Masthead CMC Magazine / March 1, 1996
 A Loan, by John December

The Anxiety of Influence

It was not very long ago when I found amateur sites devoted to a range of topics: from the old days of the Letterman web pages put together by fans, to the sometimes bizarre--and obsessive-compulsive--intricacies of sites such as those devoted to Seinfeld or rock groups. Today, these amateur sites exist, but in their influence can't be measured in the ink of press releases or air time on old media.

My awakening didn't happen overnight, but suddenly in San Jose last spring, attending Internet World '95, I found myself at the press lunch where an eager Point Communications staff announced and demonstrated their site. And in the months that followed, I recieved more announcements and press materials and mailings from the public relations agency marketing that site. It amazed me, I had never seen it before that time: A web site has a PR firm promoting it. I never thought more deeply of the implications of that free lunch until now.

I'm not alluding to some evil corporate plot to dominate the Net. In fact, if there is such a plot, I'm deep in on it myself: I've written about and given presentations on Web promotion and marketing, and I see promotion as an essential part of Web development that is usually in the very best needs of the users of a Web site.

What I do see are power structures from our broader society influencing the social construction of legitimacy and power in the online world. There should be no mystery about this. But the Web fosters a healthy does of chaos, and individual, amateur webs grow like kudzu in the interstices among the "Big" Web sites. Then they all compete for measures of legitimacy: hits, unique IP addresses served, advertising revenue, or the "seals" attesting to status as the "[top, best, cool, sucky, mediocre] site of the [day, week, Net, Web]."

Where does this leave us?

First, I don't think the women's unequal participation in the Web is so much a result of the lack of encouragement some young women face in their math and science education. Instead, I think it relates more to the processes that legitimize and place value on Web--or any--communication. The systems in place now have been largely built by and for men (all the way back to 25 years ago to the start of the Internet).

Second, I think we need some other basis for acknowledging value and bestowing legitimacy on communication other than raw measures of attention that pass for value on the Web today.

Third, I don't think women are doomed to a permanent minority status on the Web. Tori Amos eventually calls for "a big loan from the girl zone." I've no doubt that loan is here now, and I've no doubt that it can define its own legitimacy. --

[ []DeLoach compares ghettoization to legitimacy.]

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