The world in shock—popular Facebook page on science is run by woman

The world is shocked. Popular Facebook page on science is run by… a woman. On Wednesday afternoon, she revealed her identity, which incited commenters around the world to sexist “compliments”. Here is what’s happened.

Elise Andrew is the founder of several Facebook pages on science, the most popular of which is I f*cking love science, with over 4 million likers. When she posted about her decision to explore other social media and added the link to her Twitter account, she received many comments as to her looks, not performance. Several hours later, she wrote another post saying she was “absolutely astonished by an onslaught of comments expressing their […] shock” that the page was run by a woman.

Now, I admit that the news surprised me. I associated a Facebook page on science, containing strong language and humour as run by a man or at least a group of people. According to the comments to both posts, so did most of the other followers of the page. And even though my surprise was nothing else than an oh-okay-who-would-have-thought kind of surprise, I am curious about why this type of news catches us off guard.

We construct stereotypes long before we encounter an issue. This may be one of the reasons that many people have been surprised or even shocked by learning that the Facebook page in question was run by a woman. Ever since childhood, we have been learning things about the world we live in. We create a focal point which we use as a reference to juxtapose with reality. Sometimes, we get it challenged, which may result in the necessity of editing it.

Both men and women, we are human. At our core, we are all the same. Nevertheless, we are very different, too, not least physiologically. Through the course of history, there have always been a distinction between things more typical of men and things more typical of women to busy oneself with. Films portraying women disguised as men are for some reason a lot more in number than those depicting men as women.

So, what could have sparked the stereotypes we have constructed to catch fire and flare into the sexist comments directed at Elise Andrew? Arguably, it was the combination of the characteristics typical of men (swearing, science and humour) that are present in the style she maintains on her Facebook page.

Digital media has brought us closer, which also means we have become more exposed, more vulnerable. I believe that unless we learn to see past the surface of triviality, prejudice and conventions, we will all remain disgusting sexist pigs.

P.S. Read Dean Burnett’s hilarious Women in science: know your limits!

Update: Elise Andrews is interviewed by CBS, check it out.

Scott Berkun teaching how to write by showing his writing about writing

Writing is at the core of the #blogg100 challenge. It is about transforming my ideas into your ideas, by transporting them from my mind onto paper (or screen) and transferring them thenceforth into yours.

Today, I have come across a notable author and speaker Scott Berkun. Come across his site, that is. During the next 48 hours or so, he is offering the world to download his book Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds for free.

You can read about the book and dowload it here.

Scott Berkun – How to write well, instantly, every time is a video by Ignite Seattle on YouTube.

Customer service is worthless

Your customers think they value your service. You know, the opening hours you extended on Thursdays. Or how you replied to their comment on Facebook only a couple of minutes after they published it. Or the “insider” hint that made them wait five days for a semi-free deal. They think you serve them, render assistance or pay homage to your customers. After all, it’s what they pay you for, right? They think it is about a deal. About how they can outsmart you in order to pay less for what you offer.

But we know that it is not what they are after, even though they might call it “service”. We know that it is not about the deal—it never has been. Exceptional customer service is not the goal, it is a method. It is a way for us to enable our customers to perceive the transaction or affair as a natural order of things. It is a way for us to empower our customers to achieve their goals. We know all of that, which is why do everything in our power to make sure the experience our customers leave with has a pleasant aftertaste and their interaction with us carries away delicate aroma.

Or do we? Do we really stop to think about what impression we make when we first greet our customers? How do they perceive us going out of our way to impose a great offer on them? What is our goal with communicating with our customers? Is it to win them over so they multiply and you sell more? Or is it to cultivate the soil through interaction?

Customer service is worthless, as long as your focus is anything that has to do with you and your company. Unless they are your primary focus, you are never going to reach true heights. Come out and meet them, build a relationship and provide value for your customers. It takes time, but the fruit are oh so sweet.

How you can become an everyday superhero

Spinning off on my last week’s post about your daily superpowers that most probably go unused, here’s a short list of practical examples of being a superhero and making someone’s day a little joy. Just pick any of these pills of almost zero effort on your part and save the day!

Profound gratitude

Do not just thank people for what they do for you. Thank them for doing their job even if someone else is paying their salary.

Genuine smile

With no other reason than being an everyday superhero, smile to at least one person. At worst you can be deemed willing to share your joy. At best—you can save a life.

Compliment the insecure

There are times when even the strongest feel weak or weary. You will be amazed what heights “You look fabulous today!” hoists your fellow human, even if their hair is a mess.

Offer your time

Your time has value, but it does not need to be monetary. Being a superhero is not rocket science, neither are the implications hard. A couple of seconds a day may have eternal consequences. Doesn’t it make it worth it?

“More tickle, daddy, more tickle!”

Laughter is one of the things I appreciate about my three-year-old most. Genuine, offhanded laughter coming from enjoying the moment. We like to play and read and dance. Yesterday, as we were playing, in between my tickling her, she exclaimed, “More tickle, daddy, more tickle!”

This callow and pure carelessness that is about my daughter—there is something about it that charms me. It makes me look for words to describe how jealous I am. Her clear and simple point of reference—I want to obtain that, again.

I wonder if, as she grows older, her desire for “more-tickle” will fade. I wonder if, as it fades, the chasm between her raw delicacy and my biased pragmatism will narrow. I wonder if, as it narrows, we will some day laugh as unprecedentedly and easy as we do today.

Slowly, She Lives: The Pure White and The Filthy Black (part 3)

(The Pure White and The Filthy Black is the third of five parts of the short story Slowly, She Lives that I wrote during a spring semester in Hjo folkhögskola seven years ago. You find links to the other parts below. Originally, it was written in Swedish, but I translated it, too. It has been sitting on the hard drive of my laptop since 2006, untouched. Enjoy!)

Previously: The Soundless Movement (part 2)

5:37 – June 3, 2035

Erelah looks at her teddy bears. They observe her with friendly looks round the clock. They have been her friends whose ears were always ready for her stories. They have seen her smiles and they have also seen her tears. She casts a look at her husband who has just turned round. Today, there is no cup of fresh morning coffee beside her when she wakes up. He is exhausted after having gone out of his way at work without breaks. No. This time it is he who gets his coffee in bed. She kisses him softly on the cheek so as not to wake him up and goes out.

The early Sunday morning is clear. The sun wakes up and opens his eyes and smiles at Erelah. The water reflects the sun’s smile and the wind moves of gladness. Erelah walks along the beach in her dressing-gown. She stops and looks at the sea—the sea where the new day is about to begin.

A couple of swans are flying south. Then they change the direction hastily and fly towards the coast where Erelah is standing and admiring the two birds. They do not seem to notice her. Maybe they do not see her in the colorless paleness of the sand. Or maybe they simply do not care about her.

The swans are swimming in the cool clear water, while Erelah is trying to find an answer to the question, which she has not been able to do for the past thirty years. After meeting her husband she has not been able to understand what it is in him that draws her interest. But though she cannot understand it, she accepts it. But even more than the strange and incomprehensible devotion to her husband, she cannot understand his affection for her. That is the question she is trying to find an answer to—why is he still around? Why not someone as beautiful and pure as these swans?

He has always told her that her outer beauty could have been as vain as dust and that he would still prefer to get to know her better with every breath they take together. If it is not her beauty and slender body that attracts her to him, what could it be then? She knows that it is not what’s inside of her that is appealing. Because she is sure that during the first two and a half minutes of their first meeting, she left no doubt that she had nothing but the dirt inside. She was confused. And the swans, the pure white creatures, remind her of the contents of her filthy black self.

Next week: When All is Said and Done (part 4)

Fluid—turning web apps into Mac apps

There are many websites and web applications that I use daily. Often, they are hidden among many tabs on my browser and are hard to find. Fluid is a an app that makes my favourite web app into a semi-native Mac app in seconds. When I need it, I open it using Spotlight or click on its icon sitting in the Dock.

The basic version of Fluid is free, but buying a licence for 5 USD unlocks several premium features. The app is originally inspired by Mozilla Prism and Adobe Air, and is developed by Todd Ditchendorf.

My Fluid apps mostly include productivity applications like Asana and Trello, as well as The Noun Project and Mikael Norling’s Entity Cheat Sheet. Have you used Fluid? What are your favourite app transformations?

Flags to symbolise languages? Think again!

Symbols are culture dependent. A little worn-out example is that a cow bears a different symbolic value in India than in Europe. Our understanding of what a symbol represents is also dependent on time. An arrow denoting movement is as topical today as it was thousands of years ago. Some other signs, in the manner they were used once, have become obsolete. It is just a matter of time before a floppy disk discontinues being equivalent to saving a document in Microsoft Word, one might think. It is still present in 2013, for lack of a better symbol, I suppose.

Symbols are fascinating. They do not barely bear a meaning—they represent and recreate it. An image of a tree represents a tree. Sometimes, it stands for growth. Depending on context and author’s intention, it can also signify nourishment, strength, life, or health.

One of the most common symbols on the web is a flag. Flags are used to help users pick their country of residence in an online form. They can also be used by users to choose a preferred language of a site. The problem is that it is in some cases impossible to tie a language to a country that the flag is to symbolise. And it has little to do with the world having become a global village.

Here is a simple example. You are building a website in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Russian. For the English version of the site, you pick the flag of the UK, for the Spanish version—the flag of Spain, for the French—of France, and for the Russian—the flag of Russia. Now, consider this. Should you be guided by the country the language originated in or by the country that the language is most widely spoken in, to denote a flag for you to pick? Are there other factors that affect the choice of a country, like a percentual contrast between the number of first-language inhabitants in two countries?

Neither of the four languages is easy to pick a country flag for, without offending certain groups of people. The issue here is some people (myself included) would not identify themselves with a country when picking a language of preference to view a website in. There are plenty of first-language speakers of Russian, French or Spanish who might have never set their foot within the borders of the respective country in the example above. And if we choose the flag of the UK, what are our grounds for not choosing the flag of the USA or Australia, where English is the de facto language?

As argued by several respected people in the web and usability industry, I, too, recommend using the best symbol for a language there is to date—the name of the language in the language itself. After all, it is something anyone speaking the language can understand, even if they live in different countries.

Further reading:

The glass is half full

Blogging, as a means of content creation, is magical. A little over seven years ago, late 2005, I set out on the journey of writing what came to be rather sporadic blog posts. The #blogg100 initiative has been the stimulation I needed to pursue sharing my thoughts in this format. Though I am still looking for my niche, I am pretty happy with how it is turning out.

Here’s to another 50 days of experimenting!

Knowledge management in a one stop centre

How well you manage to create, store and disseminate information in a one stop centre, a helpdesk or any other type of customer service institution will be fateful for the success of your business. A one stop centre that only employs people to inform the public that the issue has been made sure to be taken care of by a responsible party is as useless as pointe shoes for a hippo.

It is important that customer service representatives (CSR’s) have a clear role in providing customers with necessary information about services, products and status. In order for them to be able to deliver qualitative service to your customers at first contact, you are to make the process of how knowledge is captured, managed and kept up-to-date as seamless and their work as efficient as possible. Here are some things that I think are, though important, often neglected when procuring a system for knowledge management.

1. Web-based systems

Web-based knowledge management systems are easy to maintain and they are (or must be) future-friendly and bullet-proof.

2. Real-time updates

Refreshing a page to see if something new has been added is yesterday. Make sure the CSR’s have access to the latest version of a document, whether they have just opened a page or have had it sitting in an open browser window for hours.

3. Simultaneous collaboration

“The document is locked for editing. Try again later.” should never be an option. Social collaboration in real-time is not a phenomenon too old not to be implemented and utilised in a knowledge management piece of software.

4. Comments, flags and notes

Your customers, and therefore your one stop centre, know more about the current events that might affect your rules, regulations and content than you are aware of. Make it possible for CSR’s to flag or leave comments and notes on content.

5. Notifications

You CSR’s, if anyone, need to stay in the loop of things constantly. Make it possible for them to choose to be notified about every little detail or update. You don’t want to risk your customers being misinformed by a one stop centre employee that did not receive an update.

Also, it is important that the comments, flags and notes on content get taken care of by adequate authorities in your organisation. Helpdesk for your helpdesk is crucial, which, again, points to the importance of having functioning underlying processes.

6. Segregation and adaptation of content per user

Finally, all CSR’s are not, I suppose, expected to know everything about everything. Do not show irrelevant content to your CSR’s. Let them instead choose which content to display should the need arise.

What are your tips on optimising the process of distributing knowledge in a one stop centre? Please, share them with me in the comments below or on Twitter @clartem.