During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on July 8, 2011.
I knew that someone posted on this blog discussing what requirements a feminist-informed social network would have. Turns out it was me. A year on, and due to discussions around Google+, I think I have some positive requirements. (I recommend reading the old comments thread too.)
Control over identifying information. Name, gender, age, who you are friends with, what you talk about, what events you are in, and what you look like: this is all varyingly sensitive information and should be able to be hidden.
As few restrictions as possible on identity. Allowing use of pseudonyms, not assuming that everyone has two, or two ‘important’, names, free specification of gender if specified at all. As little structured compulsory information as possible. Unstructured, free-form, and non-compulsory are key things here.
Accessibility. State of the art accessibility design including testing with screen readers, colour palettes suited to as many variants of vision as possible, collaborative transcripting and captioning of images, no flashing ads or autoplaying video.
You own your space and control entry. This means you should be able to moderate things. Being able to ignore people is good but is not enough: you likely don’t want to subject your friends to the conversation of a person who you dislike enough to ignore.
Rigorous site-level attention to spam and harassment. No one (much) wants spam, enough said. But harassment—continued interactions or attempts to interact after being told to stop, including ban evasion—should be a terms of service level violation, as should any threats (whether or not the person has been told to stop). Use of threats or hate speech in user names and default icons or other things that appear in directory listings or search results may also need to be considered. This all requires staffing and a complaints system.
Consistent access control. If you set something private, or it was private by default at the time, it should stay that way, probably to the extent where if it can’t remain private for technical reasons, it should be deleted/hidden by the site rather than made public.
Access to your work and ability to export it. The correct thing to do here is a little tricky (are other people’s comments in your space yours to export and republish, or not? what about co-owned spaces?) The autonomo.us community has had some inconclusive discussions.
Fine-grained access control. I don’t think something along the lines of that which Livejournal and its forks have had for years and which Facebook and Google+ have implemented to varying degrees, is required (public blogs have a strong presence in activist discussions) but it’s useful for more universal participation. Some people need it.
Clear limits on sharing. This is something that Google+ early testers are coming up against again and again: ‘Limited’ posts are or were shareable, a commenter using someone’s name with the + sign (eg ‘+Mary’) does or did actually invite them into private comment threads without the original poster’s input. If you offer access control, the software must make it clear what controls apply to any space, and if you have influence over that or not, so that you can control your own revelations in that space. Substantial user testing to make sure that people understand what your interface is trying to say is required.
No advertising. I guess it might be possible to show people ads in a way that has neither the problem of offensive or upsetting ads (“lose weight for your wedding today!”) nor the problem of the advertisers doing dodgy malware ads to harvest your info or worse. Maybe.
What else? How do your favourite sites do on these?