industry info

MIMA Summit: Notes From the “Closing the Gap” Session

Last year, Nancy and I hosted a conversation about women in Interactive (I can’t remember what we called it. I just remember the original title, “WTF: Where the Females?” which they revised to something more innocuous).

Last Monday, Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt) and I hosted a discussion at this year’s MIMA Summit titled, Closing the Gap: A Discussion About Diversity. This year’s conversation was, quite rightly, expanded to cover issues beyond just gender. It was designed to be a group discussion, but in preparation Dave and I put together an outline. (You know, just in case everyone got all Minnesotan and didn’t ask any questions.)

It was a great session. I would have loved it if the crowd would have been standing room only, but we at least filled all the seats (especially considering that we were up against sessions like @scottmonty from Ford). And, frankly, I wasn’t entirely surprised — there are plenty of people who’d rather talk about something else, plenty of people who feel like there is no lack of diversity or that — if there is — it’s not really a problem (seriously, I had someone say that to me the other day). Those who did show up brought some great insights.

So, here’s our outline along with some notes and commentary. (Shout out to @whitneytaylor for being our volunteer note-taker and to @ivan_nunez for being our Twitterhost!) Also, was great to meet @jaredlukes, @carlos_abler, @melshirley and @kdfindley in person! (There were lots of other people there, too — if you’d like a mention, drop me a line. I didn’t get to talk to everyone one-on-one!)


  • How many people know about Geek Girls Guide? About Flashbelt? Have been to Flashbelt?
    • Most people in the group had heard about the Flashbelt thing (which you can read about here, here and here.) Carlos Abler made a fantastic point during the course of the discussion, that shocking events help you realize what other people are feeling. They help you learn empathy by looking at how and why a person — or a group of people — felt a certain way. He also said that events help you take a postion on an issue, opening up conversation, rather than just starting the conversation out of the blue, which can be harder. Amen, Carlos! This is a great point. For me, the absolute best thing that came out of the Flashbelt situation was the conversations it has opened up.
  • Who’s here today? Developers? Marketers? Designers? IAs? Facebookers? Twitterers?
    • There was a good mix of job titles in the crowd: developers, designers, project managers, IAs — we ran the gamut.
  • How long have you been in the industry? 0-5, 5-10, 10+
    • Again, a good mix of people with a broad range of experience.
  • How many people consider their workplaces:   1. very diverse    2. sort of diverse     3. not diverse
    • Most people considered their workplace “sort of” or “not” diverse. Not surprising, since we’re talking about an industry that lacks diversity and we’re in Minnesota (which, according to 2007 government stats is 89% white).
  • Let’s talk ballpark stats
    • We talked about how hard it is to get overall stats for the interactive industry as a whole. Most stats focus on the dearth of female developers. Other parts of our industry, like designers, writers, information architects, etc. may be more diverse but it’s hard to know.
    • Dave found a fan-freaking-tastic set of stats from A List Apart which shows the industry as overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white. While most of the respondents were developers, there are many other job titles represented in this survey.


  • What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Race, Gender, Age, Disabled?
    • One conversation that came up around diversity was age. One point being that this can be — like advertising — a “young man’s game.” Meaning, the hours and demands can be crazy. Someone brought up the salary issue (women right now make about 78 cents to every dollar earned by a men) and that, in this economy, both young people and women can be seen as desirable beacuse they are willing to work for less. Someone wondered what the industry will do with the “baby boom” of developers that hit an age and don’t want that lifestyle anymore?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does it affect your work, the quality of your work, the quality of your work life?
    • One person mentioned that a diverse team can lead to richer work.
    • We asked everyone why they came. One person pointed out that ours was the only session talking about the people working in Interactive rather than the products or technology. I think this is a great point, and one I’d like to bring up to the folks over at MIMA. Future Summits should include more conversation about the culture of our industry.
    • Somebody else brought up that we work in an irreverent industry. One point that I made is that, while I think issues of diversity and equality are incredibly important, I would hate to see our industry become overly politically correct-ified. If that makes any sense. I love working in an industry that is not formal or stuffy; so, how do we maintain that culture AND be inclusive? I think it’s a happy medium that is difficult, but possible, to find.


So what can we do as individuals  in our own lives to encourage and foster more diversity around us?

  • Mentor (be one, get one)
    • Encourage people in your organization to get involved with mentorship programs, especially in mentoring kids or young professionals outside of our usual networks. @melshirley talked about how her company (a mentoring company) matches executives with kids they would otherwise not encounter. 
    • So, how can we expand outside of our usual networks to reach out to kids (or other adults) that would benefit from our expertise? How could we open the door for a person who otherwise may not know much about the industry.
    • More outreach and introduction to the industry as a whole, for the younger generations (in schools). @KDFindley made a wonderful observation about how more of us should be getting into the schools; it’s unlikely that guidance counselors are even aware of the careers that we have.
    • Carlos stated this as “Create an empowerment model for kids rather than fixing broken adults.” Another person in the group wondered if shifting the talk to empowering kids brushing off the issue now and hope they will fix it tomorrow?
  • Raise boys and girls the same (don’t reinforce stigmas or misconceptions intentionally or accidentally)
  • Subtle environmental things – jokes, holidays, heroes, villains
    • This is a personal peeve of mine. I’ve been known to make my friends and family really uncomfortable if I hear them make a joke that I think is insulting I will say, “That’s not funny.” and walk away. (Wow, I’m making myself sound like a lot of fun at parties, aren’t I?) Most of what we encounter in our daily lives are not “shocking events” but small things that we may not even be conscious of. We should all start being more conscious.
  • Get involved with local programs, start programs, start a blog, become a resource
  • How can you push a diverse culture upwards towards your employers? (encourage corporate sponsorship of something – start something – interns)
    • “Everyone wants this issue to resolve on its own, or not at all. Know where you’re at and live it.” said Dave.
    • “Acknowledge that other cultures and groups have different ways of doing things. Our attitude should be, ‘Here are the tools, do it on your terms.'” Ivan talked about his experience as a person who speaks both English and Spanish and how he’s had people respond to his Spanish tweets with, “English, please.”
    • Dave made a great point, which is that we can’t force the 50/50 thing, but we can work to remove all barriers to entry so that a more fair representation (by gender, race, etc.) would be possible.
  • How do we make working more flexible, we have the technology?
    • This was my point, and one I believe in quite strongly. We are still a new industry, and the access and expertise we have with technology means that we shouldn’t feel constrained to fit into these old business models. As an example, most of the points at which women tend to drop out of the workforce could be mitigated by a more flexible workplace. As a personal example, when I had my second child (which is a point at which many women stop working because of the additional responsibilites of a second child, along with the daycare costs which can sometimes exceed their salary), I presented a plan to my company to institute a Babies at Work program. My son came to work with me several days a week up until he was 6 months old. When I went back to work with my daughter, I worked from home one day a week for the first 6 months. We have the technology! Let’s start using it to create the inclusive, flexible workplaces of the future. There is ROI there, I swear it.


Minnesota High Tech Association –
Minnesota Computers for Schools –
Minnesota MentorNet: A Statewide E-Mentoring Partnership –
The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps –
SeniorNet  –
Center for Children and Technology –
Internal Drive Summer Computer Camps for Kids –
Digital Media Academy –
Finding Ada Lovelace –
Girls in Tech  –
Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications –

If you have more thoughts on the session or resources to add, we’d love to hear them!

Thanks for coming. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being you.


Nontent: The Scourge of the Internet

Last week, I was ranting at chatting with some Clockworkers about something I dubbed “nontent.” Days later, I saw a tweet by @Carlos_Abler complaining of the same thing, “Sick of Blog article titles dripping w/gravitas, but w/articles a paragraph long. INTERNET: THE LARGEST LANDFILL IN THE COSMOS”

Then, @kylemeyer and I had the following exchange over IM:

Kyle Meyer: seen this?
Meghan Wilker: wtf. that seems redonk! “do a blog without actually doing anything”
Kyle Meyer: most blogs right now are just gathering posts in to lists anyway
Meghan Wilker: my “nontent” complaint
Kyle Meyer: was that a GGG post?
Meghan Wilker: i’m working on one about it
Kyle Meyer: ah. well. perfect timing then


What is nontent? Nontent is the useless crap that seems to be proliferating on the Internet now more than ever. The most maddening example of nontent in the wild are blogs that claim to create content which instead, post lists of links to other blogs (which may themselves be full of lists to other blogs and on and on) or nothing more than one to three sentences of barely-useful commentary. Light on facts. Light on anything useful. But with a damn good title designed to pull in a lot of clicks when it gets tweeted.

The fact that this nontent is now multiplying like rabbits on Viagra is, in my opinion, a combination of many factors.

Boost #1: Easy Publishing Tools
The idea of generating content has been gaining steady momentum as online publishing tools have become more accessible and, as a result, more individuals and companies have become comfortable with the idea of being content publishers.

Heck, we all know that publishing, sharing and linking information is the whole point of the Internet. And now that it’s easy for people of all technical levels to create and share information with tools like WordPress, weebly, Blogger, etc., it’s doing its job better than ever.

Boost #2: Search Engines
Search engine optimization techniques aren’t just about using the right keywords in your content, page titles, and image names anymore. They often encourage clients to generate as much content as possible, as often as possible, in an attempt to keep the search engine coming back to your site.

(Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t always a bad thing. If a company or organization has something of value to say, great. What I’m complaining about specifically are content facades; you think there’s something there, but it’s really a lot of nothing.)

In other words, we created search engines to help us find things. We designed them to give more importance to the newest and most popular things. As a result, the production and proliferation of nontent is rewarded by the holy grail of the intarwebs: TRAFFIC.

Boost #3: Social Media
And how do you get more and more traffic? Why, you get on Twitter, you read an article called “How to get a ba-jillion followers”, and you start tweeting about all the articles you are writing on your blog. Your tweet is indexed by the search engine. Your followers re-tweets of your tweets are indexed. Your blog post (nevermind that it contains only three sentences) are indexed.

Don’t even get me started on services like (which is, itself, a shameless rip-off of which help provide us all with links to stuff that PEOPLE ARE ALREADY LOOKING AT. Gar!

Rethinking Relevance

None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But, the ease of creating and publishing content and the importance we all lend to what is new and trafficked has also made it desirable for people to create and publish meaningless crap. Nontent. The digital kudzu of the Internet, choking out the valuable content with it’s newness and tweetability. At some point, I hope that we (and by “we” I mean Google) adjust our idea of relevance to mean something more than what is new and popular. I want my top results to be what is valuable, thoughtful and factual.

Content Curators

How to do this is a tougher question. As the ability for us all to create and share content with the touch of a button increases, and as search engines automatically index that content and help us find it, we’ve shifted the power from media outlets to we, the people. But, as part of this power shift, we’ve started to weed out those we used to rely on to curate content. The people whose job it was to separate the wheat from the chaff (like editors) and help us find what we want based on what we mean vs. what we say (like librarians). We must now figure out on our own if our information sources are reliable or not. We now rely on Google to take what we say in keywords and give us what they think we are looking for. We now generate the wheat, and the chaff, and it all seems to have just about an equal chance at gaining attention. Fact and fiction now travel at the same warp speed.

I’m not saying I want to return to the old models, or that I think that in the “good old days” of mass media domination all editorial sources were trustworthy and reliable, but I’m also feeling like the new model is starting to be too Wild West to be trusted. That it’s too easy to game the system.

But, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe we, the people, will police all of this just fine. (Hell, when Wikipedia was compared to the Encyclopedia Brittanica it held up pretty damn well.) Or maybe nontent will just be another Internet pest to be tolerated and managed, like SPAM.

There are certainly plenty of good people and good sites creating good content. Perhaps they will win out over the nontent echo chamber. I sure hope so. The death of nontent can’t come soon enough for me.

Think I’m full of nontent? Let me know. I can take it.

Have An Idea? Leave An Idea. Need An Idea? Get An Idea.

Here at the Geek Girls Guide we’re constantly talking about ways in which people can empower and enrich their lives by embracing even the simplest technology.  Our mission is to start a movement of people unafraid of tech — we want to make adventurers of even the most tentative of adopters. 

Recently we facilitated a rather controversial conversation on this blog. People from all over contributed opinions, criticism, feedback and ideas to that discussion and it got us thinking — how can we continue the best of that dialogue?  We decided to create a space on our website for ideas and conversation around them.  It seems simple, but in this crazy digital age information moves at the speed of light and ideas happen and are lost in a blink.  Some people have brilliant ideas and no interest in realizing them.  Other folks are constantly looking for ideas to bring to fruition.  And, in some cases, ideas are just seeds that, when planted, can grow into something much bigger than originally thought. 

We decided (with the help of Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary member and uber engineer Matt Gray) to create a little idea incubator here on Geek Girls Guide and open it up to you, our readers and community, to contribute to it.  If you add an idea you’ll see that other people can vote on it, or discuss it in the comments. Share your ideas around making the interactive and technology industries places where men and women collaborate, communicate and create together. Or maybe you have a product idea, or ideas for non-profits that might help them further their mission. Maybe you have an idea for a new non-profit that fosters healthy attitudes about technology or funds technology education in urban areas.  Whatever it is, your innovation, brain power and feedback is valuable to this process. We want to find the best ideas and the people in the industry willing to help make them happen. Together, we can create change.  Join us.  Join the conversation.  Join the movement.


A Response from Hoss Gifford and a Follow-up by Dave Schroeder

Dave and Hoss sent us the following letters this morning. We hope that everyone who has been involved takes the time to read them.

There is one important note that we feel compelled to add to the discussion at this point: We do not condone or endorse the negative, vitriolic and, in some cases, violent direction that many of the tweets and comments in this discussion have taken. Our intention was to start a public conversation, not to threaten anyone or make them fearful.

There has been lots of ugliness in this conversation. We don’t support that, but we can’t control the conversation. We’ve tried to do what we can to keep it productive and positive. The good news is that a vocal discussion is taking place that indicates that there may be a positive impact beyond just the Minneapolis community. Thanks to everyone who has contributed constructively to the discussion.

Read Dave’s letter >

I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.

I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well.  I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt.  Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees.  The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him.  I take full responsibility for this.  I exercised poor judgment.  I admit to my mistakes. read more >

Read Hoss’s Letter >

On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected. read more >

Dave Schroeder: A continuation of my comments and apology regarding Hoss Gifford’s talk at Flashbelt.

I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.

I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well.  I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt.  Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees.  The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him.  I take full responsibility for this.  I exercised poor judgment.  I admit to my mistakes.

However, I can’t in good conscience just leave him out to there to burn at the stake as he currently is. It would be easy to let him be the sacrificial lamb and for me to try and save my reputation.  Perhaps all I’ll do is end up on the stake with him, I can handle that, I deserve that, but I can’t live with myself if I don’t put all of my cards on the table here and represent my complete feelings on this matter to everyone, about everyone.  My reputation should be tarnished, I made serious errors and I accept the repercussions.

I’ve known Hoss for a few years. I’ve had good, respectable fun with him.  I like him as a person.  He has a sharp mind.  He has a good heart.  I’ve included comments about his person from the beginning.  For those who find that unimaginable, I suspect you don’t know him personally, or outside for the buzz around his presentation at Flashbelt.   I believe that whether you know him or not, everyone’s opinion on the content of his presentation is valid.  REPEAT, all opinions are valid whether you were there or not.  But certainly some opinions are more informed, and are more aware of the actual content than others, and it makes sense to give different degrees of consideration to these opinions.  Several people who were in attendance have posted their views on the session. I encourage you to find and read their posts, simply to be as informed as possible.

Finally, the calls to incite hatred and cause physical harm to him are simply absurd to me, and to a real degree dangerous.  Comments and calls to action of that sort are unsophisticated and unproductive.    Imagine if people had access to social media during the Salem witch hunts or the era of McCarthyism.   Would we have burned more witches because of Twitter, or would we have stopped it sooner because of Twitter?  I’m not talking about the cause of the mob here; being a witch or a communist is not equatable to Hoss’ presentation.  The offense was committed for sure.  But the way in which the public carries itself in response to any controversy is worth reflection.

*One amendment to my first response and apology; I referred to Hoss’ content as offensive and misogynistic in my apology.  Now that I’ve had the chance to talk with more people who attended the session.   I believe that it was offensive, but misogynistic (hatred of women) is not correct.  I know Hoss well enough to know he’s not a misogynist.  If I thought that about him I would never have booked him. Accurate language is very important.

Hoss contacted me Saturday. We spoke Sunday. I can assure you his taking this seriously as well and feels badly about the effect of his presentation.

Dave Schroeder
Flashbelt Producer
[email protected]

Letter from Hoss:

On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected.

In order for people that were not present at the presentation to develop a more informed opinion, I have posted the content of my slides and sites I linked out to at

I would like to point out that, at the time of writing this, I have received considerably more positive feedback on my Flashbelt presentation than negative – if you exclude those who did not attend the presentation. This affirmation includes female attendees going out their way to stop me at the conference and thank me openly for my presentation. I have received no emails, phone calls or any other form of direct contact with any negative comments.

It’s also worth noting that in the couple of days I spent at the conference venue after my presentation, not a single person approached me to express any concern about any part of my presentation. I attended presentations and the organised evening events making myself very visible, and yet nobody complained to me.

I can be crude and my presentations can be risqué but I am neither sexist nor a misogynist. I am concerned that my presentation is being described as being loaded with both. Not guilty. I have a strong willed wife and two young daughters – I wouldn’t last two minutes with the merest hint of misogyny. That said, my presentation could definitely cause offence to some people in society, and I have never tried to be to everyone’s taste.

To quote Courtney Remes, “It’s all about context. This was not the right context for Hoss.” She’s absolutely right. It was a mistake for my presentation to feature as a keynote presentation at Flashbelt – even if it had been labelled as having adult content as some have suggested. With the benefit of hindsight I should have suggested a less prominent spot, or even an evening appearance at a bar venue. Either way, there will always be people that feel there is no place for a presentation like mine, as there will always be people that would like to ban lewd comedians and violent video games.

I do, however, owe one further apology. But first some context. I spent the the morning leading up to my presentation in Fairview hospital ER being treated for a broken hand, which was splinted (still is, as I type this), and I was given a strong pain killer called Vicodin. I gave my talk while heavily under the influence of Vicodin, and as a result of this poor judgement I was looser with my language than I would normally have been, but the content of my presentation went ahead as planned. One statement I made, that if you are easily offended then f*** you, was wrong, and out of character, and I apologise to everyone that attended my presentation for this. If you get the opportunity to listen to a recording of the talk you will hear me stumbling for something to say as I resort to the profanity. I would not have made this offensive statement if I hadn’t been non compos mentis.

My conference presentation has evolved over the last 8 years based on both the direction my work, and crucially, the feedback I get from my talks – and I get a lot. Prior to this talk I received zero complaints regarding offending any members of the audience. I accept this is no guarantee that nobody was offended, but I can only work with the feedback I receive. The irreverent side to my presentations historically received the most praise and I reacted accordingly by increasing the level of banter.

The more raucous my presentation became, the better the feedback I received and in turn the more conference organisers invited me to speak. When a conference invites me to speak they know my talk will be as risqué and entertaining as it is informative. Flashbelt is no exception in this.

Indeed, I performed the exact same presentation two weeks earlier at the Flash on Tap conference in Boston, with a great deal of positive feedback, and more than three quarters of the presentation was made at conferences in Brighton, Belgium, and Germany last year – again with universally positive feedback. Now I have feedback of another nature and I will absolutely take this on board.

But try for a second, if you will, to put yourself in my shoes.

You’ve been making conference presentations that have brought positive feedback for many years and Flashbelt initially seems no different. But all of a sudden there is a massive backlash against your appearance, a backlash full of inaccuracies and exaggerations – what we call tabloid journalism in the UK – a type of journalism where facts needn’t be checked if they can bring in readers. Do you start posting a defence, pointing out the inaccuracies, and try to get people to see sense? Or do you do what I did, and read everything that’s written on the subject and wait for the dust to settle and tempers to cool.

The problem with waiting is that the mob gets restless – they are out for blood. Consider reading the cry for you to be set on fire, the cry for you to be waterboarded. Consider, as I had to yesterday morning, what to tell your wife when she doesn’t want to open the blinds in your house for fear that someone is waiting out there to cause you harm.

If Flashbelt had booked an adult comedian for the conference who had caused offence would you be set on destroying their career as a comedian, and work on a witch hunt to destroy their day job while you were at it? All because they did what they do, but in the wrong context.

It may seem perverse, but I am delighted at the quantity (if not the quality) of dialogue that this has initiated around the subject of equality in the developer community. I would love to see more female speakers at conferences, as I know of so many phenomenally talented women in influential positions (just look at the Flash Player dev team for example). But don’t forget how many fabulous female speakers there already are. In the Flash community I have yet to see Veronique Brossier, Niqui Merret, or Stacey Mulcahy give a bad talk, and Flashbelt this year was no exception. But until now I’ve never really thought anything of them being girls, they were always just talented peers.

Where do we go from here? I suspect this isn’t the lie-down-and-kick-me apology that the lynch mob is looking for and some will continue their mission for blood. These are the people that wrote tweets and comments with the line “I wasn’t there but…” in them. We all know the ignorance of people who use the lines “I’m not racist but…” and “I’m not sexist but…”.

There is nothing I can do to stop these people from putting their energy into destroying my career. If that’s what you feel would be most productive in achieving your goals then there’s nothing me or anyone else is going to say to slow you down.

To those of you who are using this eruption of attention to address the real issue of gender equality within our industry, I salute you. I encourage everyone to take part in the dialogue and to help make a tangible difference in the future. If you feel there is anything I can do to help, then post a comment – I read them all.

In addition to my apologies I have some thanks to give. First and foremost I’d like to thank Courney Remes for making a stand and going out on a limb to initiate this whole dialogue. Hopefully in the future, this won’t be considered ‘going out on a limb’. I’d also like to thank Dave Schroeder for being the utmost professional by being both supportive and accountable. Flashbelt really is one of the best conferences in the world and it’s all down to Dave – don’t let this incident put you off. Thanks also go out to Nancy and Meghan for providing a home f
or this discourse, and helping keeping things on topic when the lynch mob started to get out of control.

Perhaps my biggest thanks, however, go out to the people that also went out on a limb and posted a more rounded account of what went down. In the heat of the moment when the accusation is misogyny, it could be construed that to ask people to rationally consider the situation is to condone such behaviour. Thankfully there are enough level headed people out there to realise there is usually more than one side to a story. You know who you are – I am in your debt.

Once again, to Courtney and the other men and women in the audience that took offence to my presentation, I apologise unreservedly. I really do hope we can now turn this into a debate that creates a positive outcome.

Hoss Gifford.
Glasgow, June 15th 2009.

We’re In This Together, by Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker

Read Courtney’s letter

Well. My letter-turned-blog entry sparked some responses. A lot of them. I’m heartened that so many people have been so overwhelmingly supportive — but I also knew there might be some disagreement and debate. This is a normal part of any serious conversation about complex and important issues, though, and should be expected – and encouraged. By sharing my experience, I hoped to make space for this conversation, to open a dialogue, to help give voice to an issue worth speaking about. read more >

Read Dave’s letter

I want to assure you that I’m deeply upset about the presentation given recently at the Flashbelt Conference by Hoss Gifford. I’m disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen and I accept responsibility for it. I apologize for it.

His presentation included several offensive and misogynistic elements that I do not condone. I realize as the creator and producer of this conference I have the sole responsibility for the content presented and in this instance I have clearly failed to live up to my own standards, and the standards expected of me by the attendees, our industry and the general public. read more >

Read Meghan and Nancy’s letter

This is not a crusade against Flashbelt, an attack on Dave Schroeder or an attempt to lump all men into a tongue-waggling wolf-whistling boy’s club. This isn’t about anyone’s delicate lady ears not being able to handle the word fuck.
This is a specific account of a presentation at an event that — sadly —  is an example of behavior and attitudes toward women that are not as uncommon as you might think. read more >

From Courtney Remes (@totage)

Well. My letter-turned-blog entry sparked some responses. A lot of them. I’m heartened that so many people have been so overwhelmingly supportive — but I also knew there might be some disagreement and debate. This is a normal part of any serious conversation about complex and important issues, though, and should be expected – and encouraged. By sharing my experience, I hoped to make space for this conversation, to open a dialogue, to help give voice to an issue worth speaking about.

There has been some talk about how this conversation will ruin Flashbelt, about campaigning against men, and about how I was calling the flash community a “boys’ club.” Those are not and never were my intentions. Outside this Hoss incident, I love Flashbelt, otherwise I would not have kept coming back. Over the years, Dave has continued to bring to Minneapolis some seriously talented and inspiring people and I support his efforts. And he has also taken responsibility for the Hoss booking and is very open to discourse and new, positive action. Let’s get those things clear. I also want to point out that this is also just not a “women’s issue” – it’s a community issue. I know that a lot of the men in the audience were as stunned as I was at Hoss’ keynote and felt that it was totally inappropriate in that context. All of us would have preferred to have had our imagination sparked, our minds invigorated, and our love of creative work confirmed and encouraged. Hoss stole those classic Flashbelt moments from us – and replaced them with an energy and dynamic not becoming of an intelligent, forward-thinking group of people.

This is an opportunity for us to step back and ask some important questions of ourselves: When a person or organization creates an environment that appears to foster a “boy’s club” mentality, how do we react – and make sure that it doesn’t happen again? How do we value our differences without isolating or ostracizing?  How do we rise above the divisions and name-calling – and spend our energy on healthy discourse and forward-thinking actions (and the creative work we love so much)? It’s up to us to decide: what sort of dynamic do we want to create, within the Flash community and in any professional environment?

This is an opportunity for Flashbelt – and for all of us – to take this to a higher, more positive level. We don’t need to be tripped up by something like this or collapse in on ourselves. We’re smarter than that. And there are a lot of us – Dave and Flashbelt, Geek Girls, and everyone who has been touched by this incident. How can we keep this conversation from disintegrating – and, instead, transform it to good use? back to top ^

From Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt), Flashbelt Director

I want to assure you that I’m deeply upset about the presentation given recently at the Flashbelt Conference by Hoss Gifford. I’m disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen and I accept responsibility for it. I apologize for it.
His presentation included several offensive and misogynistic elements that I do not condone. I realize as the creator and producer of this conference I have the sole responsibility for the content presented and in this instance I have clearly failed to live up to my own standards, and the standards expected of me by the attendees, our industry and the general public.

Gender issues in general and in our industry are of great importance to me. I consider myself a feminist and don’t hesitate to say it. I want our industry to be a place where all genders and races work together in a respectful, supportive fashion. That has been my M.O. since day 1 and is not just a wake up call brought on by this instance. Working together, men and women can elevate their skills, creativity and successes. The ultimate goal of Flashbelt is to aid every attendee in their desire to further their professional skills and knowledge. I want men and women to mingle, talk shop, have fun and geek out. Allowing a presentation to create an atmosphere that hinders this scenario is tragic failure on my part.

Off color jokes and boys’ clubs exist in the workplace and it’s not cool. These things can add up to create an environment in which women feel like outsiders, or on unequal footing with their male co-workers. As for suggestions along the lines of growing a thicker skin, or leaving if you don’t like it, I don’t accept that rationale. It’s flawed. I know many women that do this in order to cope, but it’s not a solution. Inappropriate behavior needs to be addressed by everyone in the room. And in my opinion, it’s not all that hard to just be a good person and get out of your old ways. I think some men have a tendency to default to poor behavior because it’s what they’ve known, and provides and easier way to connect with other males. It’s low hanging fruit. You don’t have to be that clever to be a “guy’s guy”. On the flip side, I know several women who can swear like truckers with the best of ’em, and who will whoop your booty in a game of agency dodge ball. There’s really a lot more common ground between men and women than we sometimes see. So I encourage you to take minute and assess how you fit into this issue, what you believe and how others around you carry themselves. I’ve been very fortunate to work with great teams of men and women over the years and when those teams operate in a respectful, supportive way, they really rock the block. And it’s more fun for everyone. I should add that I know a lot of men in this industry who feel the same way as I do about this. In fact, I would suggest that the majority of them do. If you follow the social media buzz you’ll see several of these men commenting on this issue. It’s one of the reasons I love my job and this field. There really is a great cross section of creative and interesting people around us doing great things, in respectful ways.

I started the Flashbelt conference 6 years ago in Minneapolis with a mission statement: The mission of Flashbelt is to bring together new media designers, developers and enthusiasts to share knowledge, inspiration and build community. Since the first event I have been the sole organizer and producer of the event. I’ve been able to gather together some of the most exciting minds in the field and present them to my attendees. I call them my attendees because I think of them as my responsibility, and my friends. I pride myself on the presentations I’m able to arrange and beam in the encouraging feedback I get every year from them. This event is my baby. I pour myself into it. In Minneapolis I’ve arranged 14 workshops and over 180 presentations. Nothing like this has happened before. This is a blip — a big blip that I will not soon forget. And again, it’s one that I take full responsibility for. But I hope that my overall track record can serve as better indicator of my ambitions and agenda for the Flashbelt conference.

I want to personally thank Courtney Remes for her blog post and having the strength to address this issue. She and I know each other via the conference over the years and I would like to directly apologize to her for subjecting her to this presentation. We’ve been speaking and I’m saddened to hear about the effect the session has had on her, as well as some of the follow up comments coming out online. She’s a cool person and I commend her for speaking out. This is a subject that requires further conversation and hopefully this can be a point of ignition that results in some progress around this issue. (By the way, she mentioned to me that’s she not thrilled to be in the spotlight because of this and I encourage you keep that in mind. She’s rightfully, genuinely concerned and not just putting stuff out there to rant or see how many hits she can get. She’s good people.)

Courtney along with Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker of the and I had a meeting on June 12th to discuss things and I can safely say that we are all on the same page. Nancy and Meghan are nice, supportive people and I think what they’re doing with the resource for women online is wonderful. I’m thankful they have been open to hearing me out and have offered to help assist me in setting the record straight, and posting this letter. They’re very fair and I appreciate that. A lot of energy and buzz has been brought on by this event. We will be working together to guide that energy in a pro-active direction.

Attendees. I certainly owe every attendee at Flashbelt this year and over years an apology for this as well. They’ve been a wonderful group of people and I failed you by delivering conference content well below the level you’ve grown to expect and deserve. I will be messaging all 2009 attendees directly with this same apology. For those male and female attendees who have sent notes of support I appreciate it. I encourage you all to get involved with this discussion. You are very important to me.

Sponsors. I also apologize to the companies and individuals that have sponsored and marketed at Flashbelt over the years. They expect to be associated with a good event that enhances your image and visibility and benefits your customers. I failed to deliver that this year. In no way should anyone hold these sponsors responsible for this situation. They have been great partners over the years and their involvement allows Flashbelt to be the great event that it is. I value their support and regret that my judgment has failed them in this instance. Thank you for your continued support.

Speakers. It greatly saddens me that the big buzz about Flashbelt this year is focused on one individual when I know that the other 39 speakers delivered excellent presentations. They put countless hours in to preparing for their talks. They’re brilliant and I’m very fortunate to have them participate in my little event. I encourage everyone to search twitter @flashbelt for tweets that took place between June 7th and 10th to get sense of what attendees had to say about the other sessions they we’re witnessing at Flashbelt. These speakers deserve to be in the limelight at this point for their awesome presentations. I’m sorry. You know I love you.

How did this happen?
There is no long exhaustive answer. I made a terrible error in judgment. I knew there was potential for this to occur and I blew it. And for that I deserve to on the hot seat for this. Hot seat accepted. Which I think raises a good point about the gender issues addressed above. Even a guy like me, who knows what is appropriate and what is inappropriate can be lazy at times, or even appear to be in a mild coma when inappropriate behavior occurs. It’s important keep your own values close and online all the time. I’ll certainly be working to improve thi
s aspect of myself.

Hoss Gifford. I feel that I have failed Hoss, too, by not addressing some of his inappropriate behaviors. This is another piece of the puzzle. Sometimes we let people we like get away with doing or saying things we don’t like, but eventually that hurts everyone. So it’s good to speak up when you see anyone going down the wrong path. That is respectful as well. Hoss is a person like all of us, and all of us can change if we want to, and can learn to see things differently. If he’s open to it, I will certainly take time to work with him on these things. Abuse him if you must, but keep in mind that there is a heart and soul there as well. I’m not defending his presentation; I’m just saying that his presentation is a part of him, not all of him. I believe that it’s better to help people change their ways than to push them farther back into a corner and if he’s open to talking about that, I’ll participate.

Now What? What’s done is done and we can’t go back in time. How I wish I could. We can only move forward and attempt to use this event to make some change. I will personally work out a more formal way to vet and qualify speakers and their content. This egregious error on my part will not be repeated. There are a lot of good brains out there following this and I am open to your suggestions as well.

Moving Forward.
In an attempt to take advantage of the energy that has arisen around this issue, with assistance from Courtney, Nancy and Meghan, I will be organizing and sponsoring a meeting event focused on gender issues in our field. Hopefully this will occur within the next few weeks. Please stay tuned and get involved.

Once again, I am deeply saddened by what has transpired. I take this very seriously. I accept complete responsibility. I will work tirelessly to make Flashbelt the event that people have come to expect. And it will not be an event that in anyway condones behavior that is inappropriate. I will not let you down again. Please accept my apology. back to top ^

From Nancy Lyons (@nylons) and Meghan Wilker (@irishgirl), Geek Girls Guide

This is not a crusade against Flashbelt, an attack on Dave Schroeder or an attempt to lump all men into a tongue-waggling wolf-whistling boy’s club. This isn’t about anyone’s delicate lady ears not being able to handle the word fuck.

This is a specific account of a presentation at an event that — sadly —  is an example of behavior and attitudes toward women that are not as uncommon as you might think.

Does it happen overtly every single day? No.

Does it happen more than it should? Yes.

Should it stop? Yes.

Are there men who aren’t anything like this? YES! And many of them — including Dave — have expressed their dismay at what happened.

Are there plenty of successful, geeky women who don’t let things like this slow them down, or stop them? YES! We consider ourselves among them. We know for damn sure Courtney is one of them. We love our jobs. We love our industry. We love our geeky male peers who treat us as equals and who agree that crap like this is not okay!  But the expectation that we should not be angry over this is offensive. Using words like “lynching” or “jihad” or “crusade” doesn’t move the conversation forward in any way.  There is no point to anger without action.

We’re saddened that the discussion has, for some, devolved into inflammatory exchanges. That’s the nature of social media and things have taken on a life of their own. But, we’re not sorry that we said something about it. Accepting things with silence and a smile is not okay.

Our hope in posting Courtney’s experience was that professional women and men would rally against this sort of behavior, just like they have done.

We couldn’t very well have the discussion without calling out the event and the event’s producer.  We do not apologize for that.  But we do admire and appreciate Dave’s courage in being willing to step up and work with us to move the conversation in a positive direction.

To his credit, Dave responded quickly to this and admitted making a big mistake. Everyone needs to recognize that it is difficult to publicly admit to a mistake and we know he feels lousy. We are standing up with him here to talk about how to channel this energy into something positive.

If you are angry about what happened, great. So are we.  But, please turn those feelings into some positive action or all of this will have been for naught.

Dave offered to host a panel discussion about this in Minneapolis. Later today, we’re going to try to launch a separate page on this site for people to submit additional ideas to this discussion.

Where else can we go from here? Here are a few ideas; pick one of these, or come up with your own!
– Dave offered to host a panel discussion about this in Minneapolis. Think about attending or speaking.
– Support organizations that encourage girls and women to get into — and to stay in — technology careers.
– If you are a woman with an established career in this industry, reach out to those who are younger than you and pull the next one up. Embrace your expertise and submit yourself for consideration to speak at events.
– If you are a man, don’t tolerate this kind of behavior from your peers. Speak up in defense of your female peers, whether they are in the room or not.

We started the conversation, but we can’t control it. The situation has raised a rat’s nest of complex issues, which we can’t solve in 140 characters or less.  But talking about them can hopefully increase understanding on both sides and make things better for the next generation of little geeks coming up in the world  — girls and boys alike.

No doubt, next year’s Flashbelt conference will be richer, and more rewarding, because of the dialogue we’re having today. back to top ^

Prude or Professional? by Courtney Remes

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

Today we received the following email from a respected colleague outlining her experience at a recent Flash developer conference in Minneapolis.  We asked for her permission to post it here in the hopes of sending a very strong message to the conference organizers and sponsors, but also to the Interactive community at large.  It’s hard enough for women to be taken seriously in the technology space.  Certainly, there are plenty of successful, celebrated women here.  But when we hear about situations like this we realize that, in spite of all the progress we’ve made, we still have such a huge fight ahead of us.

Don’t get us wrong, we are not women who can’t handle off-color humor, or provocative messages, or even erotic digital art.  But each of these has its place.  Paying for a professional conference and being subjected to this kind of content is infuriating.

Let’s talk about the content: was it reviewed by the program’s producers?  If so, they failed.  If not, they failed.

As managers of a Minneapolis-based Interactive shop, we know the Flashbelt demographic is largely young, white males (in fact, we saw many of them at the Flashbelt afterparty at Nye’s Polonaise Room last night).  Is this the standard we’re setting for them as professionals?

If, after reading this post, you find this as abhorrent as we do, then do something about it.

  • Contact the event organizers and make them aware of your concern over this kind of content being celebrated at their events.
  • Contact the event sponsors and tell them how this impacts your impression of their products and services.
    • UPDATE (6/11): Dave Schroeder, the Flashbelt organizer, has been very responsive both privately (via emails to us, Courtney and others who have emailed him directly) and publicly (with an open letter on the Flashbelt site).
    • UPDATE (6/12): Dave Schroeder, Courtney Remes, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met this morning and had a great discussion. We’re working together on a united response, which will be posted here as soon as it’s done. This has obviously touched a nerve with a lot of people. Let’s keep the dialogue going, and let’s keep it positive and respectful. We finished our response! Read it here.
  • Comment on this post and let it serve as a petition.
  • Tweet about this and use the hashtag #prosnotprudes.
  • Digg this and let’s make a statement.

“Boys will be boys,” is not an attitude that professional men and women can afford to support anymore. And, Courtney, thanks for sticking your neck out. We’re grateful that you’re willing to share your story.

WARNING: The following contains graphic descriptions and words that some may find objectionable. It’s not safe for work, children, grandparents or small animals.

Ok, so, I want to share this experience with you and get your take on it.

I have been attending only the afternoons of Flashbelt this year because I didn’t want to take the full days off — and because in years past (I think I’ve been to at least three others) the afternoon keynote is totally mindblowingly talented and innovative and has provided me with that out-of-the-ordinary experience that temporarily removes you from your everyday routine and inspires you to be more creative.  In short, I wanted to be inspired.

Yesterday’s afternoon keynote is this guy named Hoss Gifford — I believe his major claim to fame is that viral “spank the monkey” thing that went around a few years back.  Highlights of his talk:

  • He opens his keynote with one of those “Ignite”-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman’s lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say “drink me,” with Hoss’s Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.
  • He later demos a drawing tool he has created (admittedly with someone else’s code) and invites a woman to come up to try it.  After she sits back down, he points out that in her doodles she’s drawn a “cock.”
  • Then he decides he wants to give a try at using the tool to draw a “cock” (he loves this word) — and draws a face, then a giant dick (he redraws it three times) that ultimately cums all over the face.
  • A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also “If you are easily offended, fuck you!”
  • And then, to top it off, a self-made flash movie of an animated woman’s face, positioned as if she’s having sex with you, who gradually orgasms based on the speed of your mouse movement on the page.

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded and easy-going person, but I was shocked that this was considered appropriate material for a conference about innovative developments in the world of flash and the greater creative field.  And that I’d paid to see this.  And that a number of people laughed at his jokes — perhaps because probably 90-95% of the people there were male.  Having been a computer science major in college and a programmer for the last 9 years, I’m using to being the minority in these sort of development environments, but this was the first time I really felt like it was a boys’ club.  A boys’ club where “girls” could hang out, but they are ultimately considered nothing more than objects of sexual gratification.

I checked Twitter (hashtag #flashbelt) to see what the responses were.  Here are some notable remarks:

  • Fonx is reading the #flashbelt rants on Hoss offending the ladies w/ a few swear words & a penis drawing – r u really that prudish & sexist?
  • nthitz lol @hoss69 “If you are easily offended, fuck you” #flashbelt
  • livenootrac Ladies of #flashbelt , I am sorry for the Hoss preso, but in the flash community he gets a pass, kinda like Don Rickles – that’s just Hoss.
  • CujoJpn @livenootrac And there were many ladies at #flashbelt who were offended by Hoss’ Preso some were thick skinned and took it as is.

So, if you didn’t like it then
a) you are a prude – and sexist (?)
b) fuck you
c) suck it because Hoss gets a pass here in the boy’s club known as “the flash community” and
d) you are a wimpy girl who isn’t strong enough / man enough / “thick-skinned” enough  to deal with it.

Uh?  Aren’t we in 2009?  Do we have to “deal with” shit like this still?  I just did a “Mad Men” mini-marathon the other day and one of the common themes is men being total dicks to women and women crying in the bathroom because they can’t speak out about it.  I remember thinking “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t live then.”  And yet you can see the backlash you get if you speak about this sort of thing, NOW.

Since yesterday I’ve been thinking a lot about this, the psychological and social and gender things involved, what it means, what to do about it, etc.  I did immediately write to the director and creator of Flashbelt — and he apologized and said he and I were on the same page and wanted to talk to me about it more.  But I also felt like I wanted to continue a conversation with other women like you, get your take on it, find out if you think I’m just being a baby and too sensitive or what.  To me, this is totally unacceptable.


P.S.  I forgot to mention Hoss’ subsequent tweet on the subject:
Some hated it, more loved it – girls AND boys. Apologies to those offended, but I’ll take raw emotion over indifference any day. #flashbelt

P.P.S.  And finally, this was my favorite tweet (from another woman in attendance):
dlicht Thanks for the Tweets on Hoss’ presentation tonight…they serve as a good filter on who NOT to give my phone number to! #flashbelt

Courtney Remes, Geek

Courtney Remes is creative strategist with more than a decade’s experience in the interactive world.

Before starting Arrowplane, Courtney co-founded Synthetic Kit, where she was Principal and Senior Developer for four years.  Courtney also served for several years as Web & Technology Chair and Co-Vice President of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA), one of the country’s largest and most active IMAs.

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

David Allen, Me, and the Thousand Dollar Tweet

A week ago today, around 4:30pm, I was sitting at the Clockwork kitchen table (kind of like I am right now as I write this) and working. While rocking through emails, I saw a note from David Allen about an upcoming GTD seminar called “Making It All Work.” I perked up immediately, as I’m a huge fan of David Allen. I read his first book, Getting Things Done, about four years ago and have been working on adopting his methodologies ever since. I noticed that the closest city he’d be speaking in was Chicago (I’m in Minneapolis). I daydreamed for a moment about being able to go. But, it was in Chicago. And it was $995 (not including airfare). So I gave up.

But, before really giving up on the dream, I tweeted: “I wish the magical money fairy would give me cash to go see @gtdguy in Chicago!” Then, I sighed wistfully and moved on.

And then, a few minutes later, David Allen direct messaged me back: “Meghan, you’re welcome to come as my guest tomorrow at the Omni. My treat. All for posting your note.”


I nearly passed out. Then, I nearly declined. But, my co-workers were egging me on, “C’mon, Southwest Airlines flies there now! YOU GOTTA DO IT!” So I didn’t say no. I went home and talked to my husband. If I was going to go, we’d need to coordinate me being gone from the wee morning hours until the evening, which meant he’d be on his own for the morning and after-work hours (no easy task with a three-year-old and a six-month-old). He was also presenting that evening at Ignite Minneapolis, and I’d miss his presentation.

Long story short, we worked it all out: I got up on Wednesday morning at 5am to catch a 7am flight to Midway and spent the day with someone I idolize. I stepped off the elevator at the Omni and there he was! In person! I shook his hand and tried not to come off like a dorky fangirl. I got my conference materials and stepped into the conference room, expecting to see 100 people. There were about 25. WHAT? I was about to spend an entire day with with a handful of other people listening to, and talking with, David Allen.

I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of such a last-minute opportunity if it weren’t for three things:
1. an employer who supported my desire to go and
2. the fact that I already follow the GTD methodology enough that I could pick up and go for a whole day and know, confidently, that nothing would blow up and
3. Twitter.

Think about it: in what other universe would a random woman from Minnesota (me) be able to directly contact a best-selling author who travels the world (David Allen) and GET A RESPONSE? Within minutes, even! That is the insane power of Twitter. If the “celebrities” who use it are using it to actually connect and converse with their audience, they can develop an incredibly powerful connection.

Last night, David Armano led a discussion about the future of advertising (I wasn’t there, but I watched in on UStream and followed the tweetstream from home with a baby on my lap — another social media WIN!). My favorite thought from his presentation was the comparison of the mass media audience vs. the social media audience. That advertisers and brands (and let’s face it: authors, celebrities, etc. are brands) need to weigh the value of reaching millions of potential viewers against the value of thousands of engaged consumers.

I was already an engaged consumer of the David Allen “brand.” I’ve even given informal presentations inside our organization around how people can apply his productivity principles to our work.. Through Twitter, I was able to connect with him in a way that would not have been possible years ago. And, by investing just a few minutes of his time in tweeting back to me (and the cost of giving me a complimentary admission to his seminar) David Allen solidified my loyalty to him, his “brand” and his product. More cost effective than a print ad? I have to believe it is. I’ve told this story to anyone who will listen, including to a roomful of people at Social Media Bootcamp last Friday.

Added bonus? As I boarded the plane in Chicago, and as soon as we touched down in Minneapolis I pulled up the #ignitempls tweetstream and was able to follow along what was happeninig with the presentations. The minute I walked in the door, I pulled up the live UStream feed and caught the tail end of the video. The next morning, I checked out my husband’s presentation. So, while I wasn’t there in person to cheer him on, I was able to send him supporting tweets. I was able to “listen in” on what was happening and tweet to people I knew who were there. They gave him the support that I wasn’t there to give. Through social media, we had a shared experience despite our physical separation.

The real power of social media is in it’s versatility: it can be used for a business or a brand, and it can be used to stay connected with the ones we love.

I’m fond of comparing social media to a hammer: you can pound a nail, you can pull a nail or you can hit yourself in the face. How you use it, and therefore your feelings about it’s usefulness, are really up to you.

Lots of people have asked me about GTD: what is it, how do i use it and why do I like it. I’m working on a follow-up post about that.
Update: I finally wrote a GTD post on June 24: read it here.

Does Your Site Need a Makeover? Part I of II

Recently, at my “day job“, a client asked, “How do I know when it’s time to refresh our site?” She offered this analogy, “I don’t want our site to be the woman with the same hairstyle 30 years later.”

My reply? “Yes, but you also don’t want to be the grandma wearing skinny jeans and a Juicy couture shirt.”

Because many of our readers work in marketing and communications, I thought this topic would be helpful to cover here at the Geek Girls Guide. Quite often, those who are in charge of the budgets for web sites aren’t always confident in their own knowledge base on the topic. We’d like to change that. We’re working on a series of posts aimed at helping people evaluate their needs and make good decisions about their web site. We’ve also got some guest posts in the works from do-it-yourselfers — small or independent business owners who, because of budget, need to do things on their own.

So, back to the topic at hand: how do you know when it’s time to give your site a refresh? (I almost used the word facelift, but I really can’t stomach the plastic surgery analogy!) And, how do you know whether you need a refresh or an overhaul?


First, I suggest evaluating your web site annually.

  • Put a recurring event on your calendar so that you don’t forget, and in the description or notes section add the following list of my suggestions and any others that you think of that are specific to your site, industry or business.
  • Don’t schedule it around the first of the year; there’s too much other stuff going on then.
  • Pick a time of year when things generally aren’t overwhelmingly busy. Frankly, spring is a great time — schedule it between March and May and think about it as Spring Cleaning for your web site.


Review your site on three main fronts:

Your Audience

  • Do a gut-check on what your target audience is looking for. What are their goals and does the site still make it easy for them to achieve those goals?
  • Review your site statistics to see where traffic is heaviest on the site. Do you know why? Is that where you want traffic to be heavy?
  • Has your target audience changed since this site was launched (either has your company focused on a new/different target since then or has your existing target changed their habits?).

You, Your Company and Your Brand

  • Does the site still accurately reflect who you are as a company, both visually and in tone/content of copy?
  • Does the site fit in with internal workflow (does it get updated regularly or is it forgotten)? If you want to make updates, it is easy to do or are you at the mercy of the CEO’s nephew to make changes for you?
  • If search traffic is important to you, when you Google your company’s name, or important industry keywords, does your site come up in search engine results?

Your Competitors

  • Does your site still stand out effectively from the competition?
  • Have your competitors, or your industry as a whole, changed how they talk about themselves? Does anyone have any significant online offerings that you need to match or do better at?

Next Steps

An answer you don’t like in any of those categories may prompt you to:

  • make a small tweak (like optimizing the content for better search engine performance or updating the CSS with a slight style change to headlines);
  • an addition or reorganization (adding a new feature/section or moving pages around);
  • or a complete overhaul/redesign.

My next post on this topic will cover what to do once you’ve evaluated the site and come up short in one of those areas.

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Freelancing, by Kristi McKinney

Freelancing can be simultaneously the best and worst job. When contracts are plentiful you can charge a fair rate, but you’re self-employed and without health insurance and other benefits. You have the flexibility to work the hours you want and at the pace you want, but you don’t get paid when work is slow.

I chose to start freelancing because my financial situation is changing.  My husband is a medical student. Up until now, he’s been amazing enough to be able to hold a part-time job and help contribute to our mortgage and other expenses. He’s now entering the phase of his education where he won’t be able to do anything other than school. That leaves me the primary breadwinner. Though I’ve been bringing in the majority of our income for the last year, it’s never been solely up to me to ensure our financial future. Talk about scary.

I still have my full-time job and am grateful.  I have a reasonable salary and good benefits, but without my husband’s contribution it isn’t enough. A few months ago, I decided it was time to find more sources of income. The easiest way for me to do that without incurring further transportation or other costs, was to freelance from home in my spare time.
You can freelance in a variety of job specialties, everything from Web design to film. I chose writing because it comes so naturally that it’s absurdly easy for me. That means I’m highly productive and can get more contracts done in a small amount of time.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. The market is full of freelancers who are willing to work for any price. That means your pay-per contract will likely be lower and the rare contracts that offer really good money are going to be extremely competitive.
  2. The market is full of companies seeking bloggers for little to no pay. I can’t tell you how many blogger positions I’ve applied for in the last several months. Everything from technology blogger to environmental blogger to corporate blogger, I’ve seen and applied for it all. The offers I received back were insane. Most wanted to pay me per article or blog, usually around $10 or less. I had to do the math and figure out if the amount of effort per article required would greatly exceed the compensation being offered. In most cases it wasn’t worth it.
  3. The market is full of companies and sites that contract out freelance work and sell it off for much more than they paid you. There are many sites out there where you can “apply” to be a freelancer, choose projects, and then get paid a flat fee or sometimes a revenue-shared fee for each one. In theory, this is great.
    Again, you have to take into account the effort per project and the pay you receive. For me, there were some projects that were good and some that were not. It took a fair amount of investigation to figure out which was which. Beware of sites like this that ask you to pay to join. You should not have to “buy in” to a Web site or company to get freelance projects. Most companies that ask this are a scam or just not worth it.
  4. There are a lot of good Web resources to help you. For most professions, you should be able to find a helpful blogger or two who list open jobs and opportunities across the country. I found and to be incredibly helpful with job leads. I subscribed to their RSS and set up RSS for postings on Craigslist. This kept me abreast of new opportunities so I could get my application in ASAP.
  5. Write your cover letter/email carefully and target your resume. You’re definitely not the only one applying for these positions. That means you need to stand out. Make sure to address the requirements listed in the ad and illustrate how you fit the bill. Provide all of the information required, and for Pete’s sake PLEASE check your documents for spelling and grammar.
  6. Think about how much you need to make. Effort vs. pay will be different for all of us. In my case, a lot of effort for little pay isn’t worth it. I could spend that time being productive on another job, doing my full-time job better, or searching for new jobs. For some of you it may not matter, a dollar is a dollar.
  7. Watch that non-compete. I signed a non-compete agreement when I started my current job. That means I have to be careful about the freelance projects I take on.

I’m currently working for a company that pays freelancers to write SEO articles. It’s boring and repetitive. The pay isn’t great, but it IS pay. The longer I’m with the company, my pay increases as does the opportunity for me to write about more interesting things. It’s steady work and for right now, it’s the best option for me. I’m also doing Web design contracts as I happen upon them. I get to work from wherever I’d like whenever I like. That gives me the flexibility I need.

Good hunting.

Kristi McKinney, Geek

Kristi McKinney currently works at Forte, LLC, writing and managing She recently received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota where she studied Russian journalism.  Kristi has had many geeky odd jobs over the years, including helping to write content and build web pages for the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Kristi received her BA in Communication and English with a minor in Russian from the University of North Dakota.

Why Sharing Slides is Crap

At a recent seminar, I was struck by the number of people wondering, “Will these slides be posted?” Struck because the nature of this presentation was such that, without the presenter, the slides wouldn’t do you much good.

It got me thinking about our constant use of slide-creating software, and I realized there are three things that really bug me about it.

1. Slides don’t tell me what I need to know.
Several weeks ago, I followed a friend’s Twitter link to a presentation on SlideShare. I dutifully watched it, but at several points found myself thinking, “Gee, I wonder what she talked about on this slide.” A big ol’ screenshot of a web site probably provided great fodder for her insightful commentary, but didn’t do me much good as a passive observer. If audio would have been included, it would have been a different story but SlideShare doesn’t include audio. Watching a presentation with no one presenting ends up feeling like listening to one side of a phone conversation: you get the gist, but not the whole story. And entire stretches remain a total mystery.

As my pal @rrazor said, “Slides are often (hopefully?) the most content-poor part of a presentation. SlideShare is just a tease.”

Put another way, if I can get everything I need from your slides alone — why would I bother coming to see you speak? And, if I can’t get everything I need from your slides alone — what’s the point of putting them on SlideShare?

2. I’ve had just about enough of slide culture.
I realize I’m swimming against a cultural tsunami that cannot be stopped, but I really wish we could scale back our use of slides. PowerPoint is the ubiquitous format for communicating everything. And I do mean everything. I recently got an invitation to an event that was — you guessed it — a PowerPoint slide. From what I can tell, the ability for this organization to animate the crap out of every piece of text and embed a soundtrack is what really sold them on this format. A nice, clean PDF simply stating the details of the event pales in comparison.

A colleague sent me a deck of slides that had no business being on slides in the first place; it really warranted several pages of text (like a White Paper). Cramming that amount of information into a set of slides is just silliness: it’s an attempt to bullet-ize information that shouldn’t be communicated in bullets. Thoughts that should be sentences end up as half-sensical phrases and groups of thoughts that should be paragraph end up as dense bulleted lists filling up the slide. Why even try to put that amount of data in a slide?

Something about our ADD/multi-tasking/Twitter-ized lifestyles seems to have made us loathe to communicate information in anything other than small, bite-sized chunks. But, guess what? Not everything can be communicated that way. In 2003, Edward Tufte wrote an article titled PowerPoint is evil. The guy’s got a point.

(He’s also got a longer piece on this topic, which I’d highly recommend, including a fascinating look at some slides from NASA about the space shuttle Columbia.)

3. If we really cared, we’d write it down.
Most of the time, when I hear people ask, “Will this be posted online?” what I think they are saying is, “Do I really need to take notes?” These days, we’re so busy tweeting and live-blogging during presentations that we’re only paying half-attention to the presentation itself. So, we want the slides to remind us of the half that we missed. Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but whatever happened to taking notes? If a presenter says something that you think is really important, WRITE IT DOWN. Is it really that hard?

There is one situation I can think of where I found slide sharing helpful. At an Adaptive Path seminar years ago, they distributed several workbooks. One of which was a printout of the presentation in small-slide format with an area for notes next to each slide. This was actually helpful; while the presenter was talking, I jotted down information related to what he was saying. There was so little data on the slides (compared to the oceans of data coming out of the presenter’s mouth) that the slides alone wouldn’t have been any good. The slides plus my notes were okay, but still not half as good as attending the seminar itself. So maybe that’s what’s bugging me: people mistaking the slides for the presentation. The two are not the same. And if they are, the presentation wasn’t worth whatever you paid to attend.

Am I wrong?
What is with our obsession with sharing slides? Maybe someone who voraciously devours presentations posted by other people can help enlighten me: what am I missing here? I can’t imagine asking Al Gore to send me the slides for his presentation, An Inconvenient Truth. Rather than striving to create slides to post for everyone to see, shouldn’t we strive to create presentations that are so engaging that our audience closes their laptops and listens?

I spend most of my time encouraging people to use technology. This week, I’d like to challenge you to not use PowerPoint (and Mac users — that means no Keynote, either). Let’s see how long we can make it.

[cross-posted at the MIMA blog]