Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I've been hanging out a bit with part of the Wikipedia community since meeting Jimmy Wales in Linz. One thing that has struck me is that many, if not most, of the people I've met from the community who are involved in managing Wikipedia seem to be women. I haven't conducted any scientific analysis or anything, but Wikipedia seems much more gender balanced than the blogging community. I know many people point out that ratio of men at conferences on blogging and ratio of men who have loud blog voices seems to be quite high. I wonder what causes this difference in gender distribution? Is it that the power law aspect of blogs is inherently more competitive and appeals to the way men are "trained" in society? Or is it that we're just talking to the "head" of the blog curve and that the more interesting blogs are actually by women in "the long tail"? Or is it something about Wikipedia that attracts powerful women? Has anyone else noticed this or done a study on gender distribution on wikis? I wonder if this true of wikis generally? I don't think Wikipedia is a "traditional" anything let alone a traditional wiki. Has anyone noticed this on other wikis?


The ratio seems very good on the english language wikipedia, but is not as convincing on other languages wikipedias. I do not recognise this trend on the french wikipedia for example.

This said, it is probably not irrelevant to note that the two representative elected on the board were women, and that two other very implicated people such as Aphaia and Elian are women as well. This certainly is unusual.

I suspect that the ability to participate under pseudonymes rather than real names is an incentive for women to join Wikipedia, or at least to join the virtual world with less fear.

I haven't read any empirical research on women's character traits, but the first thought that came to my mind after I read this post is that I think men seem to have big egos and like to have credits all to themselves. Hence, they are seen publishing their findings in blogs more often than in wikipedia. Women, on the other hand, are more willing (and in fact enjoy) to work with others.

I would like to point out that I used the world "trained" above. I think a lot of gender stereotypes are forced on people as children. I'm sure that in some cultures, men are less "manly".

"I haven't conducted any scientific analysis or anything, but Wikipedia seems much more gender balanced than the blogging community."

I suspect that may be because of a certain linguistic filip.

See, in my observation, "diaries", "journals", and "blogs" are all functionally the same thing. But diaries and journals tend to mostly be women, and blogs tend to mostly be men.

My hypothesis is this is mostly like Tab and Diet Coke. Diet Coke, as a brand, was mostly conceived as a way to sell a low calorie cola to men who wouldn't buy Tab because it was identified as "woman's drink". I submit that men are now keeping journals and diaries, but are using the linguistically ugly word "blog" to pretty much convince themselves they're not doing something too fru-fru.

This seems to bear out in places like Livejournal, where the gender balance is at least even, if not skewed in favor of women.

But the real test would be if one could somehow measure "journals", "diaries", and "blogs" in the aggregate, and see what kind of gender balance there is.

Maybe it's due to the fact that men like to be heard and seen. If you have a blog it's mostly because you like to air your personal opinions about a variety of things = you want attention because you find yourself and your opinions important enough to be heard. A lot of women don't have the need to show off like men do, They are more modest when it comes to discussion. Wikipedia is based on solid knowledge, not on boistorius arguments. And in the end making an encyclopedia may be of greater value to society than babbling on about this and that in a blog? Maybe that's the difference?

joi, i really love your blog and read it every day. really, i do... ok now the negative again ... the term "wiki" is lame. stupid really. nerdy fun and an "in" term maybe .. but in general a geek term that no one will ever embrace. OK.. call me a "hater" ... but before you do that have anyone on this thread as their friends what a wiki is. No one will know. I am begging you Joi to be the one that creates a better name for what a wiki is. Really.... please ... wiki sucks ... if wiki had a better name ... a name that was as representitive with its usefulness ... people would use them more often. I'll give 100 bucks to anyone that asks a person at a gas station to tell them what a wiki is. It will not happen. Bad name, no identity. Joi, please rename it!

Participation in the wikipedia isn't controlled by anything other than the person's own interests and involvement.

Studies have been made of blogging and have found that 50% or more of all webloggers, journalists or 'bloggers' implied categorization aside, are women; however, men are given disproportionate attention. Why? Good question, someone let me know when there's a good answer.

In blogging, there are many different factors that generate attention, including a person's name (how well they're known), wealth, status, etc --above and beyond the quality or amount of participation in the weblogs. In the wikipedia, attention is based on involvement and quality, no other factor.

What we're seeing is probably the same amount of participation of each sex in both activities, but women are getting proportionate attention in Wikipedia.

Aristartled again, I can't tell if you're joking or not, but the term 'wiki' is commonplace, and exists outside of Joi's influence. Way outside.

And try asking that same gas station attendant what a 'weblog' is.

I don't think the "librarian thing" is operating here, or if it is, it's in a very left-handed fashion.

Yes, librarians are disproportionately women. I would note also that female *geeks* are disproportionately librarians (rather than sysadmins or codemonkeys or whatever). If there's a connection with Wikipedia, I suspect that's it.

I wonder if the difference is due, in part, to the fact that the Wikipedia (and MediaWiki) communities have a lot of Europeans. I am currently living in the UK and involved in some scientific communities here and I have been pleasantly surprised at all the very good and respected European women scientists. It seems to me that there are more women who make it in the sciences here (UK/Europe) than in the U.S. Maybe this is also true in the tech/computing world?

Please get rid of your old wiki or block the spammers, they are hitting it every day.

I can't even access your new wiki though, it complains about cookies when all I want to do is see what's there.

To better understand why women are marginalized in a variety of matters, please obtain a copy of one of my favorites excursions into an answer:

Maria Mies', Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the Interational Division of Labour, (London: Zed Books, 1986)

(Don't let the pub. date confuse you its relevant as ever, esp. given the continuing and persistent income inequalities between the sexes alone, not mention a mountain of other madness.)

thanks for the post!

you ask at the end if this is also the case in the general use of wiki software... but as you suspect, it's hard to relate the wikimedia model to most instances of wiki-use.

depending on the subject matter and social norms in a wiki community, you will get different outcomes... for example, a dicussion at Meatball Society (a wiki on online community, and wikis) wondered if a 'use real names' policy on that wiki would deter participation from women?

so, yes, it's hard to generalize the wikipedia case into general wiki-use.

but it's dangerous to even entertain it, because instead of looking at specifically what 'works' on wikipedia to have such a gender-balanced space- we end up with people making broad-stroke generalizations about women who are more suited to anonymous work. (!bah!)

If you are having joiwiki cookies problems like #11 above, please let me know.

I don't think it's a coincidence that librarians, who in some ways have a very similar line of work to the Wikipedian, are mostly female.

You mentioned blogging; on Livejournal, a blogging system that is more community-oriented than blogger or blogspot, women dominate.

I suppose we should also ask if there is a coincidence between the number of African-American v. Asian Wikipedian users simply because of their ethnicity? My point is that you can't judge people based solely on their gender, or if you do, well that's good for you, yay for sexism!

And no, I don't think that Wikipedia attracts women more than men and if it does that's because of the role society has told women and men to take and how they're supposed to feel.

I think all the comments above are good. I can only add the very speculative possibility that on wikipedia women will tend to have a better user-experience, because of their usually greater emotional-verbal ability. The male users will tend to be more confrontational towards other male users, and thus their user-experience can be less rewarding. Not sure how big a part this plays in the gender distribution patterns if at all.

Another thing I personally think fits the female ethos is the emphasis of "growing" articles in an organic fashion, and nurturing them.

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