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#RIPDanWheldon: A Tribute to the #Indycar Twitter Community, by Angie King

The following post was written by Angie King, a longtime friend and supporter of ours. She reached out to us after witnessing Dan Wheldon’s crash in Las Vegas and was interested in writing a post about how Twitter introduced her to Indycar and how it affected her life in the days afterward. It’s a powerful story about how social media connects us as human beings — both in our mundane, everyday lives and during the course of extraordinary events.


As surprised as you are to find a blog about Indycar on the Geek Girls Guide, it was equally as surprising to me to become an Indycar fanatic. After years of resisting any sort of sports fandom, this year I found myself obsessed with Indycar. It was a natural progression; something I didn’t question yet was a little embarrassed by around friends.  Mostly because I couldn’t explain it.

Since witnessing the fatal crash that took driver Dan Wheldon’s life on October 16 in Las Vegas and experiencing more grief than I could ever have expected, I started reflecting on why I feel so connected to Indycar. Besides the excitement of the sport, the talented and colorful drivers, and sharing a passion with my husband, I realized that Twitter has a played a big role. It’s one of the reasons my interest in Indycar grew into a passion this year, it helped me get through the 2 hours of waiting between the crash and when they finally announced Dan’s death, and has helped me grieve and cope with his loss in the time since.

To say I was surprised by the breadth and depth of the Indycar Twitter community is putting it lightly. After working in the interactive marketing world for a number of years, this is the first time I’ve experienced the true potential of social media. I’d thought the global, egalitarian, virtual community was purely idealistic. But in Indycar, they’ve made this goal a reality. Drivers, fans, media, and thought leaders all interact with each other like one big family.

#Indycar
I first learned about the Indycar Twitter community while watching races on Versus TV with my husband. The Indycar commentators devoted entire pre-race segments to driver tweets. The weight put on things happening off the track on Twitter intrigued me. I started following a driver’s list (@indcyar/drivers-indycar) so I could be in-the-know before the TV crew reported on it trackside.

Some memorable moments from the drivers this year on Twitter include:

  • After a terrible race in Toronto, Will Power (@12WillPower) tweeted to the driver who’d taken him out: @dariofranchitti hey princess thanks for that nice tap today–appreciate it.” Dario (@dariofranchitti) and Will were in the middle of a contentious championship points battle, and this little rant on Twitter intensified their rivalry.
  • When three-time Indianapolis 500 and season five Dancing with the Stars winner Helio Castroneves (@h3lio) went on a Twitter rampage after receiving what he felt was an unjust penalty for passing under yellow during the Japan race, he paid for it dearly. Near the end of a multi-post tweet, he called IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart a “circus clown,” a comment which cost him $30,000 in league fines.
  • Driver interaction with fans is a daily activity on Twitter. They often retweet fan requests to celebrate birthdays and respond to fan questions or comments, if not directly, then via a mass tweet. Many drivers used Twitter as a contest medium, giving away hundreds of pit passes to the Las Vegas finale to fans (including me!).

But it’s not just the drivers that I love on Twitter. I also started following the #indycar hashtag with fervor. The fans, bloggers and media personalities that use this hashtag provide article links, insight and commentary that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. And the best part? I feel welcome to interact with them, even though we’ve never met, and will likely never meet. Being a fan and having opinions is the only requirement to being accepted into this worldwide community.

#vegasindycar
My new #indcyar friends got me educated and excited for our trip to Las Vegas for the World Championships, with many posts tagged with #vegasindycar. In return, I promised those that couldn’t make the trip that I’d keep them updated on my experience. But 140 characters were not enough to express the sheer thrill of meeting Dan Wheldon on qualifying day.

A fan favorite, Dan had won the Indy 500 (for the 2nd time) earlier that year. His vibrant personality, golden boy good looks, and reformed-playboy-turned-family-man core would send any girl’s heart a-flutter. Thanks to a new friend on the inside, I got to meet Dan, shake his hand, and see that incredible smile in person. It was only a moment, but it’s a moment I will cherish. Because less than two days later, Dan was dead.

#PrayersforWheldon
Seeing the horrific 15-car crash live was like watching a horror movie in real life. We’ve seen bad crashes on TV before, but both my husband and I got sick to our stomach after witnessing this one. The track announcers reported that every driver involved was in good condition, except one: Dan Wheldon. Soon he was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital. But no one, not the track announcers or the IMS radio broadcast we were listening to on our scanner, had any details.

Naturally, I turned to Twitter for information. During the 2 hour wait, I saw everything from worry (#prayersforwheldon became the trending hashtag), to speculation (someone had seen driver Danica Patrick crying), to hope (Ashley Judd {@AshleyJudd}, wife of driver Dario Franchetti, tweeted that Dan had left the raceway unconscious, but with stable vitals; fans retweeted her post, clinging to this shred of hope from someone in -the-know).

However hopeful others were, I kept looking back at driver Tomas Scheckter’s (@tomasscheckter) tweet. The only driver involved in the crash who had posted anything to Twitter immediately following, his post was grim: “Leaving track don’t want to hear news seen enough / Walked past something I pray never to see again.” And sure enough, about 2 hours after the crash, CEO Randy Bernard announced Dan’s death. 

#RIPDanWheldon
After we left the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that afternoon, my husband and I tried to console ourselves with drinks and gambling back at our casino. But in between each hand of video poker, I was refreshing Hoot Suite on my phone to see what drivers and other fans were posting. The trending hashtag had quickly changed from #prayersforwheldon to #ripdanwheldon. It was heartbreaking. We called it an early night, but the next morning before our flight home, I was back on my phone catching up with everyone’s reactions on Twitter.

Following the posts from drivers, fans and others has been heart wrenching, consoling, and frustrating in the week since Dan’s death. The frustration comes from posts reflecting comments made by people outside of the Indycar community and in the mainstream media who have been sensationalizing the crash and condemning the sport. For example, when Star Jones criticized the safety of Indycar in the wake of Dan’s death on The Today Show, the #indycar community (rightfully) threw a fit. And much was made over NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson’s (@JimmieJohnson) comment that Indycar shouldn’t race on ovals.

Many posts are both heart wrenching and consoling. Especially from the drivers, who have been reacting in their own personal ways: 

  • Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan), former teammate and close personal friend of Dan’s, has mostly been posting photos of the two of them together, remembering happier times.
  • Will Power, JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand ) and Pippa Mann (@PippaMann )—the only other drivers brought to the hospital for minor injuries in Las Vegas, were mostly silent the week following the crash, only surfacing to say they are fine, thanks for the kind words, but save your prayers for the Wheldon family. (Dan left behind a wife and two young sons, not to mention his parents and siblings in the UK.)
  • Driver Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal), tweeted the day after the crash that he intended to auction off his race helmet to benefit the Wheldon family. Over the week, his gesture snowballed into what is now a massive cross-disciplinary sports and pop culture memorabilia auction, complete with its own Twitter handle: @DWheldonAuction.

#lionheart
And then there’s the 100s of news and tribute articles tweeted and retweeted in the #indycar stream. I can’t possibly describe or link them all, but many have brought me to tears (including this one). Overall, I feel an overwhelming sense of a community pulling together to get through a very difficult time. The strongest sentiment—next to one of sympathy for Dan’s family—is one of continued vitality and life in Dan’s honor.

Many tribute tweets are now tagged with #lionheart, referring to the image Dan Wheldon had painted on the back of his race helmets: a mural of King Richard the “Lionhearted,” who was known for his bravery and heart. The consensus on Twitter is that Dan’s legacy will not be how he died, but how he lived. With an energetic, friendly, caring and playful approach off the track, and a focused, determined and fearless drive on the track.

The optimistic posts in the face of trauma remind me to greet each new day with the enthusiasm Dan showed in his final tweet. Just one word, the color of the flag that starts the race: “@DanWheldon Green!!!!”


If you feel inclined to support Dan Wheldon’s family or his passion for curing Alzheimer’s (a disease his mother was diagnosed with), there are a number of ways to contribute. Visit DanWheldonMemorial.com for details.

For more information on Dan Wheldon and his tragic death, Speed.com has posted comprehensive recap of articles that are worth a read. Read their Dan Wheldon Coverage Recap


Angie King manages content and social media for Bachmans.com, a Minnesota-based floral, gift and garden center. Outside of work, she’s a pop culture addict, jewelry maker, urban farmer, Rock Band and Las Vegas enthusiast, and a novice Indycar fan. Her Twitter handle is @angiewarhol.

Digitwirl: Sell Your Cell

In this week’s Digitwirl, our pal Carley gives you a tour of Gazelle: a marketplace where you can get rid of your old, unused gadgets. I don’t know about you, but I have a closet jammed with old stuff I don’t use anymore. Rather than let them collect dust, why not free up all that closet space and either make some money or feel good about recycling those old relics?

That’s right, you might be able to make some money from all the junk in your technology graveyard!


Digitwirl: The best place to sell your cell

What’s the deal? Doesn’t it seem like cell phone manufacturers time the release date of the next generation iPhone or Droid with the exact moment you plunk down money on the “current version?”  So, what do you do with the gadgets you’ve outgrown when you’re ready for the latest and greatest? Stash them in a drawer? Nah, too messy. Toss them? God we hope not, landfills are full enough already. Here’s a better idea: sell your cell, computer, or e-reader on Gazelle.com. The site helps you appraise your old electronics and tells you how much they’ll pay you for it, while you sit back and collect the cash. It’s not easy being green? We beg to differ, Kermit!


Digitwirl is the weekly web show that offers simple solutions to modern day problems.  In 3-minutes, Digitwirl brings busy women the very best time, money, and sanity-saving technology, and then teaches them how to use it, step-by-step.  Digitwirl was created by technology lifestyle expert Carley Knobloch, who uses lots of technology to manage her busy life as mom of two and entrepreneur.  Subscribe to get weekly show alerts and exclusive deals at Digitwirl.com, or follow Digitwirl on Twitter at @digitwirlr.

Introducing Digitwirl

This week, we’re happy to start sharing Digitwirl, a new video series from Carley Knobloch. I met Carley a little over a year ago when she heard a podcast that I recorded with David Allen (of Getting Things Done). A kindred geek girl and GTD fan, we connected immediately. I’ve been keeping up with Carley ever since then and when she launched Digitwirl earlier this year, I knew it would be a great how-to supplement for Geek Girls Guide readers.

So, enjoy! We’ll share a new twirl with you here once a week. We hope you enjoy these fast, helpful videos as much as we do.

In this week’s video, Carley introduces Evernote, which is one of those applications that EVERYONE I know raves about, but which I haven’t managed to find time to try. After seeing how she uses it to keep track of travel itineraries, business cards, photos and kids’ artwork I’m even more convinced that I really need to make time to check it out.


Digitwirl: Digital storage that keeps track of all the information life throws at you

Look around your house. Are you seeing stacks of papers that you keep meaning to go through? Boxes and files bulging with stuff you put there for safe-keeping, but couldn’t find what you need if your life depended on it? Don’t worry, we won’t judge, it’s the exact overload we were facing that made us think there has to be a better way. 

Wouldn’t be amazing if you could store information you needed to remember in one place and more importantly, find it instantly, anytime, from anywhere? Good news! It exists, and it is a total game-changer.  Evernote is a website, a free app, and an extension that builds functionality into tons of programs you already use.

If you can email it, scan it, type it, snap it, record it, or find it on the internet you can keep track of it all with Evernote.  You won’t believe how simple it is to use. Watch the video, and then forget about forgetting important information ever again.


Digitwirl is the weekly web show that offers simple solutions to modern day problems.  In 3-minutes, Digitwirl brings busy women the very best time, money, and sanity-saving technology, and then teaches them how to use it, step-by-step.  Digitwirl was created by technology lifestyle expert Carley Knobloch, who uses lots of technology to manage her busy life as mom of two and entrepreneur.  Subscribe to get weekly show alerts and exclusive deals at Digitwirl.com, or follow Digitwirl on Twitter at @digitwirlr.

Social Media After a Layoff, by Laura Wadzinski

A few months ago, I had a conversation with Laura, whom I’ve worked with in the past, about her recent job search experience. She had been part of a layoff, and her description of how social media had played into her job search struck me as something the Geek Girls Guide audience might be interested in. Sure, there’s the requisite “using LinkedIn to network” kind of angle, but what was truly unique to me was how social media (namely the Group feature on both Facebook and LinkedIn) had allowed this group of people to remain connected with each other long after the layoff was over.

In my own past, I’ve worked at a couple of advertising agencies where layoffs are a part of life. Lose a big client, and everyone braces themselves for the axe to fall. After a day of layoffs, both those who were let go and those who weren’t would generally meet at a bar somewhere and commisserate. And that’s about where it would end.

But that was before social media gave us the ability to organize ourselves on the fly. And Laura’s story illustrates how a group of people — like the ones let go from her company — can self-organize to continue to provide support to each other long after the layoff.

One of the books I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about what social media from a sociological (vs. tactical) perspective is Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody.” (Nancy likes to make fun of my for my Shirky fangirl tendencies, but what can I say?! Dude is brilliant.) The subtitle of his book is “The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” and Laura’s story below illustrates that point perfectly.

——————————————

This fall I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my job when my position as an interactive marketing planner was eliminated as part of a massive layoff.  As you would imagine (or maybe you know) the days immediately following were extremely confusing and humbling.  I know how to maximize every minute of a 50-hour week job and manage a household, but I felt paralyzed and unsure how to prioritize what to do first, next, or not at all after the layoff.

I began telling myself that I was well-equipped to attack the impending job search.  After all, a job search is the equivalent of developing a marketing plan, of which I’ve spent the bulk of my career in practice. Furthermore, in my most recent position, I was responsible for developing online media strategy (including the use of social networks) for executive recruitment at my company.  So I kept telling myself “I know how to work this thing”.  Then I’d freeze up again.

Within a few days I had my resume updated and was ready to start connecting with my network of friends and former colleagues to help me identify job leads.  The support, information and leads I have received from my established networks on Facebook and LinkedIn have been, and continue to be, incredibly beneficial.

As tactically-focused as I tried to be, there were moments when I couldn’t get through checking my pages without being brought to tears.  Somebody I knew well, or even casually would tell me how sorry they were, tell me I was talented, offer up where they had connections, or ask for my resume so they could pass it along.  The thoughts, the kindness, the offers affected me profoundly. The support and validation from my professional and social networks was as important as the job leads themselves.  I expected some of the kind words and support.  My networks are full of my friends.

What I did not expect was the creation and appearance of a unique group on both Facebook and LinkedIn.  The groups were created by, and for, those individuals that were part of the layoff.  I joined the groups, and would describe them as part job lead swap, and part support group.  When a member comes across a job lead that isn’t a fit for them, they post it.  Usually with an accompanying offer of an introduction to their connection and/or a recommendation.

Recruiters and curious outsiders began requesting entrance to the group and it was put to vote. Some people felt that the more accessible and visible our job search content was, the better (really great point).  However, a majority voted for the Facebook group to stay closed so that we had a confidential and mutually understood place to go, so regardless of whether that day we needed a job lead, a place to vent, or a discussion thread about how to best navigate our severance benefits, it was a safe place to be.  If an unrecognized request to join came through, the group administrator sent it out to the group so someone could vouch.  There actually was a recruiter that got in on the first couple of days before the vote and she graciously announced that she would leave and connect with us on Linked In. We did vote to open the Linked In group to anyone who wanted to help with leads and connections.

The most important thing I learned about using social media in my job search is how powerful it is in delivering qualified job leads.  It helped me avoid the atrophy of sifting through hundreds of openings that were not interesting, or that weren’t a good fit or that I didn’t have a connection to help me get in.  When I did pursue leads, I was going in for my interviews with a recommendation from the connection who had posted the lead.

I also was reminded why I love working in the interactive media space.  It is filled with so many smart, supportive, generous, creative people.  Thank you.


Laura Wadzinski is a Client Services Manager at The Lacek Group.  She has led strategic planning and project management both on the agency side and on the corporate side.

A Heartwarming Tale of Internal Organs and Twitter by Sharyn Morrow

Today is the big day. A kidney transplant is happening in the Twin Cities this morning, thanks to twitter. Minneapolis musician/artist Chris Strouth had known about his illness for some time. In medical terminology it’s a mouthful. Though technically called IgA Nephropathy Strouth has dubbed his sickness “Harold.” It is a much less menacing name, but after one particularly disheartening visit to the Mayo Clinic Strouth discovered Harold had turned life-threatening. His first thought? To tweet what was happening. His message to his twitter account was brief, along the lines of “sh!t, I need a kidney.” He later followed up with a Facebook post. Before long over a dozen friends and contacts volunteered to be tested, to see if their tissue would match. Only one was a perfect match. The donor is a man who apparently likes squirrels, Strouth’s old acquaintance Scott Pakudaitis, whose latest status made me smile:

“At the hospital. Goodbye kidney hellooo pantslessness!”

Pakudaitis named his healthy kidney “William the Conqueror” and posted about it doing battle with Harold. I’ve been following these fine gentlemen on twitter and watching events unfold has been uplifting, to say the least. I wish them both speedy recoveries after today’s surgeries. And to anyone who doubts the power of social networking, not only can it be life changing, it can be life saving.


Sharyn Morrow is an end-user support specialist at Clockwork Active Media Systems with a long history of helping people get the most out of the web, and web tools, with a minimum amount of frustration.

Follow her on Twitter: massdistraction


[cross posted on the Clockwork blog]

A Response from Hoss Gifford and a Follow-up by Dave Schroeder

Dave and Hoss sent us the following letters this morning. We hope that everyone who has been involved takes the time to read them.

There is one important note that we feel compelled to add to the discussion at this point: We do not condone or endorse the negative, vitriolic and, in some cases, violent direction that many of the tweets and comments in this discussion have taken. Our intention was to start a public conversation, not to threaten anyone or make them fearful.

There has been lots of ugliness in this conversation. We don’t support that, but we can’t control the conversation. We’ve tried to do what we can to keep it productive and positive. The good news is that a vocal discussion is taking place that indicates that there may be a positive impact beyond just the Minneapolis community. Thanks to everyone who has contributed constructively to the discussion.

Read Dave’s letter >

I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.

I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well.  I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt.  Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees.  The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him.  I take full responsibility for this.  I exercised poor judgment.  I admit to my mistakes. read more >

Read Hoss’s Letter >

On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected. read more >


Dave Schroeder: A continuation of my comments and apology regarding Hoss Gifford’s talk at Flashbelt.

I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.

I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well.  I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt.  Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees.  The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him.  I take full responsibility for this.  I exercised poor judgment.  I admit to my mistakes.

However, I can’t in good conscience just leave him out to there to burn at the stake as he currently is. It would be easy to let him be the sacrificial lamb and for me to try and save my reputation.  Perhaps all I’ll do is end up on the stake with him, I can handle that, I deserve that, but I can’t live with myself if I don’t put all of my cards on the table here and represent my complete feelings on this matter to everyone, about everyone.  My reputation should be tarnished, I made serious errors and I accept the repercussions.

I’ve known Hoss for a few years. I’ve had good, respectable fun with him.  I like him as a person.  He has a sharp mind.  He has a good heart.  I’ve included comments about his person from the beginning.  For those who find that unimaginable, I suspect you don’t know him personally, or outside for the buzz around his presentation at Flashbelt.   I believe that whether you know him or not, everyone’s opinion on the content of his presentation is valid.  REPEAT, all opinions are valid whether you were there or not.  But certainly some opinions are more informed, and are more aware of the actual content than others, and it makes sense to give different degrees of consideration to these opinions.  Several people who were in attendance have posted their views on the session. I encourage you to find and read their posts, simply to be as informed as possible.

Finally, the calls to incite hatred and cause physical harm to him are simply absurd to me, and to a real degree dangerous.  Comments and calls to action of that sort are unsophisticated and unproductive.    Imagine if people had access to social media during the Salem witch hunts or the era of McCarthyism.   Would we have burned more witches because of Twitter, or would we have stopped it sooner because of Twitter?  I’m not talking about the cause of the mob here; being a witch or a communist is not equatable to Hoss’ presentation.  The offense was committed for sure.  But the way in which the public carries itself in response to any controversy is worth reflection.

*One amendment to my first response and apology; I referred to Hoss’ content as offensive and misogynistic in my apology.  Now that I’ve had the chance to talk with more people who attended the session.   I believe that it was offensive, but misogynistic (hatred of women) is not correct.  I know Hoss well enough to know he’s not a misogynist.  If I thought that about him I would never have booked him. Accurate language is very important.

Hoss contacted me Saturday. We spoke Sunday. I can assure you his taking this seriously as well and feels badly about the effect of his presentation.

Sincerely,
Dave Schroeder
Flashbelt Producer
[email protected]flashbelt.com

Letter from Hoss:

On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected.

In order for people that were not present at the presentation to develop a more informed opinion, I have posted the content of my slides and sites I linked out to at http://hossgifford.com/2009/flashbelt/.

I would like to point out that, at the time of writing this, I have received considerably more positive feedback on my Flashbelt presentation than negative – if you exclude those who did not attend the presentation. This affirmation includes female attendees going out their way to stop me at the conference and thank me openly for my presentation. I have received no emails, phone calls or any other form of direct contact with any negative comments.

It’s also worth noting that in the couple of days I spent at the conference venue after my presentation, not a single person approached me to express any concern about any part of my presentation. I attended presentations and the organised evening events making myself very visible, and yet nobody complained to me.

I can be crude and my presentations can be risqué but I am neither sexist nor a misogynist. I am concerned that my presentation is being described as being loaded with both. Not guilty. I have a strong willed wife and two young daughters – I wouldn’t last two minutes with the merest hint of misogyny. That said, my presentation could definitely cause offence to some people in society, and I have never tried to be to everyone’s taste.

To quote Courtney Remes, “It’s all about context. This was not the right context for Hoss.” She’s absolutely right. It was a mistake for my presentation to feature as a keynote presentation at Flashbelt – even if it had been labelled as having adult content as some have suggested. With the benefit of hindsight I should have suggested a less prominent spot, or even an evening appearance at a bar venue. Either way, there will always be people that feel there is no place for a presentation like mine, as there will always be people that would like to ban lewd comedians and violent video games.

I do, however, owe one further apology. But first some context. I spent the the morning leading up to my presentation in Fairview hospital ER being treated for a broken hand, which was splinted (still is, as I type this), and I was given a strong pain killer called Vicodin. I gave my talk while heavily under the influence of Vicodin, and as a result of this poor judgement I was looser with my language than I would normally have been, but the content of my presentation went ahead as planned. One statement I made, that if you are easily offended then f*** you, was wrong, and out of character, and I apologise to everyone that attended my presentation for this. If you get the opportunity to listen to a recording of the talk you will hear me stumbling for something to say as I resort to the profanity. I would not have made this offensive statement if I hadn’t been non compos mentis.

My conference presentation has evolved over the last 8 years based on both the direction my work, and crucially, the feedback I get from my talks – and I get a lot. Prior to this talk I received zero complaints regarding offending any members of the audience. I accept this is no guarantee that nobody was offended, but I can only work with the feedback I receive. The irreverent side to my presentations historically received the most praise and I reacted accordingly by increasing the level of banter.

The more raucous my presentation became, the better the feedback I received and in turn the more conference organisers invited me to speak. When a conference invites me to speak they know my talk will be as risqué and entertaining as it is informative. Flashbelt is no exception in this.

Indeed, I performed the exact same presentation two weeks earlier at the Flash on Tap conference in Boston, with a great deal of positive feedback, and more than three quarters of the presentation was made at conferences in Brighton, Belgium, and Germany last year – again with universally positive feedback. Now I have feedback of another nature and I will absolutely take this on board.

But try for a second, if you will, to put yourself in my shoes.

You’ve been making conference presentations that have brought positive feedback for many years and Flashbelt initially seems no different. But all of a sudden there is a massive backlash against your appearance, a backlash full of inaccuracies and exaggerations – what we call tabloid journalism in the UK – a type of journalism where facts needn’t be checked if they can bring in readers. Do you start posting a defence, pointing out the inaccuracies, and try to get people to see sense? Or do you do what I did, and read everything that’s written on the subject and wait for the dust to settle and tempers to cool.

The problem with waiting is that the mob gets restless – they are out for blood. Consider reading the cry for you to be set on fire, the cry for you to be waterboarded. Consider, as I had to yesterday morning, what to tell your wife when she doesn’t want to open the blinds in your house for fear that someone is waiting out there to cause you harm.

If Flashbelt had booked an adult comedian for the conference who had caused offence would you be set on destroying their career as a comedian, and work on a witch hunt to destroy their day job while you were at it? All because they did what they do, but in the wrong context.

It may seem perverse, but I am delighted at the quantity (if not the quality) of dialogue that this has initiated around the subject of equality in the developer community. I would love to see more female speakers at conferences, as I know of so many phenomenally talented women in influential positions (just look at the Flash Player dev team for example). But don’t forget how many fabulous female speakers there already are. In the Flash community I have yet to see Veronique Brossier, Niqui Merret, or Stacey Mulcahy give a bad talk, and Flashbelt this year was no exception. But until now I’ve never really thought anything of them being girls, they were always just talented peers.

Where do we go from here? I suspect this isn’t the lie-down-and-kick-me apology that the lynch mob is looking for and some will continue their mission for blood. These are the people that wrote tweets and comments with the line “I wasn’t there but…” in them. We all know the ignorance of people who use the lines “I’m not racist but…” and “I’m not sexist but…”.

There is nothing I can do to stop these people from putting their energy into destroying my career. If that’s what you feel would be most productive in achieving your goals then there’s nothing me or anyone else is going to say to slow you down.

To those of you who are using this eruption of attention to address the real issue of gender equality within our industry, I salute you. I encourage everyone to take part in the dialogue and to help make a tangible difference in the future. If you feel there is anything I can do to help, then post a comment – I read them all.

In addition to my apologies I have some thanks to give. First and foremost I’d like to thank Courney Remes for making a stand and going out on a limb to initiate this whole dialogue. Hopefully in the future, this won’t be considered ‘going out on a limb’. I’d also like to thank Dave Schroeder for being the utmost professional by being both supportive and accountable. Flashbelt really is one of the best conferences in the world and it’s all down to Dave – don’t let this incident put you off. Thanks also go out to Nancy and Meghan for providing a home f
or this discourse, and helping keeping things on topic when the lynch mob started to get out of control.

Perhaps my biggest thanks, however, go out to the people that also went out on a limb and posted a more rounded account of what went down. In the heat of the moment when the accusation is misogyny, it could be construed that to ask people to rationally consider the situation is to condone such behaviour. Thankfully there are enough level headed people out there to realise there is usually more than one side to a story. You know who you are – I am in your debt.

Once again, to Courtney and the other men and women in the audience that took offence to my presentation, I apologise unreservedly. I really do hope we can now turn this into a debate that creates a positive outcome.

Hoss Gifford.
Glasgow, June 15th 2009.

We’re In This Together, by Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker

Read Courtney’s letter

Well. My letter-turned-blog entry sparked some responses. A lot of them. I’m heartened that so many people have been so overwhelmingly supportive — but I also knew there might be some disagreement and debate. This is a normal part of any serious conversation about complex and important issues, though, and should be expected – and encouraged. By sharing my experience, I hoped to make space for this conversation, to open a dialogue, to help give voice to an issue worth speaking about. read more >

Read Dave’s letter

I want to assure you that I’m deeply upset about the presentation given recently at the Flashbelt Conference by Hoss Gifford. I’m disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen and I accept responsibility for it. I apologize for it.

His presentation included several offensive and misogynistic elements that I do not condone. I realize as the creator and producer of this conference I have the sole responsibility for the content presented and in this instance I have clearly failed to live up to my own standards, and the standards expected of me by the attendees, our industry and the general public. read more >

Read Meghan and Nancy’s letter

This is not a crusade against Flashbelt, an attack on Dave Schroeder or an attempt to lump all men into a tongue-waggling wolf-whistling boy’s club. This isn’t about anyone’s delicate lady ears not being able to handle the word fuck.
This is a specific account of a presentation at an event that — sadly —  is an example of behavior and attitudes toward women that are not as uncommon as you might think. read more >


From Courtney Remes (@totage)

Well. My letter-turned-blog entry sparked some responses. A lot of them. I’m heartened that so many people have been so overwhelmingly supportive — but I also knew there might be some disagreement and debate. This is a normal part of any serious conversation about complex and important issues, though, and should be expected – and encouraged. By sharing my experience, I hoped to make space for this conversation, to open a dialogue, to help give voice to an issue worth speaking about.

There has been some talk about how this conversation will ruin Flashbelt, about campaigning against men, and about how I was calling the flash community a “boys’ club.” Those are not and never were my intentions. Outside this Hoss incident, I love Flashbelt, otherwise I would not have kept coming back. Over the years, Dave has continued to bring to Minneapolis some seriously talented and inspiring people and I support his efforts. And he has also taken responsibility for the Hoss booking and is very open to discourse and new, positive action. Let’s get those things clear. I also want to point out that this is also just not a “women’s issue” – it’s a community issue. I know that a lot of the men in the audience were as stunned as I was at Hoss’ keynote and felt that it was totally inappropriate in that context. All of us would have preferred to have had our imagination sparked, our minds invigorated, and our love of creative work confirmed and encouraged. Hoss stole those classic Flashbelt moments from us – and replaced them with an energy and dynamic not becoming of an intelligent, forward-thinking group of people.

This is an opportunity for us to step back and ask some important questions of ourselves: When a person or organization creates an environment that appears to foster a “boy’s club” mentality, how do we react – and make sure that it doesn’t happen again? How do we value our differences without isolating or ostracizing?  How do we rise above the divisions and name-calling – and spend our energy on healthy discourse and forward-thinking actions (and the creative work we love so much)? It’s up to us to decide: what sort of dynamic do we want to create, within the Flash community and in any professional environment?

This is an opportunity for Flashbelt – and for all of us – to take this to a higher, more positive level. We don’t need to be tripped up by something like this or collapse in on ourselves. We’re smarter than that. And there are a lot of us – Dave and Flashbelt, Geek Girls, and everyone who has been touched by this incident. How can we keep this conversation from disintegrating – and, instead, transform it to good use? back to top ^

From Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt), Flashbelt Director

I want to assure you that I’m deeply upset about the presentation given recently at the Flashbelt Conference by Hoss Gifford. I’m disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen and I accept responsibility for it. I apologize for it.
His presentation included several offensive and misogynistic elements that I do not condone. I realize as the creator and producer of this conference I have the sole responsibility for the content presented and in this instance I have clearly failed to live up to my own standards, and the standards expected of me by the attendees, our industry and the general public.

Gender issues in general and in our industry are of great importance to me. I consider myself a feminist and don’t hesitate to say it. I want our industry to be a place where all genders and races work together in a respectful, supportive fashion. That has been my M.O. since day 1 and is not just a wake up call brought on by this instance. Working together, men and women can elevate their skills, creativity and successes. The ultimate goal of Flashbelt is to aid every attendee in their desire to further their professional skills and knowledge. I want men and women to mingle, talk shop, have fun and geek out. Allowing a presentation to create an atmosphere that hinders this scenario is tragic failure on my part.

Off color jokes and boys’ clubs exist in the workplace and it’s not cool. These things can add up to create an environment in which women feel like outsiders, or on unequal footing with their male co-workers. As for suggestions along the lines of growing a thicker skin, or leaving if you don’t like it, I don’t accept that rationale. It’s flawed. I know many women that do this in order to cope, but it’s not a solution. Inappropriate behavior needs to be addressed by everyone in the room. And in my opinion, it’s not all that hard to just be a good person and get out of your old ways. I think some men have a tendency to default to poor behavior because it’s what they’ve known, and provides and easier way to connect with other males. It’s low hanging fruit. You don’t have to be that clever to be a “guy’s guy”. On the flip side, I know several women who can swear like truckers with the best of ’em, and who will whoop your booty in a game of agency dodge ball. There’s really a lot more common ground between men and women than we sometimes see. So I encourage you to take minute and assess how you fit into this issue, what you believe and how others around you carry themselves. I’ve been very fortunate to work with great teams of men and women over the years and when those teams operate in a respectful, supportive way, they really rock the block. And it’s more fun for everyone. I should add that I know a lot of men in this industry who feel the same way as I do about this. In fact, I would suggest that the majority of them do. If you follow the social media buzz you’ll see several of these men commenting on this issue. It’s one of the reasons I love my job and this field. There really is a great cross section of creative and interesting people around us doing great things, in respectful ways.

I started the Flashbelt conference 6 years ago in Minneapolis with a mission statement: The mission of Flashbelt is to bring together new media designers, developers and enthusiasts to share knowledge, inspiration and build community. Since the first event I have been the sole organizer and producer of the event. I’ve been able to gather together some of the most exciting minds in the field and present them to my attendees. I call them my attendees because I think of them as my responsibility, and my friends. I pride myself on the presentations I’m able to arrange and beam in the encouraging feedback I get every year from them. This event is my baby. I pour myself into it. In Minneapolis I’ve arranged 14 workshops and over 180 presentations. Nothing like this has happened before. This is a blip — a big blip that I will not soon forget. And again, it’s one that I take full responsibility for. But I hope that my overall track record can serve as better indicator of my ambitions and agenda for the Flashbelt conference.

I want to personally thank Courtney Remes for her blog post and having the strength to address this issue. She and I know each other via the conference over the years and I would like to directly apologize to her for subjecting her to this presentation. We’ve been speaking and I’m saddened to hear about the effect the session has had on her, as well as some of the follow up comments coming out online. She’s a cool person and I commend her for speaking out. This is a subject that requires further conversation and hopefully this can be a point of ignition that results in some progress around this issue. (By the way, she mentioned to me that’s she not thrilled to be in the spotlight because of this and I encourage you keep that in mind. She’s rightfully, genuinely concerned and not just putting stuff out there to rant or see how many hits she can get. She’s good people.)

Courtney along with Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker of the GeekGirlsGuide.com and I had a meeting on June 12th to discuss things and I can safely say that we are all on the same page. Nancy and Meghan are nice, supportive people and I think what they’re doing with the resource for women online is wonderful. I’m thankful they have been open to hearing me out and have offered to help assist me in setting the record straight, and posting this letter. They’re very fair and I appreciate that. A lot of energy and buzz has been brought on by this event. We will be working together to guide that energy in a pro-active direction.

Attendees. I certainly owe every attendee at Flashbelt this year and over years an apology for this as well. They’ve been a wonderful group of people and I failed you by delivering conference content well below the level you’ve grown to expect and deserve. I will be messaging all 2009 attendees directly with this same apology. For those male and female attendees who have sent notes of support I appreciate it. I encourage you all to get involved with this discussion. You are very important to me.

Sponsors. I also apologize to the companies and individuals that have sponsored and marketed at Flashbelt over the years. They expect to be associated with a good event that enhances your image and visibility and benefits your customers. I failed to deliver that this year. In no way should anyone hold these sponsors responsible for this situation. They have been great partners over the years and their involvement allows Flashbelt to be the great event that it is. I value their support and regret that my judgment has failed them in this instance. Thank you for your continued support.

Speakers. It greatly saddens me that the big buzz about Flashbelt this year is focused on one individual when I know that the other 39 speakers delivered excellent presentations. They put countless hours in to preparing for their talks. They’re brilliant and I’m very fortunate to have them participate in my little event. I encourage everyone to search twitter @flashbelt for tweets that took place between June 7th and 10th to get sense of what attendees had to say about the other sessions they we’re witnessing at Flashbelt. These speakers deserve to be in the limelight at this point for their awesome presentations. I’m sorry. You know I love you.

How did this happen?
There is no long exhaustive answer. I made a terrible error in judgment. I knew there was potential for this to occur and I blew it. And for that I deserve to on the hot seat for this. Hot seat accepted. Which I think raises a good point about the gender issues addressed above. Even a guy like me, who knows what is appropriate and what is inappropriate can be lazy at times, or even appear to be in a mild coma when inappropriate behavior occurs. It’s important keep your own values close and online all the time. I’ll certainly be working to improve thi
s aspect of myself.

Hoss Gifford. I feel that I have failed Hoss, too, by not addressing some of his inappropriate behaviors. This is another piece of the puzzle. Sometimes we let people we like get away with doing or saying things we don’t like, but eventually that hurts everyone. So it’s good to speak up when you see anyone going down the wrong path. That is respectful as well. Hoss is a person like all of us, and all of us can change if we want to, and can learn to see things differently. If he’s open to it, I will certainly take time to work with him on these things. Abuse him if you must, but keep in mind that there is a heart and soul there as well. I’m not defending his presentation; I’m just saying that his presentation is a part of him, not all of him. I believe that it’s better to help people change their ways than to push them farther back into a corner and if he’s open to talking about that, I’ll participate.

Now What? What’s done is done and we can’t go back in time. How I wish I could. We can only move forward and attempt to use this event to make some change. I will personally work out a more formal way to vet and qualify speakers and their content. This egregious error on my part will not be repeated. There are a lot of good brains out there following this and I am open to your suggestions as well.

Moving Forward.
In an attempt to take advantage of the energy that has arisen around this issue, with assistance from Courtney, Nancy and Meghan, I will be organizing and sponsoring a meeting event focused on gender issues in our field. Hopefully this will occur within the next few weeks. Please stay tuned and get involved.

Once again, I am deeply saddened by what has transpired. I take this very seriously. I accept complete responsibility. I will work tirelessly to make Flashbelt the event that people have come to expect. And it will not be an event that in anyway condones behavior that is inappropriate. I will not let you down again. Please accept my apology. back to top ^

From Nancy Lyons (@nylons) and Meghan Wilker (@irishgirl), Geek Girls Guide

This is not a crusade against Flashbelt, an attack on Dave Schroeder or an attempt to lump all men into a tongue-waggling wolf-whistling boy’s club. This isn’t about anyone’s delicate lady ears not being able to handle the word fuck.

This is a specific account of a presentation at an event that — sadly —  is an example of behavior and attitudes toward women that are not as uncommon as you might think.

Does it happen overtly every single day? No.

Does it happen more than it should? Yes.

Should it stop? Yes.

Are there men who aren’t anything like this? YES! And many of them — including Dave — have expressed their dismay at what happened.

Are there plenty of successful, geeky women who don’t let things like this slow them down, or stop them? YES! We consider ourselves among them. We know for damn sure Courtney is one of them. We love our jobs. We love our industry. We love our geeky male peers who treat us as equals and who agree that crap like this is not okay!  But the expectation that we should not be angry over this is offensive. Using words like “lynching” or “jihad” or “crusade” doesn’t move the conversation forward in any way.  There is no point to anger without action.

We’re saddened that the discussion has, for some, devolved into inflammatory exchanges. That’s the nature of social media and things have taken on a life of their own. But, we’re not sorry that we said something about it. Accepting things with silence and a smile is not okay.

Our hope in posting Courtney’s experience was that professional women and men would rally against this sort of behavior, just like they have done.

We couldn’t very well have the discussion without calling out the event and the event’s producer.  We do not apologize for that.  But we do admire and appreciate Dave’s courage in being willing to step up and work with us to move the conversation in a positive direction.

To his credit, Dave responded quickly to this and admitted making a big mistake. Everyone needs to recognize that it is difficult to publicly admit to a mistake and we know he feels lousy. We are standing up with him here to talk about how to channel this energy into something positive.

If you are angry about what happened, great. So are we.  But, please turn those feelings into some positive action or all of this will have been for naught.

Dave offered to host a panel discussion about this in Minneapolis. Later today, we’re going to try to launch a separate page on this site for people to submit additional ideas to this discussion.

Where else can we go from here? Here are a few ideas; pick one of these, or come up with your own!
– Dave offered to host a panel discussion about this in Minneapolis. Think about attending or speaking.
– Support organizations that encourage girls and women to get into — and to stay in — technology careers.
– If you are a woman with an established career in this industry, reach out to those who are younger than you and pull the next one up. Embrace your expertise and submit yourself for consideration to speak at events.
– If you are a man, don’t tolerate this kind of behavior from your peers. Speak up in defense of your female peers, whether they are in the room or not.

We started the conversation, but we can’t control it. The situation has raised a rat’s nest of complex issues, which we can’t solve in 140 characters or less.  But talking about them can hopefully increase understanding on both sides and make things better for the next generation of little geeks coming up in the world  — girls and boys alike.

No doubt, next year’s Flashbelt conference will be richer, and more rewarding, because of the dialogue we’re having today. back to top ^

Prude or Professional? by Courtney Remes

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

Today we received the following email from a respected colleague outlining her experience at a recent Flash developer conference in Minneapolis.  We asked for her permission to post it here in the hopes of sending a very strong message to the conference organizers and sponsors, but also to the Interactive community at large.  It’s hard enough for women to be taken seriously in the technology space.  Certainly, there are plenty of successful, celebrated women here.  But when we hear about situations like this we realize that, in spite of all the progress we’ve made, we still have such a huge fight ahead of us.

Don’t get us wrong, we are not women who can’t handle off-color humor, or provocative messages, or even erotic digital art.  But each of these has its place.  Paying for a professional conference and being subjected to this kind of content is infuriating.

Let’s talk about the content: was it reviewed by the program’s producers?  If so, they failed.  If not, they failed.

As managers of a Minneapolis-based Interactive shop, we know the Flashbelt demographic is largely young, white males (in fact, we saw many of them at the Flashbelt afterparty at Nye’s Polonaise Room last night).  Is this the standard we’re setting for them as professionals?

If, after reading this post, you find this as abhorrent as we do, then do something about it.

  • Contact the event organizers and make them aware of your concern over this kind of content being celebrated at their events.
  • Contact the event sponsors and tell them how this impacts your impression of their products and services.
    • UPDATE (6/11): Dave Schroeder, the Flashbelt organizer, has been very responsive both privately (via emails to us, Courtney and others who have emailed him directly) and publicly (with an open letter on the Flashbelt site).
    • UPDATE (6/12): Dave Schroeder, Courtney Remes, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met this morning and had a great discussion. We’re working together on a united response, which will be posted here as soon as it’s done. This has obviously touched a nerve with a lot of people. Let’s keep the dialogue going, and let’s keep it positive and respectful. We finished our response! Read it here.
  • Comment on this post and let it serve as a petition.
  • Tweet about this and use the hashtag #prosnotprudes.
  • Digg this and let’s make a statement.

“Boys will be boys,” is not an attitude that professional men and women can afford to support anymore. And, Courtney, thanks for sticking your neck out. We’re grateful that you’re willing to share your story.

WARNING: The following contains graphic descriptions and words that some may find objectionable. It’s not safe for work, children, grandparents or small animals.


Ok, so, I want to share this experience with you and get your take on it.

I have been attending only the afternoons of Flashbelt this year because I didn’t want to take the full days off — and because in years past (I think I’ve been to at least three others) the afternoon keynote is totally mindblowingly talented and innovative and has provided me with that out-of-the-ordinary experience that temporarily removes you from your everyday routine and inspires you to be more creative.  In short, I wanted to be inspired.

Yesterday’s afternoon keynote is this guy named Hoss Gifford — I believe his major claim to fame is that viral “spank the monkey” thing that went around a few years back.  Highlights of his talk:

  • He opens his keynote with one of those “Ignite”-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman’s lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say “drink me,” with Hoss’s Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.
  • He later demos a drawing tool he has created (admittedly with someone else’s code) and invites a woman to come up to try it.  After she sits back down, he points out that in her doodles she’s drawn a “cock.”
  • Then he decides he wants to give a try at using the tool to draw a “cock” (he loves this word) — and draws a face, then a giant dick (he redraws it three times) that ultimately cums all over the face.
  • A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also “If you are easily offended, fuck you!”
  • And then, to top it off, a self-made flash movie of an animated woman’s face, positioned as if she’s having sex with you, who gradually orgasms based on the speed of your mouse movement on the page.

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded and easy-going person, but I was shocked that this was considered appropriate material for a conference about innovative developments in the world of flash and the greater creative field.  And that I’d paid to see this.  And that a number of people laughed at his jokes — perhaps because probably 90-95% of the people there were male.  Having been a computer science major in college and a programmer for the last 9 years, I’m using to being the minority in these sort of development environments, but this was the first time I really felt like it was a boys’ club.  A boys’ club where “girls” could hang out, but they are ultimately considered nothing more than objects of sexual gratification.

I checked Twitter (hashtag #flashbelt) to see what the responses were.  Here are some notable remarks:

  • Fonx is reading the #flashbelt rants on Hoss offending the ladies w/ a few swear words & a penis drawing – r u really that prudish & sexist?
  • nthitz lol @hoss69 “If you are easily offended, fuck you” #flashbelt
  • livenootrac Ladies of #flashbelt , I am sorry for the Hoss preso, but in the flash community he gets a pass, kinda like Don Rickles – that’s just Hoss.
  • CujoJpn @livenootrac And there were many ladies at #flashbelt who were offended by Hoss’ Preso some were thick skinned and took it as is.

So, if you didn’t like it then
a) you are a prude – and sexist (?)
b) fuck you
c) suck it because Hoss gets a pass here in the boy’s club known as “the flash community” and
d) you are a wimpy girl who isn’t strong enough / man enough / “thick-skinned” enough  to deal with it.

Uh?  Aren’t we in 2009?  Do we have to “deal with” shit like this still?  I just did a “Mad Men” mini-marathon the other day and one of the common themes is men being total dicks to women and women crying in the bathroom because they can’t speak out about it.  I remember thinking “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t live then.”  And yet you can see the backlash you get if you speak about this sort of thing, NOW.

Since yesterday I’ve been thinking a lot about this, the psychological and social and gender things involved, what it means, what to do about it, etc.  I did immediately write to the director and creator of Flashbelt — and he apologized and said he and I were on the same page and wanted to talk to me about it more.  But I also felt like I wanted to continue a conversation with other women like you, get your take on it, find out if you think I’m just being a baby and too sensitive or what.  To me, this is totally unacceptable.

Courtney

P.S.  I forgot to mention Hoss’ subsequent tweet on the subject:
Some hated it, more loved it – girls AND boys. Apologies to those offended, but I’ll take raw emotion over indifference any day. #flashbelt

P.P.S.  And finally, this was my favorite tweet (from another woman in attendance):
dlicht Thanks for the Tweets on Hoss’ presentation tonight…they serve as a good filter on who NOT to give my phone number to! #flashbelt


Courtney Remes, Geek

Courtney Remes is creative strategist with more than a decade’s experience in the interactive world.

Before starting Arrowplane, Courtney co-founded Synthetic Kit, where she was Principal and Senior Developer for four years.  Courtney also served for several years as Web & Technology Chair and Co-Vice President of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA), one of the country’s largest and most active IMAs.

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

Using the Web at Work, by Andrea Vogel

The Geek Girls were recently asked “Is it safe to log into my mint.com account from work?  I never have time to work on the budget at home, but during lunch is the perfect time.” This question, along with its sister query “Can my employer read my personal email if I am accessing it from my work computer?” and twice-removed-illegitimate cousin question “Is it OK to surf porn at work?”, is one many of us never had to consider when beginning our careers. Placing whispered personal phone calls to a date or a doctor, sure. Surreptitiously reading City Pages under the desk, of course. But only in the last decade has personal usage of company technology become such a serious issue – one often resulting in employee termination, lawsuits, identity theft and more.

The purpose of this article is to outline the answer to this question on four levels: rules, reputation, ruin and reality:

1. Rules. What can and cannot legally be monitored, accessed and/or forbidden by an employer (as it pertains to technology only – I’m not going to comment on the political propaganda hanging in your cube or the micromini that should have been retired when you were 17. Not in this article, at least.)

2. Reputation. Even in company settings with more lenient policies, consideration of your professional reputation is important and often overlooked. If non-work-related online activity is affecting the quality or productivity of your work, it’s time to curtail it. Similarly, if you are visiting “questionable” (read into this however you wish) sites using company technology, your credibility and integrity could be affected within the establishment.

3. Ruin. As in financial: Identity theft. PIN number swiping. Rare, but unfortunately feasible and a serious issue to address.

4. Reality. Situations in which it is most likely alright (highly caveated that you are not to use this article as your defense if you get busted) to disregard the policies and guidelines from points 1, 2, and 3 above.

Rules

Without exception, it is completely legal for an employer to monitor an employee’s online activity and information on a computer that is provided by the company. During working hours, after working hours, data saved to a “private” folder on the hard drive, emails sent from a work-provided email address, and even emails sent from a personal email address using said computer.  This information is all legally accessible by the employer – even if it is password-protected.

Even after an employee leaves a company, the employer is within its rights to access and review activity and information from said employee’s computer during her tenure. This 2008 Techdirt.com article reiterates the fact that “anything on the computer is fair game for the employer (even if it’s password protected).” Now granted, this particular article pertains to a former employee that was stealing from the employer, whereas our reader simply wants to check her finances during lunch. Night and day, right? One would think. But it is important for her to know the facts: Her financial information can and may legally be accessed by her employer if she is using Mint.com on her work computer. Even if her manager condones the employee’s taking 5 minutes to do some personal budgeting during the day, another unscrupulous colleague could very well be accessing her financial information. More on this in “Ruin,” below.

While it is legal for employers to monitor and access the activity and information noted above, it goes without saying that many do not. It’s just important to know that they can. The majority of employers I have had, as well as those of my family, colleagues, and friends, will not admonish a competent and productive employee for spending some personal time online during the work day or at home on a work-provided machine. Let’s face it: Most of us work upwards of 40 hours per week and there are bills to be paid, news headlines to be read, and personal correspondence to attend to—and just not enough hours after work to manage all of it. In addition, more and more employers are encouraging their employees to spend some time online each day in non-task-related/billable activities—social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter or company blogs being examples of potentially positive ways to gain knowledge, share information, and promote the company via nontraditional methods.

Unsure about your employer’s policy on personal use of company machines? Ask your manager, read the employee handbook, or play it safe and do it as little as possible…or not at all.

Reputation

When I informed my manager that I was writing an article on personal use of company technology, he snorted and reminded me that I am on Facebook and Twitter all day. OK, guilty as charged. However,  my productivity reports and completed tasks/projects indicate that my manager’s expectations are being met even with these diversions. If this is the case for our reader as well—that her workload is not being affected by her lunchtime personal budgeting—and she is fortunate enough to work for one of the more understanding employers noted above, then her professional reputation should remain intact. However, if productivity and/or performance are slipping, whether noticed only by the employee or by her colleagues or manager, then it goes without saying that personal use of company technology needs to stop during working hours, plain and simple.

Our era of tweets and blogs also brings up another sort of reputation damage control: that of TMI (too much information.)  Employees who are using company technology to save/send/ post photos of last week’s kegger, or oversharing via status updates that can be viewed by clients or colleagues can find themselves in a world of trouble. Take the recent downfall of Ketchum VP James Andrews, who insulted the fair city of Memphis when in town to meet with his client, FedEx. FedEx employees immediately circulated the tweet corporation-wide, as well as responded scathingly. Awkward.

Be smart about the sites you visit while on company time and equipment, and what you post on said sites. You never know who might be paying attention.

Ruin

If the reader is using Mint.com, a free online money management application, on a company-owned computer, then her employer has access to any personal information stored within her Mint.com account, even though it is password-protected. It is illegal for her employer or colleagues to use or access that information without just cause, of course, but it is definitely feasible and could lead to theft of finances or identity.

Think twice before accessing financial or personal information on company machines. You could become a victim of identity theft.

Reality

So, in a roundabout way we have answered the reader’s question: Is it safe to log in to my mint.com account from work? No, it is not safe – yet it is likely that if your employer condones occasional personal use of company technology during work hours, and if your productivity is not being affected, it is probably fine. Just save the porn-surfing for your own computer on your own personal time, OK?


Andrea Vogel, Geek

Andrea Vogel is a Senior Producer at Popular Front who leads teams in the development of online experiences for clients including Hasbro, Deluxe and Gustavus Adolphus University. She holds a BA in French with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Minnesota, as well as a cosmetology license, of all things.

Follow her on Twitter: AVogel75

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Freelancing, by Kristi McKinney

Freelancing can be simultaneously the best and worst job. When contracts are plentiful you can charge a fair rate, but you’re self-employed and without health insurance and other benefits. You have the flexibility to work the hours you want and at the pace you want, but you don’t get paid when work is slow.

I chose to start freelancing because my financial situation is changing.  My husband is a medical student. Up until now, he’s been amazing enough to be able to hold a part-time job and help contribute to our mortgage and other expenses. He’s now entering the phase of his education where he won’t be able to do anything other than school. That leaves me the primary breadwinner. Though I’ve been bringing in the majority of our income for the last year, it’s never been solely up to me to ensure our financial future. Talk about scary.

I still have my full-time job and am grateful.  I have a reasonable salary and good benefits, but without my husband’s contribution it isn’t enough. A few months ago, I decided it was time to find more sources of income. The easiest way for me to do that without incurring further transportation or other costs, was to freelance from home in my spare time.
You can freelance in a variety of job specialties, everything from Web design to film. I chose writing because it comes so naturally that it’s absurdly easy for me. That means I’m highly productive and can get more contracts done in a small amount of time.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. The market is full of freelancers who are willing to work for any price. That means your pay-per contract will likely be lower and the rare contracts that offer really good money are going to be extremely competitive.
  2. The market is full of companies seeking bloggers for little to no pay. I can’t tell you how many blogger positions I’ve applied for in the last several months. Everything from technology blogger to environmental blogger to corporate blogger, I’ve seen and applied for it all. The offers I received back were insane. Most wanted to pay me per article or blog, usually around $10 or less. I had to do the math and figure out if the amount of effort per article required would greatly exceed the compensation being offered. In most cases it wasn’t worth it.
  3. The market is full of companies and sites that contract out freelance work and sell it off for much more than they paid you. There are many sites out there where you can “apply” to be a freelancer, choose projects, and then get paid a flat fee or sometimes a revenue-shared fee for each one. In theory, this is great.
    Again, you have to take into account the effort per project and the pay you receive. For me, there were some projects that were good and some that were not. It took a fair amount of investigation to figure out which was which. Beware of sites like this that ask you to pay to join. You should not have to “buy in” to a Web site or company to get freelance projects. Most companies that ask this are a scam or just not worth it.
  4. There are a lot of good Web resources to help you. For most professions, you should be able to find a helpful blogger or two who list open jobs and opportunities across the country. I found freelancepulse.com and freelancewritinggigs.com to be incredibly helpful with job leads. I subscribed to their RSS and set up RSS for postings on Craigslist. This kept me abreast of new opportunities so I could get my application in ASAP.
  5. Write your cover letter/email carefully and target your resume. You’re definitely not the only one applying for these positions. That means you need to stand out. Make sure to address the requirements listed in the ad and illustrate how you fit the bill. Provide all of the information required, and for Pete’s sake PLEASE check your documents for spelling and grammar.
  6. Think about how much you need to make. Effort vs. pay will be different for all of us. In my case, a lot of effort for little pay isn’t worth it. I could spend that time being productive on another job, doing my full-time job better, or searching for new jobs. For some of you it may not matter, a dollar is a dollar.
  7. Watch that non-compete. I signed a non-compete agreement when I started my current job. That means I have to be careful about the freelance projects I take on.

I’m currently working for a company that pays freelancers to write SEO articles. It’s boring and repetitive. The pay isn’t great, but it IS pay. The longer I’m with the company, my pay increases as does the opportunity for me to write about more interesting things. It’s steady work and for right now, it’s the best option for me. I’m also doing Web design contracts as I happen upon them. I get to work from wherever I’d like whenever I like. That gives me the flexibility I need.

Good hunting.


Kristi McKinney, Geek

Kristi McKinney currently works at Forte, LLC, writing and managing MyWayForward.com. She recently received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota where she studied Russian journalism.  Kristi has had many geeky odd jobs over the years, including helping to write content and build web pages for the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Kristi received her BA in Communication and English with a minor in Russian from the University of North Dakota.