Monday 04 November 2002

Blogging software for women?

Christine at Big Pink Cookie invited visitors to participate in her Big Debate about blogging tools:

What have you used for your blog if you have one? What do you like about it? Are there pros and cons to other systems that you want to share? Do you have anything to say on it? If you don’t have a blog and you were just starting out - what would you use?

Though the discussion reminded me of the Nikon/Canon/Olympus/Minolta/Pentax (or Hasselblad/Mamiya/Bronica) discussions so beloved of photography enthusiasts, I was surprised at the number of people who’d taken the hand-coding–Blogger–Greymatter–Movable Type route. Predictably, most abandoned Blogger because of instability and/or lost archives and gave up on Greymatter when Noah Grey departed the scene.

Interestingly, Radio UserLand didn’t feature in the conversation (even though it matches Blogger’s ability to have you up and blogging in a matter of minutes and isn’t plagued by Blogger’s legendary unreliability). Two PHP/MySQL blogging systems were mentioned favorably. I was aware of B2 because PapaScott uses it but hadn’t heard of pMachine.

The only really useful contribution came from Ciscley (which she also included in a post on her own site):

I think (I *know* in my personal blogging circle and I’m generalizing from there) that most of the people that are uncomfortable with the popularity of MT are guys. It’s like it’s a dirty blog word to every guy I know. They use phpWeblog (though I still have to design their layouts for them cause the interface only goes so far). They use geeklog. They’ve thought about pMachine. They’re willing to try anything and everything but MT.

Is it because so many women use and love MT? Is it because MT, if you don’t actually use it and know what a huge part of it Ben does, appears to be the creation of a woman? Is it taking something away from the all male tech industry to consider that a product inspired by or significantly designed by a woman is the best option out there?

Now, truthfully, all the male MT users I know are more vocal supporters of it than myself, but that doesn’t take away from the initial reluctance by most guys to try it out in the first place. It’s like with anyother super powerful, completely customizable, fully hackable tech toy every guy jumps in just for the hell of it, but with MT you have to get worn down with the disappointing results from other software before you, “Oh, well, I guess I’ll have to switch to MT. Hate to think what that says about me. Baaa, Moo.”

Reading this, I was taken aback: partly because MT seems equally popular amongst the male and female bloggers that I know, mainly because MT has never appeared to me to be anything other than the fruit of a collaboration between Ben and Mena Trott, assisted by the user base (both those who are acknowledged in the Change Log and the many others who contribute to the Support Forum).

But here’s what was really surprising: apart from a brief response by Christine, no-one chose to address Ciscley’s theory—either in her comments or in Christine’s. In the middle of an entirely predictable (and ultimately futile) conversation about blogging tools, Ciscley put forward a fascinating, provocative observation. And everyone ignored her!

There are so many things to like about Movable Type—reliability, elegant interface, customizability, MySQL support, vibrant user community—but what could be more intriguing than Ciscley’s hypothesis of gendered MT use? Has Mena’s contribution influenced the software to the extent that it attracts a disproportionately high proportion of female users?

If that is true (Ciscley’s evidence is only anecdotal), then Ben and Mena Trott have not only created, in Mark Pilgrim’s words, “the best personal publishing system in the world, hands down.” They may also be the first to have figured out how to build software that both sexes find equally pleasurable to use. And, in doing so, solved a problem that has always concerned educators: “how to find a way to include girls in computing, without excluding boys at the same time.” I would have thought that was well worth discussing.



I didn't think it was worth discussing because the hypothesis doesn't hold water. There are a lot of reasons to try another system before trying to install MT, mostly that it is incrementally harder than other systems to install. Blosxom installs in a snap, so does Radio. pMachine is only slightly more difficult.

MT is pain to install, period. No instant gratification. Why work that hard when there are so many other choices?

GreyMatter had a strong female usage profile as well. A more pertinent question/observation is "What are the commonalities between GM and MT that make them popular to both genders?"

Posted by: Alwin Hawkins on 4 November 2002 at 05:37 PM

I never once saw any kind of gender related bias with MT or Blogger. I've seen as many guys as women happy with MT, though I've only seen men use Blosxom (and I do believe it's because Raul attracts a disproportionate male readership). If anything, it seems there is also a disportionate share of men using Radio. Worth discussing? Have to ask yourself if you want to discuss any gender bias in technology -- and that's not necessarily a win/win situation.

What I found more interesting at Ciscley's site (and other's such as drublood) is this whole de-linking thing going on. But that's just me.

Posted by: Burningbird on 5 November 2002 at 12:23 AM

I'm afraid I'd have to go with Alwin here.

If I had tried to start blogging with MT instead of Blogger, I might not have been blogging at all, though I still might have put up a web page with Adobe GoLive.

I like the pages MT produces a lot, but at the high school where I worked I was considered a computer "expert," which of course I wasn't, and I found installing and tweaking MT more than just a little challenging, as Jonathan well knows.

I wouldn't even dare suggest it as a possibility to most of my friends unless they paid to have it installed and perhaps even did so for an upgrade.

Posted by: Loren on 5 November 2002 at 05:11 AM

For me the issue wasn't why people tried different systems and wound up with MT. It was why is a product (that is admittedly much harder to install than other weblog tools) so popular with women. I wasn't aware that Greymatter attracted a large female user base too. In that case, Alwin, your question is a much better one to ask.

Bb, I thought the MT slant on the gender bias in technology was pretty interesting. But clearly I'm in a minority.

Loren, you're right, MT is not for the faint of heart. But, once it's up and running, it sings, doesn't it?

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 5 November 2002 at 01:59 PM

No, Christine (Pink Cookie) just picked up on it, too, and pointed it out in her newest posting.

(BTW, she also pointed out that you didn't ping her, and to turn on track back.)

I think there is something to be said for Ciscley's suggestions, but not necessarily in regards to MT. I think there is a gender bias in weblogging tools, but MT and Blogger are probably those few tools that escape this.

For instance, I'd love to know how many women are using Bloxsom, or any of the other open source, more obscure and somewhat 'geeky' blogging tools.
I'd love to know how many women originate tweaks to weblogging tools such as Radio, MT, Blogger and so on.

In all of this, MT is about the _only_ thing that doesn't demonstrate a gender bias, and this probably has to do with both Ben and Mena's association with the tool. And the fact that there's plenty to tweak for the tweakers, but it runs beautifully right out of the box. Once installed, of course. It is elegant, powerful, wonderfully featured, but the features aren't forced on you. And that MySql backend now. Well, that's just plain nummy as I'm finding (move posts to a completely different weblog with just a SQL command).

Perhaps more software should be developed with paired man/woman teams?

Posted by: Shelley on 5 November 2002 at 02:22 PM

I'd be more interested in seeing a woman write a piece of weblogging software, and then compare and contrast to see the differences (if any).

Personally, I think the success of MT was a combination of good timing (GreyMatter was showing some ragged edges and development was halted), Mena's clean template designs (people like to look good on the web), and an easily extensible code base.

In addition, the documentation is well written and comprehensive, and has been extended and expanded by an enthusiastic user base. User feedback has been listened to carefully and not taken personally. Bugs are stomped as new features are added, and the features are focused on what the tool is intended to do.

In other words, I don't think it has much to do with the gender of the folks writing the software. It has a lot to do with the nature of the folks writing the software. They're a good example of how to capture and expand mindshare in a growing marketplace.

Posted by: Alwin Hawkins on 6 November 2002 at 12:00 AM


You say that Bloxsom and other open source tools can be "geeky", then say that MT doesn't have a gender bias, presumably because it works great with a default install, has lots of features and can be flexible if you want. Forgive (and correct) me if I've misrepresented what you've said above.

Obscure tools are obscure because people don't get sufficiently motivated to tell a critical number of other people about them. That lack of motivation could result from difficulty of use, lack of features, and lack of flexibility.

Why does "geekiness" == "gender bias"?

(This is a Big Question, the sort of question that gets asked a lot and might never be fully answered. If we want to treat it as rhetorical, that's cool with me. I'd like it to be answered one day, though.)

Perhaps the secret to MT's success lies in its great default install, features, and flexibility. Perhaps this is the reason that lots of women (and men) like MT and use it instead of something else.

Perhaps this is why it enjoys an enthusiastic user base and lots of word-of-mouth promotion. (Perhaps people mistake this for a "herd mentality.")

If it's true that lots of women use MT, it's probably because MT is good, not because they're women.

(Disclaimer: I downloaded and installed MT once, but didn't choose to use it, so everything I know about it is...yep...word-of-mouth...)

It all boils down to: Find something you like, and use it.

I hope this comment isn't as flammable as others recent. I'm honestly interested in understanding the alleged gender issues in weblogging software.

Posted by: James McMurry on 6 November 2002 at 12:57 AM

James, I don't believe there is a gender bias with Movable Type. I think it's popular because a lot of people like using the tool and they tell others about it.

Personally, I would love to find out the ratio of men and women in regards to all weblogging tools. I think that MT and Blogger would be fairly even across the board, but I'm curious about weblogging tools such as Bloxsom and B2 and PHPNuke and so on.

As for geeky, or should I say open source, weblogging tools, I mentioned gender 'bias' but that's not the appropriate word. I believe we would find a disproportionate share of users who are men compared to women with open source tools, or tools that are more obscure, or more 'techie' oreinted. Not because women wouldn't like them, but because there's a disproportionate number of men compared to women involved with open source efforts, or who are techies.

I could very well be wrong. I would like to be wrong.

Posted by: Burningbird on 6 November 2002 at 02:46 AM

I don't agree with the "MT is hard to install" thing. I had been using Greymatter for about 6 months when I switched. I had the early version of MT installed and my first test blog running within 15 minutes. I had my site converted over, new templates created, etc. within an hour or two.

The instructions are well written - the fact that there is extensive documentation says a lot about it.

There are females out there working on CMS systems. I know they have them in early testing right now... so it will be interesting to see when they get released.

Posted by: Christine on 6 November 2002 at 02:50 AM

An interesting follow-on to the last comment, I once posed a question to a Women's Unix interest group -- why wasn't there more representation of women in open source, as speakers and writers related to technology, especially bare to the metal technologies.

I received a huge number of responses that were nothing more than variations of, "I have to work during the day, and take care of my kids and home at night. I don't have time to get involved in something that isn't going to pay me." This even from the women who had husbands and boyfriends to 'help' in the care of the children or house.

Really not related to gender and MT, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.

Posted by: Burningbird on 6 November 2002 at 02:50 AM

I wonder: It would be interesting to see the breakdown of weblog owners by gender, but also by "Do you consider yourself a 'techie' (Y/N)?"

(...whatever a "techie" is...)

I expect you'd find more tech males than tech females, which probably wouldn't surprise anyone. But I wonder if you'd find the proportion of tech to non-tech male webloggers was greater than the proportion of tech to non-tech females.

Meaning, I bet more male webloggers are technically oriented than not, whereas more female webloggers consider themselves non-technical.

I know I made up these poll results; I'm just thinking aloud, but this has that magical "it seems right" feeling.

This could explain why males are more likely to use a non-mainstream system for their site (including one they've made themselves, or one they enjoy working on as a tech hobby or learning experience), and females are more likely to look for a powerful yet simple system that will do most of the dirty work for them, stay out of the way, and has an active user community (which includes non-technical people like themselves) that they can turn to for help.

Whaddya think?

Posted by: James McMurry on 6 November 2002 at 04:07 AM

Could be James. In some ways we may be seeing a fascinating demonstration of gender-based behavior (stereotypical or not) demonstrated just in the weblog tool used.

I have this strong urge to start collecting some data.

Posted by: Burningbird on 6 November 2002 at 06:02 AM

A lot of Tinderbox webloggers are women, including Jill Walker, "the mother of Norwegian webloggers":

Posted by: Mark Bernstein on 6 November 2002 at 08:51 AM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour