you see the footage that is captured? Is it higher-res than what we view on the web?

Erm, hard to explain in that sense. It does take single photos, but it’s doing so at a rapid and continuous pace. So it could technically be considered both. To better explain this, here’s this link: http://www.google.com/maps/about/behind-the-scenes/streetview/ I do see what is being captured but don’t usually look at the screen while driving. I usually review it every hour or so. And it is usually higher-res, but it looks different that what the final product looks like. Once it is stitched together, (again the technicality may be different), the actual resolution is higher but the quality is reduced so it doesn’t eat up bandwidth and can load faster.

Are there any images you could share from the car or of the car?

I don’t have any myself. They usually don’t allow you to keep your phone on you and provide their own, so you’re not distracted. I use my iPod for podcasts and music usually, so I don’t have a camera on me most of the time.

Any other unusual obstacles about the job?

Ever heard of what London cab drivers have to go through? They need to learn the streets and plan accordingly without any maps or GPS. I have the luxury of technology, but it’s still very easy to mess up and find yourself at the butt-end of a one-way and you have to go all the way around to get onto that street. It helps knowing the area even with a GPS. Plus in NYC and other big cities, skyscrapers can hurt the GPS reception and also affect its latency.

It’s just like driving a delivery van or pizza car, with the added difficulty of making sure the ball of cameras on top is getting what it needs. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful with this. Although it’s not an easy job, more than people think, when it comes down to it, it isn’t too rough. When talking about the underwater view or Business View, well that changes everything. Unfortunately I’m not a part of those projects.

Next Story — Writing on Medium
Currently Reading - Writing on Medium

Writing on Medium

Thoughts on the platform/ publisher/ platisher/ platypus/ after a year of posting stories.

Kate Losse once called Medium the “inter-office bulletin for the tech industry,” and that’s still what I think of this website. While it most obviously appears to carry on in the tradition of blogs, it always seemed to me as something more nostalgic — like the newsletter trend — an attempt to modernize early internet communities like the The Well, message boards, Usenet, and before that, pamphlets and zines. These were venues to announce new projects (most notably, Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, on comp.sys.next.announce, posting “WorldWideWeb wide-area hypertext app available”), debate, exchange ideas, share recipes, post open letters, give advice, and tell stories.

There was great writing on Usenet. I spent a lot of time composing the missives I posted to various groups. But I never considered my participation as a form of publishing. I was communicating and engaging within a community.

It is now over a year since I began contributing regularly to this publishing/social network start-up experiment. I am sort of paid to write but I am definitely paid to use Medium. I can’t imagine this amount of creative freedom secured through a more traditional editorial contract. The challenge is the challenge of any blank page but in this case, whatever I write has the potential to stretch one’s perception of what this platform is for.

Because people want to know what Medium is for, just like they wanted to know what Twitter was for (and still wonder).

It signals a particular form of independence, when a professional writer bypasses media outlets to post material on their blog instead. The post is not representative of the purview of a publishing institution, no editor had a hand in shaping it, the text is yours and not by the benevolence of gatekeepers. A journalist would make a similar decision to post 2,000 words on Italian horror and giallo history to rec.arts.movies rather than pitch it to a magazine. (And yes, with both examples I’m teetering toward the hornet’s nest that is how to properly compensate writers, artists, and musicians for their labor rather conflate it with “doing what you love.” Let me get back to you on that in a future post.)

A successful social network for writing will look like a diversity of communities exceeding the wide range of places to participate on Usenet in the 90s. Communities have formed here and may continue to take shape. Remember much of the feminist organizing in tech began with cogent, necessary writing that was posted on Medium the summer after its launch. Today many white male tech publication editors laugh along with your mansplaining jokes and may even tweet links to things like http://allmalepanels.tumblr.com/, but it was just about impossible to pitch stories about sexism in the industry to these same editors in 2013. The sheer number of women sharing their stories, and the number of people linking to and directing attention to these stories, proved the urgency of this issue.

I assess many a new social network or app by thinking “if I were welcome here, then people like me would already be here.” I never would have posted this story on gender, pay, and conference organizing (written before I joined the Message), if it were not for the existing feminist writing on the site and my expectation that I could find a receptive audience.

It is trickier to form a community like that on Medium now. Interface elements do not encourage discovery. I know there is great stuff published on Medium but I have no idea how to find it. Tagging will help, but the burden is still on the writer to find readers. This disincentivizes potential writers. Why spend an evening composing a thoughtful essay if that post will just be more hay rather than the needle someone is looking to find?

There is no community around takes.

The worst thing that could happen to Medium is it becomes the final destination in the world of hot takes. All the takes that no one took might be taken up by the place that takes everything.

Takes are long-winded, dispassionate, needless opinion pieces commissioned by content sites so there is fresh content. Takes don’t spark conversations, but they can result in comments. (The “don’t read the comments” jokes of recent years breaks my heart as someone who always loved the responses and community that emerged from writing online.) There is no community around takes, although there might be something of a community of people who write takes. Takes can, by the way, be automated thanks to Darius Kazemi’s Content, Forever.

There typically isn’t any financial incentive to writing takes, rather it is a way to stake a claim of expertise in some area.

A Silicon Valley thought leader with a take telling you how to live your best life might access tens of thousands more eyes, than the next Nobel laureate in literature. That’s the consequence of a hierarchy of attention determined by follower count. It is a problem for Medium rather than the least worst solution.

First readers and writers need to find each other.

Usenet was porous. Someone who lived in the middle of nowhere, who was a stranger to the other people in various newsgroups, could post thoughts and engage with the community as an equal. Spam and online harassment make it difficult to create communities that open today. Perhaps collections could play a role in filtering content like “rec.arts” or “soc.culture,” but the process of submitting a piece to a collection is still opaque to the average user. And users still have to find appropriate collections, which brings us back to the problem of discovery.

A broad, diverse community benefits everyone. One post “Why my opinion on abortion/religion/the election/etc is the only one that matters” might get 100,000 views, but if twenty thoughtful posts on knitting, drag performance, figure skating, birdwatching, the anti-austerity left, and other subjects each receive about 5,000 views — well, then you have the network effect. Medium needs activism and queerness and eccentric hobbies, it should be a place where chefs exchange recipes and teenagers collaborate on slash-fic. It should be a place lots and lots of people feel welcome and might find likeminded people. But first they have to find each other.

This is a very long way — a take, sure, okay, maybe I just wrote a take in my attempt to take down takes — to say that if you are writing great stuff here, I want to see it! My hope for this site is some method of content curation that isn’t based on follower count and filter bubbles or as crass as swipe left or swipe right.

And by the way, I am surprised “writing on Medium” isn’t yet a cliche by now. Just wait. We will know Medium is on to something when there are a lot more people writing posts like this one explaining how they use it, what they want from it, and how else to shape it to our purposes.

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