Interview with Karen Magee(former CEO of PlanetOut)
21 December, 2009
Can you tell us about your background and how you became involved with PlanetOut, Inc.? Before becoming CEO, I was SVP for Strategic Planning at Time Warner and on PlanetOut’s board of directors.
What are your thoughts on the under-representation of women on Wikipedia vis-à-vis your experiences with gay.com? It was primarily a dating site (gay.com) and was mostly about interactivity, so I don’t think it’s a terribly relevant comparison. That said, I believe men generally like to hear themselves talk a little more. If you were to go online and look at comments on articles and that kind of thing, guys will go on a lot longer. I think there is a female tendency to want to be helpful. I think that you would find with iVillage and other primarily female communities, there is more of an advice and support environment.
When we talked with women about what they would want in a dating site, they were more interested in sharing about their families, pets, shared interests beyond hooking up. There is a fairly substantial part of the male community that wants that same thing. I don’t know what the psyche is about the Wikipedia’s current editors—I don’t know what the motivating factors are for them. I would absolutely say that most women will decide to take their toys and play elsewhere immediately after being overwritten or deleted by an editor who has not communicated with them in any way.
What might make women contribute more frequently? It may not be in women’s nature to do this kind of thing without a clear purpose. I imagine if you went to prominent women’s organizations and said that we’re grossly under-representing the history of women in America, I would guess that they would .quickly gather volunteers to help remedy that situation.
For women to spend time making entries, I believe that they would have to feel that they are moving the ball forward. They would want to feel helpful to other people. And the content need, or their “assignment,” needs to be very clear. I suppose the big question for the Foundation is: where does the content need to be beefed up or improved? And I’d think about that in the context of: what are you getting on Wikimedia that you’re not getting at other places on the Internet? With a very clear list of needs, you’d be in a better position to solicit help from a wider and more diverse group of contributors.
What are your own experiences in using Wikipedia? The few times I used the content, I found it fairly easy to use from a reading point of view. But I think you can completely miss the fact that you can create or edit entries! I would imagine that if you did a survey of people on the site, they have no idea that content is being created. They may not even have the idea that content can be created!
What are your broad thoughts on the Wikipedia community? As great as communities are, most people think of them as an interactive thing. It sounds to me like what you have is a club. And emphasizing the term “community” therefore could actually be doing more harm than good. People will likely feel that this “community” isn’t a place for just anybody.
Anything else that might be relevant/helpful for Wikimedia? I think that, based on this conversation, my impression is that you may be putting the cart before the horse. Rather than focusing on how to broaden your contributor base, you need to first figure out what you need from contributors. To do that, you need to know where you do have content. You need to know where you’re strong, weak. And do you want to rethink that? Are there things that Wikipedia should be focusing in on, and not worrying about other things? Because information today is widely available in many other places on the Internet—in an objective format.
So, for example, how much time should Wikipedia be spending on medical-related information? There’s so much information out there right now! Should Wikipedia be spending any time on cooking techniques? Or are there other things in the sciences that don’t get put up on the Internet—except for on sites like Wikipedia?
It’s nice to say we’re about all the information for all the people, but you have to figure out how to get there and if ALL the information is even the right goal. I don’t believe there should be a goal to get more representation of the LGBT population amongst your contributors vis-à-vis any other population, and this may happen anyway since the LGBT community over-indexes on education.