Twitter; and women in technology, for Ada Lovelace Day

I started using Twitter properly a couple of days ago, prompted by some of my friends taking it on, and so far I’m enjoying it way more than I expected. It’s also thrown me into contact with various market researchers working in new media.    It is brilliant to uncover some kind of community in this area.   Research often seems so quiet and underground – some of the voices I’m coming across are anything but, and that’s encouraging.

Anyway.  Ada Lovelace Day was yesterday, the brainchild of Suw Charman, as a device for discussing and celebrating women in technology.  Even with the growth of social networking in the last few years, UK women in technology seem quiet compared with those in the USA or Australia.  Maybe it’s a conversational thing:  female US and Aussie bloggers, for example, seem much happier at adopting a conversational style.

My personal heroines:

danah boyd, social media specialist who researches youth tribes, identity and privacy.  danah’s ability to dissect a topic and deal honestly with the underlying issues is a constant inspiration.   While regulators tend towards moral panics, danah boyd points out sociability and strategising.   She does her research as both outsider and participant: most of all she starts by understanding what moves her audience, not taking third-party opinions as truth.

She has just joined Microsoft Research where I hope she will continue to bring her clarity and plain dealing to a corporate environment that would appear to need it.

My two other inspirations are legions rather than individuals,and I think that’s a good thing.   Female voices often seem absent from techy or argumentative online spaces (for example, comments in the Guardian), but there are very many women who are extremely active online – just not always where you’d expect.

  • The founders of Mumsnet, who run a freewheeling and occasionally anarchic service used by mothers of babies and small children.   The design is clunky but it works beautifully, and the community are amusing and deeply supportive.
  • The very many female tribes on Livejournal, whose energy in setting up fan communities devoted to film, celebrity (like, er, ohnotheydidnt), and cult TV is unparalleled.   LJ is still the secret handshake of social media:  I learned much of what I know about communities, flamewars and trolls through hanging out in its many halls.
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The basic qualitative interviewing kit, part 1

The basic interviewing kit

The basic interviewing kit

I’m on the road this week, for the first time in a while.  Just packing up and sorting through my supplies.  My current interview kit is so tiny that I’ve had to invest in a bright stripy pouch from Paperchase in order to stand any change of finding it in the bottom of my bag. 

What do I have?

Olympus digital voice recorder.  These are about £60 at the moment, and this dinky little recorder connects to the computer via USB.  It takes a single AAA battery (essential spare also pictured).  The micrphone on this machine is quite excellent, producing really good sound quality for interviews and group discussions.   When empty there are about 12 hours of recording time available – good for long interviewing days.  Battery life is a bit skittish – it’s easy to leave on by accident – so spares are still important.

I still slightly mourn the demise of my Sony Professional Walkman, where at least you got a physical cassette to keep at the end of every interview, but these are great.

Sony mini noise-cancelling headphones, around £99.  I love these.  They’re comfortable, they’re pretty, and they do exactly what it says on the tine.  Noise-cancelling headphones make it possible to listen back to voice recordings even when you’re in a noisy environment, like a train.  They are also perfect for listening to music and watching DVDs on your laptop.  White means they’re quite hard to lose, too. 

All this fits in one little pouch – tuck in a spare pack of batteries and even a couple of pens, and you’re good to go.