alphabetizing and crankiness

I’m a bit cranky today. I’m usually very happy to look at new social networks services and share my thoughts with site creators, but i’m *really* tired of having the same automatic grumbling reaction concerning one issue: the ordering of sex identifiers during sign-up.

If you’re going to alphabetize everything else in your sign-up, alphabetize sex. Male / Female is only a clear reminder of who you value in your system. I can deal with the abuse of the term gender, but c’mon now.. give me one good reason for not alphabetizing sex terms other than cultural sexism?

So, if you’re a website creator (or know of one), (let them) know that this practice is really insulting.

Companies currently making me cranky:

  • Friendster
  • Buddybridge
  • ChiaFriend
  • Everyone’s Connected (even defaults to male & straight! grrr)
  • It’s Not What You Know
  • Sona (Man/Woman on outside; Male/Female on inside)
  • Ryze

Companies who get it:

  • Tribe (even has a “prefer not to say option”)
  • FriendSurfer
  • Ringo

[Note: “Prefer not to say” is very appreciated in sites not dedicated to dating… Because what’s the importance of sex other than reminding the user that you’re selling their data to advertisers?]

Update: The worst abuse is MySpace which not only assumes male/female but in asking you who you are looking for, it inverts it to say woman/man. Very male-centric.

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6 thoughts on “alphabetizing and crankiness

  1. Hi

    google “male female” vs “female male”… 2 million vs 600,000. I think there is a larger social/linguistic issue at hand than mere sexism on the part of webheads.

  2. zephoria

    Anonymous – what is the larger social/linguistic issue that is does not include sexism? I would argue that we’ve developed these patterns because of our prioritization of male/female, mr/miss, etc.

    The reason that i get cranky is because this is a rant that i’ve had over and over again. And one that i’ve specifically told webheads about. And yet, they continue with the normative sexist ordering.

  3. Izel

    For social software to default to male/straight options in the signup form isn’t sexism, it’s serving one’s target market. More straight white males are early adopters of cutting edge technologies and services than all other demographics combined. It makes sense to make signup easier for the overwhelming majority of your target market.

    Likewise with the ordering of genders. You’ll find that in most signup forms that have a “country” drop-down box, “United States” is at the very top of the list, “Canada” often right below that, and all the other countries of the world listed alphabetically below these two. Is this jingoistic? No, it’s good user interface design. More Americans and Canadians sign up for these things than users from all other countries combined, so it makes sense to list the most-often used option in the most easily accessible / topmost location.

  4. zephoria

    Izel – i completely agree that it is a business move and that companies are targeting a specific market, but that doesn’t make me any less cranky.

    Companies are constantly trying to tell me that they want more women to participate, but it’s clear from their interface that women are second class citizens. Men may be early adopters of social software, but is it worth alienating a large population simply because they are likely to be harder to convince? Why make something easier for the folks who are “easy”?

    Also, focusing on the early adopters does not refute my claim that this is embedded in a culture of sexism. In fact, it’s only a reminder *and a magnification* of such. A socially responsible action would be to make software more accessible to the communities less engaged.

    Also, gay men are notorious earlier adopters. Even Jonathan Abrams realizes that… many people thought Friendster was a gay male site at first. Of course, just because most sites are adopted by gay men first does *not* mean that they are made more easily accessible to gay men. Quite the contrary. Thus, your argument doesn’t stay consistent.

    The target market is part of the heteronormative idea of who is most valuable, not necessarily the economic reality.

  5. Izel

    Companies go into business with the intent of making money, not with the intent of being socially conscious, nor of being socially malicious. The fact is that companies aren’t people. They aren’t sexist, or racist, or jingoistic, or even opinionated. Companies are fixated on one thing and one thing only, and that is profits. If a technology company could somehow make more money by glorifying womanhood, buying into the whole goddess culture movement, whatever, that market space would be crowded to high heaven in no time. That doesn’t seem to have happened. It’s been tried (Purple Moon Software) and it bombed big time.

    Basically, you can get as cranky as you want, but unless your feminist agenda makes financial sense, companies aren’t interested. It’s their money on the line, and they have a right to invest it in a way that will bring in the highest returns. This isn’t male hegemony, this is the reality of the technology marketplace. If you think you can make more money by making your bleeding-edge technological product or service difficult and inconvenient to use for the overwhelmingly largest percentage of your potential customers (straight white males) then go right ahead — but don’t blame me when you go bankrupt.

  6. Izel

    Oh, and if you don’t realize why it’s so important to concentrate on amassing a large early adopter crowd as quickly as possible in the social software space, then I’m not going to help you out by mentioning Metcalfe’s Law.

    These companies are concentrating on the “easy” customers, because their very survival depends on it. You of all people should have already observed this.

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