September 18, 2006
@ 05:20 PM

Via Shelley Powers, I stumbled on a post entitled The Future of White Boy clubs which has the following graphic

Lack of intellectual diversity is one of the reasons I decided to stop attending technology conferences about 'Web 2.0'. I attended the Web 2.0 conference last year and the last two ETechs. After the last ETech, I realized I was seeing the same faces and hearing the same things over and over again. More importantly, I noticed that the demographics of the speaker lists for these conferences don't match the software industry as a whole let alone the users who we are supposed to be building the software for.

There were lots of little bits of ignorance by the speakers and audience which added up in a way that rubbed me wrong. For example, at last year's Web 2.0 conference a lot of people were ignorant of Skype except as 'that startup that got a bunch of money from eBay'. Given that there are a significant amount of foreigners in the U.S. software industry who use Skype to keep in touch with folks back home, it was surprising to see so much ignorance about it at a supposedly leading edge technology conference. The same thing goes for how suprised people were by how teenagers used the Web and computers, then again the demographics of these conferences are skewed towards a younger crowd. There are just as many women using social software such as photo sharing, instant messaging, social networking, etc as men yet you rarely see their perspectives presented at any of these conferences. 

When I think of diversity, I expect diversity of perspectives. People's perspectives are often shaped by their background and experiences. When you have a conference about an industry which is filled with people of diverse backgrounds building software for people of diverse backgrounds, it is a disservice to have the conversation and perspectives be homogenous. The software industry isn't just young white males in their mid-20s to mid-30s not is that the primary demographic of Web users. However if you look at the speaker lists of the various Web 2.0 conferences that seem to show up on a monthly basis (e.g. Office 2.0, The Future of Web Apps, ).

As a service to future conference organizers, I'm going to provide a handy dandy table to help in diversifying your conference. Next time you want to organize a conference and you realize that you've filled it with a bunch of people who look and think just like you, try replacing the names in the left column of this table with those on the right, at the very least it'll make your speaker list look like that of O'Reilly's Web 2.0 conference which not only has people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and gender, but also people with different professional experiences

Mike ArringtonOm Malik
Ben TrottMena Trott
Stewart ButterfieldCaterina Fake
Clay ShirkyDanah Boyd
Fred WilsonVinod Khosla

You get the idea. Diversifying your conference speaker list doesn't mean reducing the quality of speakers as many racist and sexist motherfuckers tend to state whenever this comes up. 

PS: I'm interested in talking to folks at startups that are building micro applications like widgets for MySpace, any idea what a good conference to meet such folks would be?


Categories: Technology
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