New data on the way Internet use breaks down by gender seems to confirm some long-held stereotypes. Marisa Taylor at the Wall Street Journal reports that women outnumber men 57 percent to 43 percent on Facebook and Twitter. We also make up nearly two-thirds of MySpace users. Brian Solis, who crunched the numbers, summarizes his findings in no uncertain terms: "The point of interest that's worth review and discussion is that in social media, women rule."
The knee-jerk explanation for Solis' findings looks something like this: Ladies like to chat, share intimate details of their lives and keep in touch with friends they haven't seen in person since grade school. Menfolk don't have time for such social frivolity. (Or hey, maybe they're just too busy trolling the Web for porn.)
And perhaps there is some truth to that received wisdom: While the vast majority of young people I know are on Facebook, the few remaining holdouts are mostly guys. They call it a time suck, a forum for compulsive oversharing, a creepy place where people you hated in high school resurface out of nowhere, pretending to be your best friend.
But now that we know who isn't on Facebook, it's surprising to see who is: A recent study by Rapleaf, a "social-media-data company," found that "married women between the ages 35 and 50 are the fastest-growing segment of social-networking users." The WSJ doesn't speculate as to why this might be, but I have a theory. Now that even elementary school kids are well-versed in social media, moms I know have made it their business to have a presence on the sites. And while they may initially only be there to ensure their children's safety, many eventually learn to love the online communities for their own purposes, too.
But even if stereotypically "feminine" reasons -- socializing, parenting -- are drawing women to the sites, social media may still do great things to increase our power in the working world. Most people I know who use Twitter, for instance, are there for professional reasons. Plus, as the WSJ notes, women are also dominating Ning, a site that allows users to create their own social networks. We're neck and neck with men on YouTube and LinkedIn, too. So instead of just blabbering and mothering, our time spent on social media sites may help us hone real skills and make important professional connections. All things considered, we could actually be shattering those other pervasive gender stereotypes -- that ladies and technology don't mix, and that Internet geekdom is an overwhelmingly male domain.
The new data should also give women unprecedented power in the online marketplace: According to Rapleaf CEO Auren Hoffman, "the future of social media is going to be all about the women." Hopefully, this realization about women's growing facility with technology will filter down to computer and video game manufacturers, who might consider this a good time to stop treating women as an exotic and hard-to-crack niche market, to be coddled, cooed at and condescended to.