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Could women’s “gossip” build the next search engine?
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AI is all the rage lately, and despite the hype cycles, we think it does mark a pivotal moment for the future of search. As you might know, here at Diem we’ve been heads down building and testing a social search engine, inspired by how the ultimate social searchers (women) have passed information to each other for centuries. So I’ve been thinking—could our “gossip” build the next AI-powered search engine?
Let’s back up. At Diem, we’re laser-focused on closing the gender information gap. The gender information gap is a direct result of the gender data gap, a term coined by the person I most want to meet, Caroline Criado Perez, Ph.D. The gender data gap is a systemic issue that always comes back to the fact that the data our society collects—to develop new products and push forward new research—is typically catered to the experience of men instead of women. As a result, women talk, having learned that the fastest way to discover reliable, valuable information is through each other instead.
Here’s why I think the gender information gap is a problem for the future of AI: Most AI models are trained on historical data. As an example, you might remember AI Emma from last Spring. She was built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3 model and fine-tuned with data/content written previously for this newsletter. She was an exploration into how you could query the collective knowledge of entire communities, or in this case, a person (aka. our first Diem AI test!). AI Emma got me thinking about the gender information gap when it comes to potential bias in new AI developments. I personally believe we can collectively close the gender information gap—and make data less biased by doing what we do best: passing information to each other socially. And what would happen if we do so in a digital space that rewards, indexes, and turns this information into resources for everyone? This is where I think “gossip” comes into play. Let me explain.
As you know I love a relevant historical journey, so let’s do a brief recap on the history of “gossip.” Gossip is typically associated with women, and it usually has a negative connotation. But for the record, the word “gossip” can be traced back to the 12th century, when it derived from the Old English phrase “God Sib”, which literally translates to “godparent.” At the time, godparents were almost always women—they were the people present during labor. A mother-to-be often used to invite a small group of women to support her through the birthing process. The hours of birth were passed in conversation and moral support, and obviously, this became a bonding experience among those present.
I’m kind of obsessed with the fact these medieval European births were very social affairs restricted entirely to women. Typically, there was also a midwife responsible for delivering the baby. Midwives were generally older women and had already experienced childbirth themselves. They also were a resource that passed along information about all things reproductive health to women in their community. “Gossip” was originally used as a noun that specifically referred to companions of a woman during childbirth. As time went on, gossip started to become a verb used to describe “friendship meetings”—when a select group discussed everything from life partners to political issues—became more popular. No one beyond the group could know about the content of conversations, and this practice evolved into a female-only activity.
As men phased out of these meetings, “gossip” started to develop negative connotations. Groups of women began being stereotyped as “witch cults” shortly after. There was a genuine fear that women would turn their backs on society if they had the opportunity to meet up and chat about their lives(!), and consequently, women who were seen in groups became a target for punishment (like sentenced to death by drowning, just for talking in groups!). Importantly, men at the time also gossiped (of course they did!), but due to their social roles being highly regarded, their gossiping was viewed as more important. What I find particularly thrilling about the history of gossip is the fear that if women were allowed to talk amongst themselves, they would turn their backs on their patriarchal society. I don’t know about you, but that still feels pretty relevant today. It’s also why I believe that there’s real value in the conversations that happen between women, behind closed doors. We’ve marketed Diem previously as a place “where the secret’s the universe lie” and I genuinely believe that future is possible. We all know so much—we just aren’t told those things have value.
“Female friendships were one of the targets of the witch hunts. It was in this context that ‘gossip’ turned from a word of friendship and affection into a word of denigration and ridicule.” — Silvia Federici
Unsurprisingly, the actual act of gossiping is not actually gendered in the way the word is. Studies have shown that both men and women gossip equally. On average, a person spends 52 minutes gossiping per day, regardless of gender and sex. But due to our historical disregard for the important topics shared by women “gossiping,” I believe communication structures (and now, social platforms) have done little to build systems inspired by this feminine urge to incessantly pass information. The value we place on these conversations (which are wells of knowledge for women) also impacts how data is stored. If these conversations were deemed more valuable, they would be indexed differently online. They would be more searchable and easier to access. Think about the last time you tried to drum up a recommendation or experience that was shared with you in a group chat. How easy was it?
There’s a lot of anecdotal data shared in places like women’s group chats. Remember the study that came out (1 year post vaccinations) about people’s menstrual cycles shifting post-covid vaccine? Well, in Diem (and in my personal group chats), this conversation and questions started happening almost immediately in the few months after vaccines were widely rolled out. The instinct to search for shared experiences was there, but the platform wasn’t.
Related—did you know that 70% of Google searches in the health category start with the words “is it normal” and pertain to female health experiences? Did you know that 100% of gender-tagged Google searches in the finance category are “for women”? That is literally BILLIONS of searches where women are trying to find personalized content every single day, beyond their group chats. I often think of search bars as insight into the human psyche, and it’s evident we’re often just searching for validation. We’re trying to find a sliver of something that makes us take a deep breath and say, “Oh, I’m not alone.”
What if gossip could be used to close the gender information gap? Do you think it’s possible we could collectively rebrand gossip? Women’s gossip already powers the economy so what if it could power the next search engine too? What if, by gossiping, we can build more diverse data to train AI models on, also?
If you’ve taken anything away from this newsletter, I hope it will be a greater understanding of how the data being used to train LLMs (large language models, like Open AI’s GPT-3 that powers their viral ChatGPT product) is biased because all data is default male due to historical trends and systems. We’ve been working away for just over a year on a data model and infrastructure for an alternate social search experience, one that gets better with more community experiences, recommendations, and secrets shared.
The model is called Diem AI and it will conversationally answer your pressing, personal, embarrassing, funny, and serious questions. The model combines a LLM with our own data model (meaning the knowledge shared by community members in our beta platform). When you start a Diem (meaning start a conversation), you’ll now receive an AI-generated response that scrapes Diem and the internet for answers, through a feminine lens, and then supplements those results with real-life anecdotes already shared in Diem by real people. Think of it as a Q&A sesh that’s similar to searching the web, but with a built-in network of internet friends. Right now, our community has mostly been sharing stories about personal health, money, and relationships, so Diem AI will be best at answering those questions. Everything you’ll find in Diem is pretty taboo, and that’s the point. You can also contribute to a Diem by sharing your own stories—the more secrets, stories, and recommendations we collectively share, the better it gets for everyone. Pretty cool, right?
So! What are you waiting for? Login here to try Diem AI.
PSA: It’s currently available on web, not in-app. We are in beta and the experience is currently best on desktop but you can also access it via browser on mobile. Please do send us any and all feedback at email@example.com ❤️🔥
What we’re reading…
Would you have four kids if it meant never paying taxes again? (The New York Times)
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
Till next week,