In the course of two posts, Anil completely nails the problem of gender (and other) biases in the web industry. When I think back to the most interesting talks over the past 3-4 years, it was always from someone outside the norm, something that could bring a fresh perspective instead of the same tired “here’s another CSS trick you might not know!” presentation. It was often a woman (like Linda Stone, danah boyd, Caterina Fake, and Amy Jo Kim, all of whom I’ve seen give kickass presentations before) but always about something new.
But to be clear, it’s not just a gender issue — gender is just one part of it. It’s about expanding your vision, hearing from voices you haven’t before, and learning something new. That’s not just happy hippie rainbow talk either, it makes perfect business sense to go after the market you don’t have, not merely the one you already got because the people you don’t know how to reach are often orders of magnitude larger than your current audience. I’m reminded of the other day a teen emailed me saying that MetaFilter didn’t fully function on Opera Mini, which was their only interface to the web. I never even thought about teens or phone browsers when I designed it, and I know I’m missing out on a lot of potential contributors because of it.
When I think back to the biggest breakthrough talks of the past few years, stuff like Guy Kawasaki’s talking to teens always went over huge. Blogging While Black opens some eyes and ears to something you’ve never known about. danah boyd’s regular talks on teens, community, and identity are loaded with new findings. Every time I’ve witnessed one of these talks, I’ve learned something new and most everyone in the crowd was blown away by perspectives they hadn’t even thought of before.
After seven years of regularly attending technology conferences, last year I reached the point of burnout and only went to two (Etech and Webvisions). This year I’ll again be attending just a couple events but this time with an eye towards diversity in topics. Things like last year’s IDEA conference give me hope (something I missed and wished I attended but thankfully they podcast the talks). A place where artists, librarians, anthropologists, park rangers, programmers, and sci-fi writers gather to discuss their experiences and the world going forward is going to offer a lot more new information to me than the run-of-the-mill tech gathering.