Good Enough

This morning at the Clockwork kitchen table, Marty and I had an argument centering around the Flip camera. It went something like this:

Me: I want a Flip.
Marty: Why? They suck.
Me: You sound like my husband! You guys are A/V snobs.
Marty: No, we’re not. We just don’t like things that suck.
Me: Yeah, but it’s fast and easy!
Marty: But it SUCKS.
Marty: Shut up.
Me: No, YOU shut up.
Kjrsten: Here, I had a Flip in my desk drawer. You can have it if the two of you promise to shut up.

One of the points I was trying to make as Marty and I were talking was one that Wired perfectly summed up in their recent article, The Good Enough Revolution:

“We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as ‘high-quality.’

And it’s happening everywhere. As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.”

Marty objects to the Flip for the same reason my husband does: because the video output is not that great. It could be so much better.

What they fail to understand are the motivations of people like me (whom Flip is presumably targeting): for us, it isn’t a choice between taking crummy video (with a Flip) and good video (with some other device). The choice is between capturing a moment on a dead-simple device, or not capturing it at all. Between sharing videos often (because we can plug the USB device into our machine at a moment’s notice) or sharing them rarely — or not at all (because it’s a hassle getting out the right cord).

So, while the Flip is offensive to people who know how much better it could be, it’s perfect for people who — above all else — just want something simple. (And, frankly, I recently made a video that ended up being half-shot on my Panasonic DMC-TZ5 and half-shot on Nancy’s Flip. The Flip portion has better audio and the video, while a bit lower in quality, is not offensive to the eyes AT ALL. Most importantly, IT GOT THE JOB DONE.)

It’s not like I’m a Luddite. I love technology. But, I also love things that are easy. And, whether you love or hate the Flip (or its output) you can’t argue that it’s easy as hell to use.

The Wired article is a fascinating look at how and when we value “good enough” over “the best” or “most featureful.” For those of us who develop web sites, software and other applications, this is a crucial phenomenon to understand. At what point do we give our users so many options that they can’t deal with it and retreat to something simpler that feels better, easier and less overwhelming?

Another perfect example: Craiglist (also featured in the same issues of Wired). The thing is ugly and clunky, and yet it is the first place I go when I need to buy or sell something. Because IT GETS THE JOB DONE. Wired asked designers to re-imagine Craigslist with a “better” design and you know what? With one exception (the one by SimpleScott who noted, “Why fix what isn’t broken?”), I wouldn’t use any of the versions presented. Better? Perhaps. But, somehow, in getting “better” they lost what it was that made it work in the first place.

[cross-posted on the Clockwork blog]

Technology-Enabled Parenting

The other day I was surfing the radio and I landed on a discussion on talk radio about parents who text when they are with their children — in the park, at home, wherever. The debate centered around one mother having witnessed another mother sitting on a bench texting on her phone instead of interacting with her child on the playground. The eyewitness mom had a real problem with the texting mom — she really felt like the texting mom was neglecting her little one. The radio host was inviting people to call in and give their opinions. Texting while parenting:  good or bad?  I couldn’t call; I had reached my destination.  But my first thought was this: parents need to stop judging each other.  Just. Stop.

We should know better! Being a parent is hard.  Every parent is different, and every parent needs to determine a way of parenting that works for them and for their children. It’s not really for the rest of us to say what that should look like. If children are fed and cared for and if there is love — the rest is really up to each family to decide.  (Yes, there are exceptions to every rule and no, I’m not going to discuss them here.) As a Geek Girl, and a parent, I am so deeply appreciative of how technology has enabled me to be a more present, available mother that I want to talk about it here.

I was raised in a home where both my parents worked. I grew up in a relatively small town in Michigan where most moms (or at least the mothers of my friends) either did not work, or did not have jobs that kept them very far away from their families. Not so in our house. My mom is a physician, and when I was a kid she was at the height of her career. I know that my mother’s career shaped my view of the world and, more specifically, my sense of what the world had to offer me. I never doubted my potential. But when I look back on my childhood, I don’t remember my mother ever coming to a playground with me. When she talks about me as an infant, she says she changed maybe a handful of diapers.  My father and other caregivers did the bulk of the diaper changing.  My goal, as a parent, was to be more present for my little guy.  Technology: my laptop, my mobile device and wi-fi, has allowed me to do exactly that. 

My work is such that, if I don’t have client meetings scheduled, I can do it from just about anywhere.  Deadlines are my only real time constraints. Certainly, the world expects me to be available and in my office during general business hours, but there’s a lot of flexibility there. Thanks to technology, I am not tethered to my place of business, or a desk, or a desktop computer, or even hours in the day. My mobile device allows me the freedom to be physically present for my son, while also being easily accessible to my staff.  Am I ever entirely focused on my phone while I am with my son? I really hope not. But sometimes I have to strike an unpleasant balance. Sometimes I do have to answer a call or a text or spend more time dealing with an issue than I would prefer.  But that’s the deal: I get to go to the playground, or take off early to go play, or stay home and take care of him when he’s sick.  And our family has worked out a schedule that means limited daycare time for him in any given week.  We’re comfortable with daycare, too, because of the social interaction with other kids. I feel good about the balance we’ve been fortunate enough to strike.  But here’s the deal: I can only speak for what works for ME and MY family.  I have no business judging anyone else’s choices.  It’s also probably not healthy for me to compare myself to other mothers.  There are always mothers better than me, more available, making cupcakes, or scrapbooks or knitting hats.  I can only do the best that I can do.

My 3-year-old has opinions. It isn’t unusual for him to slam my laptop shut if I am working on a Saturday and he’s had enough. I get frustrated, sure. But I also listen to him. I walk away when he needs me to. I guess it’s just like anything — balance is critical. It makes no sense for me to go to the park and entirely ignore my child. There are times when I owe my son and my family my complete attention.  Mornings, mealtimes, bedtime: those are sort of sacred around here.  (Again, there are exceptions to every rule, and no, I’m still not discussing them here.) There are also times when I owe my business or my clients my complete attention.  The rest of the time my life looks like something in between.  Because, it’s about that balance.

So, if you see me in the park with my kid, cell phone in hand, texting madly just know this: I’m doing my best. I’m conscious of my choices. And technology has allowed me to be present for him. I am paying attention to my life.  And other moms (especially the judgmental ones) should just pay attention to theirs. 

Fox Gets Social with Glee

Last year, I wrote about how television networks don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to figuring out how to deal with Internet technology (in that example, it was The CW’s lame decision to not put Season 2 episodes of Gossip Girl on their web site — a decision they later reversed).

This year, it seems that the networks have started getting savvier about using the tools they fear so greatly. Or, at least, Fox has. With their upcoming show Glee, Fox seems to be doing everything right in how they are leveraging technology to build an audience for a very quirky show.

It’s a hard show to explain, but it’s basically about a high school show choir. It’s got Jane Lynch in it. It’s funny and brilliant. But, weird. And a little hard to explain. Which means, if things were to go as they usually do, it would be off the air within a year.

There’s a reason why quirky shows die: they can’t build an audience fast enough. Arrested Development is more popular now than it was when it was on television. And don’t get me started on the tragic death of Pushing Daisies. These shows can’t generate the same audience right out of the gate as extensions of popular franchises (and seriously, how long until they start airing CSI: Des Moines and Law & Order: Animal Control?).

Shows that don’t fit neatly into the cop, hospital or lawyer genres attract a different kind of audience. GEEKS. Theater geeks, band geeks, computer geeks, book geeks. Most geeks — no matter their geek genre — use computers and social media. And they use those things a lot more than everyone else. We tend to be the early adopters and the heavy users.

It seems like Fox did the math.

So, Fox’s first smart move was to air the pilot after the American Idol finale. First, the potential to reach a staggering number of eyes and second, the likelihood that that audience would be open to a show that includes musical numbers (Yeah, you heard me. MUSICAL NUMBERS.)

After the pilot aired, it was made available on Hulu and the Fox web site (and perhaps other places as well), allowing it to build an audience in the months between the Idol finale and early September, when it premieres. By doing this, Fox is allowing Glee to build a passionate audience (mainly through word of mouth) before the show even starts.

To help things along, Fox has also released sneak peeks from the upcoming season (like Bust Your Windows), character outlines, and audition videos. The show’s Facebook page includes regular bits of news and photos, and each of the characters has a Facebook page of their own. (Okay, that one is less cool to me. I dislike it when characters act like people in the real world, but I’ll let it slide.) They’re on MySpace, Twitter, and there’s even a Glee Wiki. Jeebus!

Here’s why I think all of this is noteworthy, though: usually, fans of oddball shows don’t get a chance to rally around their show until it’s time to write letters to the network begging them to bring it back. Fox is using the social web to harness that energy on the front end to build an audience, and they don’t seem scared to put that content wherever we want to consume it: Hulu, Fox, Facebook, you name it.

I only watched the show because Nancy saw it on Hulu, and then texted me that it ruled. I watched it, agreed, and then made my husband watch it. I tweeted and posted to Facebook about it. I told co-workers about it. I’ve told countless people to go check out the show on Hulu. I’m even planning a Glee premiere party at a local bar. Now, perhaps you’re thinking that I have too much time on my hands. But, I prefer to think that it’s because I’ve loved and lost enough shows (I miss you, Ned the pie man!) that if I find something I like, I’m willing to spread the word in the interests of keeping it on the air. I have no interest in seeing another reality show; I’d rather encourage the networks to produce stuff that’s creative. Maybe even a little risky.

So, good job, Fox. I like your moxie.

As for the rest of you, I’ll expect you’ll be watching the first episode of Glee with me on September 9. Send me a note if you’re in Minneapolis and want in on the party.

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? http://wprobot.net/
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 stufftotweet.com (which is, itself, a shameless rip-off of popurls.com) 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.

The One In Which I Rant About The Misuse Of Social Media By Companies And Executives

Recently the Geek Girls talked to a group of emerging women leaders about the merits of social media in promoting both personal and professional brands.  It was a great session and afterwards we found ourselves immersed in lengthy discussion about trying to separate the personal from the professional (in short — get over it).  In attendance at the event was a group of interns from a very large financial services firm.  One of them approached me with a question that she asked in a very hushed tone. “Can I remove a picture of myself, from Facebook, if it is someone else’s picture?”  She looked slightly nervous as she waited for me to answer.  And when I answered in the negative she looked crestfallen.  “You can remove the tag that identifies you,” I replied.  “But you are stuck with the picture unless you contact the person who put it there and ask them to take it down.  Anyone with any amount of sensitivity has got to respect that kind of request.”  She seemed satisfied with my answer and I moved on to another question.  But a few moments later I turned to her and asked “Is it an embarrassing college party kind of picture?”  She nodded, “Yes.”

A few days later the twittersphere enjoyed a minor buzz around the news that a Montana town’s hiring procedures now included requiring job candidates to hand over their log-in information for their Facebook accounts so that their potential employer could see who they really were.  I, like everyone else with any sense, was appalled by the nerve of these people.  We all wondered if this was legal.  The press didn’t serve them very well and shortly thereafter they backed away from this policy.

When we’re out talking about social media the most common questions we field include those around deleting questionable or personally damaging content, specifically pictures, from Facebook.  Oftentimes the questions come from young people.  However, more often than you think, established professionals harbor similar concerns.  The web and social networks make being “social” a whole new ballgame.  Of course, my first words of advice are around the terms of use and terms of service for Facebook.  We say this all the time, we’ve mentioned it on the blog, but its worth noting as often as possible: when you put things on the web, whether you like it or not, they don’t really entirely belong to you any more.  When you share assets like pictures on a social network you’ve essentially given away the rights or ownership of those images.  That is something you need to accept and you should operate in accordance with that awareness. Additionally, if you are someone who enjoys recording social events and interactions through words and pictures remember to be sensitive to your subjects, and, if the subject is you, be smart about what you allow to be photographed.

illustration by Rett Martin (@rett)

As Meghan and I walked away from that event that breezy Wednesday evening, I couldn’t help but express my empathy for the young woman who’d expressed concern around the picture her friend had posted of her. But beyond that, I have real concern for human resource professionals and leadership inside of organizations that would condone invading someone’s privacy in a way where they are intending to seek out these sorts of incriminating images.  I take issue with leaders who conveniently lack any recall around their own questionable choices or reckless behavior.  Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there.  And I think that is my biggest issue.  Social media gives us access to a wealth of personal and professional information the likes of which we have never seen before.  Whole educational profiles, resumes, work histories, testimonials, personal addresses, family pictures, life histories, and, yes, transgressions, are all documented and available on the web.  For the most part, its a very cool thing.  We can record and validate experiences and share them with our communities in a way that enriches our connections.  But we can also abuse it.  And I think the worst abuse happens when we believe we have a right to scour through that kind of information to establish a profile of questionable behavior.  After all, context is key.  The context in which certain situations occur color the lense that records them. 

It’s more than that though.  Some of the greatest lessons of my life and career have come from my mistakes or missteps.  I have news for you, people: I went to college.  I stood around a keg.  I drank too much beer, or maybe I wore pants on my head.  I don’t remember.  But the important thing is — I matured beyond that.  I had those experiences, and I moved on.  I grew up.  And I can honestly say I am probably a more well rounded person because I allowed myself to partake in the ridiculous or, even (gasp) the forbidden.  It hasn’t happened yet where a compromising picture of me has shown up on Facebook (unless you count the one where I look like I’m in drag in a dinner theatre show which is scary for sure). But it might.  When it does I will likely ask the person posting it to remove it.  Or maybe I won’t, just to prove a point.  But to act like college is all academics, or that victories in life are the only moments along the path worth recording, is nuts.  In the long run, we might be forcing people to be even more deceptive about who they are.  Because we all know resumes aren’t always non-fiction.  We’ve all been there.  We’ve all made mistakes.  We’ve all reframed a professional story so it doesn’t reflect poorly on us.  We’ve all been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  To deny any of that would be dishonest.  Hopefully we’ve all learned from those experiences and they contributed to the professionals we are today.  Hopefully we’ve gained some perspective and we can demonstrate some compassion and, by extension, respect the social privacy of job candidates or colleagues or acquaintances. 

Social media is here to enrich our lives. Not make us fearful about living them.  Let’s not abuse our positions by insisting on access to information we have no right to in the first place.  What you condone now, in terms of policy, could always come back to bite you in the end. Put that in your pipe and smoke it (just be sure no one is standing nearby with a camera when you do).

Doing Social Media “Right”

When we launched the Geek Girls Guide, we didn’t realize that we’d be talking so much about social media. But, at this point, it’s the topic that everyone wants to discuss. Recently, someone referred to Nancy and I as “social media experts.” That label makes me shudder.

Here’s the thing: the web has always been social. AOL, chatrooms, the BBSes of yore, all of these were ways for people to use technology to connect with other people. So none of this is really “new” — it’s just that the tools and technology are more accessible than they’ve ever been.

Back in the day, it was just us geeks talking to each other. Now our moms and grandmas are here, too! And because of that — because more people than ever are using these tools — this is all new. No one has really figured out how to do social media “right” as a company or business. What’s the right mix? What kind of investment is needed? How can companies engage effectively? Who is in “charge” of social media within a given company? How can it be measured? We’re all learning. So as far as I’m concerned, there are no social media “experts.”

The companies that are in the best position to take advantage of experimenting with social media tactics are small companies. They’re nimble, not constrained by the beauracracy of large organizations, and are — generally — less afraid to try new things (because, of course, the risk of public failure is lower than with a huge company).

With that in mind, I came across this blog recently (via Geek Girls’ pal Sharyn Morrow) and thought it was a beautifully simple example of how a company can do social media “right.” It’s not totally perfect, but they are doing many things well. And I commend them for jumping in.

The blog (ATTN: Anna’s True Thai News) is for one of my all-time favorite Minneapolis restaurants, True Thai (Seriously, if you ever go there get the kabocha squash curry. Trust me.) and here’s what I think they’re doing well:

1. Tying it all together.
They link to their blog and Twitter accounts on their homepage. Nicely done. (Even better if you can integrate your blog seamlessly into your site, but if you’re doing-it-yourself at least linking from your homepage is a great step.)

The Twitter profile links to the blog, and I think they should link to the main web site (because it’s hard to find the main web site from the blog) but overall they’ve done a good job or making sure that all of their social media tactics are tied together (blog, Twitter, Flickr).

2. Having some personality.
The link to Anna’s blog from the True Thai homepage says, “The queen of all curries commands you to read her blog.” It’s charming and fun. What’s not to like?

3. Updating regularly, but not obsessively.
The blog has a a new post every few days. Even better is that the posts actually say something of value.

Their tweets are more sparse, but also packed with value (like an alert that the closest highway was closed and customers would need to take an alternate route).

4. Talking like a human.
Reading the blog and looking at the photos on Flickr give you a sense of Anna’s personality, which makes you feel more connected to the restaurant.

5. Inviting dialogue.
What gave me the idea to write about True Thai’s blog was this post on the difficulty of serving vegan/vegetarian food. Anna is up front about her challenge as a restaurant owner, and is opening a dialogue with people. This is the whole point of social media: to facilitiate and participate in conversations with the audiences that are important to you.

And how about this – an APOLOGY for an evening on which the restaurant was understaffed! How many times have you had crap service at a restaurant? Can you even imagine the restaurant owner apologizing for it publicly and explaining to you why that happened? I wasn’t there that evening, but this apology post — just like the personal “voice” in the posts I mentioned earlier — makes me feel even more connected to this place. I have to imagine it has the same effect on other customers as well.

In general, they are being a good social media citizen. They’re participating in the community, not just braying marketing messages. They’re open, honest and imperfect. The social networks are just that — social. To fit in to the social networks, be social. Be human.

And hey, if you need more encouragement to just jump in — AdRants published a great post on Twitter last week that includes one of my favorite social networking analogies: the cocktail party.

08/11/2009: Heavy Table has a great interview with Anna from True Thai about the restaurant and her blog.

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 http://hossgifford.com/2009/flashbelt/.

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 GeekGirlsGuide.com 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.

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online, Part II

This is just a brief follow-up post to my previous essay about Keeping Your Kids Safe Online.  I’ve had several people send emails asking for links to additional online resources that they can consult for ongoing support in this area.  I dug around a little and I found the following websites that might be of interest.  If you know of others that I haven’t included, please feel free to add them to the list via the comments on this post. 

  1. The first site was actually suggested by a reader and it’s a site sponsored by and managed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited ChildrenNetSmartz.org.
  2. The National Crime Prevention Center has info about online safety on it’s McGruff.org website.  
  3. The Girl Scouts has a website where girls can talk to each other and girls and parents can get info about online safety.  LMK = Let Me Know.

Here’s a list of links to software and web-based tools parents can use to monitor their children’s behavior:

  1. Monitor your child on the web and on their cell phone with websafety.com.
  2. The McGruff site offers a free chat and web filter (McGruff Safeguard) – it monitors intstant messaging, social networks and website visits, just to name a few.
  3. Internetsafety.com has both a home and mobile version of its monitoring software.  You can keep a close eye on your kid’s internet usage and interactions on the web and the mobile web — which is a growing concern among parents.
  4. My Mobile WatchDog is another product that allows you to watch your kid’s cellphone activity.

Just to be clear, the Geek Girl’s Guide does not endorse or claim any in-depth knowledge of any of these products.  This is just a starting point, a simple resource list for parents to begin to explore the plethora of options available to them for limiting and monitoring their kids online behaviors.  I am not a big fan of limiting, unless it becomes necessary.  I am a fan of monitoring to inform an active, ongoing dialogue between you and your children. 

Stay tuned to the blog for the cell phone safety post I am currently working on.  We’ll explore the different types of phones and the different types of monitoring devices available to parents for cell phones. 

At the end of the day its communication, involvement and awareness that will keep your kids safe online.  Those things don’t come from a software package.  They come from you.