Gender In The Lab

(originally published in http://www.tgforum.com).

Gender Studies is not thought of as being a laboratory science. For me it is.

I work at a San Francisco start-up that operates a social networking site called FriendLife.com.  FriendLife is like Facebook except that we allow you to use the name of your choice and we focus on helping you find new friends rather than recruiting your existing friends. We also emphasize Life Streaming, which is the process of sending video from your phone or desktop to other members in real time.

Other companies do this too. We offered this before Meerkat and Periscope did. Facebook added this recently.

When you visit FriendLife, you view a “feed” similar to Facebook, showing posts from your friends. Included are invitations to view their LifeStreams. There is also a list of active LifeStreamers you can view, curated by our machine learning algorithms. We use hash tags and those figure in.

So where is the Gender Lab? It turns out FriendLife is a Gender Lab in itself. Gender is everywhere.

Girl LifeStreamers are very popular, drawing 20 times as many viewers as boys do. Like our competitors, we discourage “Cam Girls” or explicit electronic sex work. We have a team in Costa Rica that watches all the streams and flags the violators.

We pay a modest amount to our streamers. This leads to a competition to attract viewers and the girls push the limits and our content policies push back. We crack down on nudity and instead girls show more cleavage. We limit the amount of cleavage and the skirts get shorter. Its an eternal game.

Some girls act demure for several minutes waiting for the stream censors to move on and then push the edge. We tried to limit that by withholding payment for bad streams. If we think participation is trending-down, we may loosen up a bit to bring the numbers back up.

Some women join and try streaming and then get turned-off by the rude comments some men make. To reduce that, we tweak policies so as to avoid showing newbie women to men we think may act offensive. We also try and separate the racy from the prudish and the children from the adults and find that a few children will gladly lie about their age.

Men try LifeStreaming and become discouraged because the women get much more attention than men do. The exception is for boys who present as “Teen Idols.” These are boys who appeal to young girls who are just discovering their attraction to boys. Some of these boys get more viewers than our popular girls do.

Our recommendation engine uses a machine learning model that tries to predict which streams any particular viewer would be interested in based on their demographics, hash tag interests, and past behavior. A related model recommends new friends to follow. Like Facebook, we improve our model regularly and the actual details are a company

I use our streams as test data for the video distribution system. It is fascinating to see how boys and girls from different parts of the world reach out to each other. Some bore you to tears, others open your eyes. My favorites are well-illuminated women who talk and move around a lot appearing on marginal WiFi connections.

It’s fun working at FriendLife.

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