We’ve heard the stats before — only a quarter of those involved in computer and mathematical occupations are women. And yet, in the ever-evolving world of Web 2.0, women have often been pioneers, redefining the way we interact online. To give credit where it’s due, we tracked down the most influential of these. Our list wasn’t chosen by star power, nor by career altitude. Rather, we feature the biggest innovators.
What she’s done: As the lead developer and a founder of social networking site Pownce, 25-year old Culver has made it possible for people to quickly and easily swap large media (like files, movies, photos) without crashing their systems. Now projects like Twitter’s photo sharing site TwitPic and Facebook are taking a leaf out of Pownce’s book.
Update: Pownce’s technology was recently acquired by Six Apart. The service will be shut down on December 15th and Culver will join the Six Apart team.
How she got there: Culver started out as an art major at the University of Minnesota, but found her calling in a required programming class. “Before that I didn’t even know what programming was,” she admits. After graduating in 2006 with a Computer Science degree, she worked at iLoop Mobile and Instructables, two startups in the Bay Area, before eventually deciding to start her own thing. She built Pownce from scratch using a programming language called Python.
What to learn from her: You’re never too young to start your own company. And particularly if you write software, your own web site can be relatively cheap. “As a programmer the route to your own company is easy — you build a site and get people excited about it,” says Culver. Pownce hasn’t needed venture capital — Culver has relied on funds from family and friends.
What she’s done: The CEO and co-founder of SlideShare, Sinha was the first to create a site that allowed slides to be taken beyond limited office or educational use and shared online. “As with video, where early entrepreneurs recognized that asynchronous sharing on the web could work, we realized with presentations that it was time to move beyond in-person presentations and that you could share slides on the web. Others could comment, favorite, download and build on this,” she explains.
How she got there: Sinha has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University. After graduation, she worked as a researcher at the Information School at UC Berkeley, focusing on how to optimize search engines and recommended systems (those “recommended” titles that pop up on Amazon when you’re looking for a book, for instance.) She started her own user-experience consultancy — clients included eBay, iFilm, AAA and Blue Shield — which then eventually morphed into SlideShare.
What to learn from her: If you’re tech-oriented, and particularly if you’re female, Web 2.0 is the best place to start out. “There are more entry points in the Web 2.0 world than in more hardcore tech companies like Intel. Web 2.0 is also the right mix of the social and the technical so that women can prosper. They are contributing in a more visible manner than in other tech fields.”
What she’s done: A 10-year veteran of Google, Mayer — currently Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience — was a major player behind many of the company’s most popular interactive services, including Gmail, the first email program to follow a threaded-message model; Orkut, which Mayer envisioned as the first social network that wasn’t angled towards dating; and iGoogle, which allows you to personalize your Google page.
How she got there: Originally a biology and chemistry student at Stanford, Mayer graduated with a B.S. in Symbolic Systems and an M.S. in Computer Science. Prior to joining Google, Mayer worked at the UBS research lab (Ubilab) in Zurich, Switzerland, and at non-profit research institute, SRI International, in Menlo Park, California.
What to learn from her: If you’re going corporate, don’t just look for a role that will suit you — find a company that will help you grow. “Find an environment where you feel very comfortable, an environment where people will invest in you,” says Mayer. “Google really invested in me and I’m really at home there. Fundamentally I’m a geek, and everyone around me is a geek so I fit right in.”
What she’s done: Kaplan is the co-founder and COO of blip.tv, a platform for producers to distribute original shows on the Web. Blip.tv was the initial platform for Wall Strip video blog, which was bought by CBS for $5 million last May. Under its model, producers don’t need Nielsen to know how their audience feels — viewers of shows delivered via blip.tv can comment, favorite, and share content.
How she got there: A graduate of Wesleyan College with a degree in economics, government, philosophy and history, Kaplan worked a couple of jobs in the White House before landing a job as an Associate Producer for MTV news. She later went on to work as a TV reporter for NBC, before finally being recruited to join the team that started blip.tv.
What to learn from her: If you’re trying to launch a new venture or just get noticed, Kaplan thinks the best thing you can do is just listen. “Listening is way more valuable than talking. When blip.tv first launched, we learned this the hard way. We got no users for the first month.” When you do talk, “ask questions, ask what problem do you have that we could solve? What’s missing?” This way you can find a viable niche and make your mark, or a void and fill it.
What they’ve done: Five years ago, most female bloggers didn’t view their dispatches as anything more than an avocation. There was no community, and the scope for interaction was limited. Then three women came along and changed things. Elisa Camahort Page, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone set up BlogHer, initially a conference aiming to provide empowerment and create community by bringing women bloggers together offline. Now BlogHer is also a full-time community for women on the Web to come together online, regardless of subject matter.
How they got there: Page, who has a theatre degree from San Jose State University, held various jobs in commodities and high tech, before starting her own blog, Worker Bees, to help organizations use blogs as communications and marketing tools. Des Jardins, who has a BA in English Literature from the University of Illinois, worked in a variety of media jobs before BlogHer. Stone graduated from Wellesley with a degree in Political Science, worked at the Oakland Tribune, CNN and Women.com (later acquired by iVillage). In 2001, she became the first Internet journalist ever awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. She later went on to help launch, American Lawyer Media, Law.com’s legal blog network, Knight Ridder Digital’s Thatsracin.com, and Glam Media.
What to learn from them: If you have a company or brand the best catalyst for success is to start communicating. “There are no spectators, whether you’re a new start-up or a 100-plus year-old brand. Start writing, commenting and participating right now. Whether or not your company has a blog or participates in social media, your competitors and your consumers definitely do,” says Stone.
What she’s done: With the launch of her eponymous group blog, Huffington transformed news delivery into a conversation. Launched initially as a left-leaning, politics-focused aggregate blog in 2005 (often seen as the antidote to the Drudge Report), the Huffington Post went on to incorporate original reporting and widen its focus to include media, business, the environment and other areas. With posts from hundreds of bloggers, including big-name celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Adam McKay and Jamie Lee Curtis, the site has succeeded in securing reader engagement and commentary on an unprecedented scale.
How she got there: Born in Greece, Huffington moved to England at the age of 16, where she attended Cambridge University. After graduating with an MA in Economics, she moved to London where she lived with famed political columnist Bernard Levin and penned her first novel. She moved to New York in 1980 and married politically conservative oil millionaire Michael Huffington in 1986. For the next several years, Huffington was a staunch Republican, though her views noticeably shifted towards the late nineties. In 2003, she ran unsuccessfully as an independent against Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace California Governor Gray Davis, before finally starting the Huffington Post in 2005. “Bringing together people and facilitating interesting conversations has always been part of my life — thanks to my Greek DNA. With The Huffington Post, the idea was to take those conversations and bring them into cyberspace, creating a one-stop site for news and opinion with an attitude, in real-time,” she says.
What to learn from her: Don’t always take a medium’s so-called limitations at face value. In Huffington’s able hand, blogs became primary news sources — not merely sources of commentary. And aim to conquer your doubts. “Fearlessness is not the absence of fear, it’s the mastery of fear,” she says. “Overcoming fear is, I think, the most important lesson in terms of achieving success.”
What she does: Recognizing market potential in the primordial instinct to ogle (and be olged), Cyan Banister, co-founder of Zivity.com, turned the Hot-Or-Not phenomenon into a profit-making enterprise as well as an online community. For a subscription of $10 a month, members can vote on — and connect with — their favorite models, who submit their own photos and get 40% of the proceeds.
How she got there: A high school dropout, Banister joined the working world when she was just 16. “My school was learning on the job; being surrounded by peers.” She has a managerial background, primarily in tech, working at email security provider IronPort Systems. She also worked as the CTO for the Women’s Economic Agenda Project for a short stint, where she helped train women in prison or in other disadvantaged positions to develop job skills.
What you can learn from her: You don’t need formal training to launch a successful company. Banister designed her site and conceived of Zivity’s core business model without a traditional educational or business background. Rather than being deterred by how many men you’re working with, Banister’s advice is to forget your gender. “Take risks and don’t focus on yourself too much. You need to stick your neck out there and just do it in order to be successful.”
What she does: The co-founder and CEO of Ning, a social networking platform that allows people to create and customize their own social networks, Bianchini was featured on Fast Company‘s cover earlier this year. Before Ning launched in 2004, users didn’t have the ability to fraternize with others who shared their interests in quite the same way, or on the same scale. The site currently has about 575,000 social networks, growing at a rate of about 2000 a day, with new ones from DoodleKisses (a club for Labradoodle and Goldendoodle owners) to Give it to me Raw (a community for oven-shunning vegans.)
How she got there: Bianchini has a BA in political science and an MBA from Stanford. She worked at various jobs in the financial sector — including a stint at Goldman Sachs — before founding an ad analytics company called Harmonic Communications, which was bought by ad agency Dentsu. She co-founded Ning with Marc Andreessen, one of Harmonic’s board members.
What to learn from her: If you’re trying to start a company, remember the two C’s: control and customization. While networking platforms existed before Ning, none offered users the same kind of ownership.
What she does: The co-founder of Flickr (now owned by Yahoo), Fake was one of the pioneers of the site-based photo sharing model. Before Flickr, sharing photographs meant sending them piecemeal as email attachments. The site is now widely used as a photo repository by individuals and companies alike.
How she got there: Fake graduated with a BA in English from Vassar. Her first online job was as lead designer for Organic Online, a web development agency where she worked on websites for Fortune 500 companies. She went on to work as the art director for Salon.com, and then as the creative director of Yellowball, an online space enabling people to create stories and animations collaboratively. She created Flickr in 2004 with her husband Stewart Butterfield. The site came about serendipitously: it started out as a web based multi-player game and, due to a deficit of funds, ended up as a photo-sharing site.
What to learn from her: If you’re tenacious about incubating your own business, you could reap a nice fortune. Yahoo paid Fake and her husband $35 million for Flickr. The tradeoff? Giving up control. Fake and her husband recently resigned from their posts at Flickr.
What she’s done: Trott was instrumental in creating the easy-to-use tools that turned Grandma into a blogger. Along with her husband, Ben, she co-founded and designed the products for Six Apart, the company responsible for Movable Type (a blogging software), TypePad (a blog hosting service), Vox (a blogging platform) and LiveJournal (which allows you to create a free blog, private journal, discussion forum or social network). Before Six Apart took off, bloggers had to hand code their work.
How she got there: While at Santa Clara University, Trott worked for an on-campus webmaster, fueling her interest in the web. After graduating with a BA in English from Santa Clara University in ’99, she worked for a short stint as a designer with an educational software company, before eventually starting Six Apart. The company is named for the six-day age difference between its married co-founders.
What to learn from her: Don’t dismiss the potential of your hobbies: what begins as a dalliance can morph into a multi-million dollar business.
What she’s done: An evangelist for the OpenID community, Hamlin propagates the use of one identity (one screen name and one password) across all websites. Her cause: to simplify the online experience and encourage mobility between sites. She spreads her message via conferences (like SuperNova and Web 2.0 Expo) and Internet Identity workshops.
How she got there: While studying for a degree in political economy and human rights at UC Berkeley, Hamlin worked for nonprofits focused on nonviolence and spiritual activism. After graduating in 2003, she came across a white paper entitled the “Augmented Social Network”, which propelled her to develop an interest in user-centric identity. She later began working as an evangelist for the Identity Commons, trying to promote the creation of an open identity layer for the Internet, while simultaneously emphasizing the individual’s privacy and control. In 2005, she organized the first Internet Identity Workshop.
What to learn from her: If you find a cause you really dig, it’s never too late to become a part of it — you certainly don’t need a related college degree. The downside — saving the world usually doesn’t pay and you’ll probably have to keep your day job too. Hamlin makes most of her money facilitating conferences. She’s also reinvested half of her income into promoting the concept of user-centric identity.