We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Jessica Leber

A View from Jessica Leber

A Social Networking Technology Born Female

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s push to put more women in leadership roles has spawned a new social software tool.

  • April 17, 2013

To the extent that a company has a personality, much of Facebook’s can be traced back to the fact that its creator and most of its early team were nerdy Harvard programmers. As an undergraduate at Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg started Facemash, the very first version of Facebook, as a tool that upset many campus women (and men) by comparing their looks in online photos that he did not have permission to repost. At the time, the Harvard Crimson cited campus groups Fuerza Latina and the Association of Black Harvard Women voicing their anger to a familiarly apologetic Zuckerberg. He took the site down under pressure, but the rest is history.

This aggressive “act now, ask later” approach to existing privacy norms was present at the outset of company that went on to essentially set our baseline conception of what a social network looks like today.

It’s the exact appoach one might expect from a programmer who got his start coding away in his dark dorm room. But what if he had followed Silicon Valley startup guru Paul Graham’s recent advice (on what might produce the next Facebook) and asked the “queen bees” of Harvard’s sororities what social tools they needed instead? Or, way better, what if Facebook were founded by a sorority sister herself? What would it look like and how would it spread?

It’s clearly not possible to go back in time.

But perhaps it might bear more similarities to the online software used by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and her nonprofit LeanIn.org, the group she formed to help women act on the ideas in her recent career-advice book, Lean In. The book documents the myriad ways that women hold themselves back from leadership roles in a male-dominated corporate world and has been controversial in many quarters.

The Lean In-style social network is a small “circle” of eight to 10 people who support each other’s goals. Included for each circle are tools for scheduling meetings, creating and discussing content, sending messages and other communications, and analyzing data, as described this week in the New York Times.

The creator of the software is a startup called Mightybell that has been around since 2011. Now, Mightybell is planning to offer the software as a broader commercial service to help small groups organize themselves. “What if an influencer, or a brand, or an organization, could go from having passive followers to an active army? It’s like nothing that’s been offered before,” Mightybell founder Gina Bianchini told the Times.

It’s not easy to innovate in the world of social networking today. Many platforms are established, both in the consumer and business world, and so it is often thought to be too difficult to attract users to an entirely new effort.

But a tool that builds on existing groups and networks may have a better shot at gaining traction, perhaps especially one that is shaped by women. That’s because women are the dominant users of social networks today, including Facebook’s. But at most large Internet companies, as Sheryl Sandberg’s book details, the leaders and product teams are still mostly men.

Keep up with the latest in Facebook at EmTech Digital.

The Countdown has begun.
March 25-26, 2019
San Francisco, CA

Register now
More from Business Impact

How technology advances are changing the economy and providing new opportunities in many industries.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print + All Access Digital.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.