Hanging With The Grown-Ups - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
6/15/2007
01:00 PM
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Hanging With The Grown-Ups

A close friend recently sent me an invitation to join a new search service called Spock, which has generated a bit of buzz. Besides the lure of the name itself (OK, I admit it, I was a Trekkie in a previous life), I was attracted by the idea of a new search engine that uses tags and other strategies to pull in information about people, eliminate duplicate information, and pull it all together in a profile page. But not all the buzz has been favo

A close friend recently sent me an invitation to join a new search service called Spock, which has generated a bit of buzz. Besides the lure of the name itself (OK, I admit it, I was a Trekkie in a previous life), I was attracted by the idea of a new search engine that uses tags and other strategies to pull in information about people, eliminate duplicate information, and pull it all together in a profile page. But not all the buzz has been favorable -- especially for us XX-chromosome types.I've only spent an hour or so with Spock so far, but it looks like it may have a lot of promise (finding people via tags and creating groups of colleagues by tagging them yourself, for example) and some drawbacks (like the current lack of a way to protest an offensive tag put against your name short of trying to vote it down). This is an early startup, so I'm sure there are a lot of changes and additions in store; as a result, it's still too early to really check on its full potential. If handled right, Spock could do really well.

That is, assuming its creators learn from their mistakes. Apparently, the all-guy group made the error of thinking they were still hanging with the boys at the frat when they started assembling their marketing campaign. For example, part of the page set to entice people to apply for a job at Spock included some nudge-nudge wink-wink comments guaranteed to tick women off, and their presentation at last April's Web 2.0 Expo, which involved a search for either swimsuit or lingerie models, didn't go over well with some of the female attendees.

Perhaps I've been exposed to too many professional people in the technical, marketing, and business worlds who are good at their jobs, but I can't understand why the folks at Spock could ever suppose this type of stuff was acceptable at a conference where the idea was to attract as many people -- male and female -- to their product as possible. It could be attributable to the remains of the "women=aliens" trope that you find in a lot of male-only social milieus (and yes, you can find the reverse attitude in many women-only arenas).

It also could be a misconception, especially among those first pushing their way into the business world, about what is actually best for their company. Scantily-clad models draped across automobiles used to be a popular way to sell cars -- until manufacturers found out how many women actually make the purchase. Women may still be a minority in some technical fields, but we do make up a considerable percentage of journalists, corporate managers, tech writers, marketing experts, executives -- in fact, for a site that hopes eventually to attract as many users as possible, we hold about 51% of the potential market share (at least in the United States).

Spock has removed the offending (or, at least, annoying) page from the site, and hopefully has revamped its demos. I'd like to think, for the sake of what could be a great product, that it will continue to hone its marketing strategies. The elbow-in-the-ribs approach is all well and good when you're hanging out with your friends at the local bar, but if you're going to be successful in the highly competitive world of the Web, it's time to join the grown-ups.

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