This post is an extension to a stream of papers I’ve written about Gaydar.co.uk along with Gordon Fletcher and Alison Adam (see: Light 2007, Fletcher and Light 2007 and Light, Fletcher and Adam 2008). Based on my ethnograhic work within Gaydar, I/we have looked at how Gaydar works and is made to work by a number of different groups with different interest. More specfically as part of this, we’ve looked at the commodification of difference, in terms of how gay men specifically (although one might also consider the LGBT community more broadly) are ‘kept in their place’ for commercial purposes. The best exposition of this argument is probably in the paper published in Information Technology and People.
I have a couple more papers in progress about Gaydar, but I’m looking to move into other areas now and I’ve really not engaged with Gayar as much as I was a few years ago as a result (there’s only so many spaces you can engage with in any meaningful way I think!). Anyway, that said, I logged in this weekend and was invited to partipate in a survey described to me as looking at the lives of the LGBT community – it’s named Outright and is to being done in conjunction with Channel 4, Hitwise and Global Park. This survey was done a few years ago and somehow I’d missed the invite that time round – moreover, it had been quoted back at me by Qsoft (the owners of Gaydar) as a response to a press release which had been taken up by pink news (story here). Thus, I thought I’d take up the survey to see exactly what kind of data they might have collected and thus what they were basing their counter arguments upon (of course, the previous survey may well have been structured differently, but I thought it was worth a look).
Despite the invite saying the survey was about the lives of the LGBT community, it really was just market research and did nothing that I could see to illicit from resondents any thoughts about the potential for stereotyping or marginalisation within the Gaydar.co.uk Yet, In the response to my press release, QSoft cited the previous study:
There is no need for us to change the way in which we offer categorisations to our members. They are based upon extensive research into what our users say they want us to provide. If users felt marginalised by the system, rest assured they would be the first to tell us so. We are constantly researching the views and requirements of our community of users via focus groups and research programmes such as Outright 2006.”
Of course, the 2006 survey might have asked different questions to the current one… Whatever, it is clear that the 2009 survey is very much about market research. It asked me questions about: alcohol consumption, grooming products and cosmetics, expenditure on clothing, clothing brand preferences, mobile phones/providers, internet usage/purchasing practices, music and film preferences/consumption habits, car/home ownership, grocery shopping/eating habits, gym membership/vitamin & supplements consumption, income and expenditure habits, media consumption and advertising preferences and how I viewed technology – and people viewed me as a technology user (see picture below).
Above and beyond, the clear evidence for interest in the so called Pink Pound, what the survey also made clear to me is a continuing theme of the ‘LGBT lot’ being seen as opinion leaders, a market that will draw in those around them – as evidenced by the questions configured as ‘do people seek your opinion’. This resonates with QSoft’s prior research:
[Why Target the Gay Market?] Because you want the Mainstream Market. The gay consumers friends and family are part of the wider community. Who better to target as an ambassador [f]or your product than the person in the group with the money to purchase and the inclination to innovate? (Light, et. al. 2008)
What I find interesting is that the 2006 survey was based on only 18,000 responses. To set things in context, at the time there were around 2 million worldwide/670K UK members of Gaydar alone. Yet, from the 2006 survey it was clear that data was then being used to say ‘this is what the LGBT community is like’ – they were homogenized. Even if survey participants for 2006 were recruited from beyond Gaydar and more are recruited in 2009 it is going to be difficult to get away from that homogenization process – it’s impossible to get everyone to participate. Of course it’s a perennial problem with survey work. However, there seems to be little moderation in the way the results of the 2006 survey was reported – glitzy marketing packs and presentations are prepared which transform the data into truth. In doing this, as we have said before, this keeps a market in their place (Light, et. al. 2008) and it configures those who identifty as LGB or T in particular ways. From the survey, I found the link to Outright…
On the Outright site, I found downloads of exerpts from the research (see here – if the link is removed I have copies). I also found video clips of representatives of Madame Tussauds and the Hilton group talking about their approach to the LGBT market – they’re worth downloading/taking a look at (see here – again, if the link is removed I have copies). I was going to write about these, but this post is long enough and I think they speak for themselves – whether it’s the guy from the Hilton saying they were ‘feared’ the Gay Community (what will we do – criticise their décor!) or the PDF slides which state that coming out is probably going to be easier now because the UK has civil partnerships and essentially that we don’t mind being in debt – that’s it, of course, the LGBT lot are responsible for the credit crunch!
Light, B. Fletcher, G. and Adam, A. (2008) Gay Men, Gaydar and the Commodification of Difference, Information Technology and People, 21(3), 300-314. PDF
Fletcher, G. and Light, B. (2007) Going Offline: An Exploratory Cultural Artifact Analysis of an Internet Dating Site’s Development Trajectories, International Journal of Information Management, 27(6), 422-431. PDF
Light, B. (2007) Introducing Masculinity Studies to Information Systems Research: the Case of Gaydar, European Journal of Information Systems, 16(5), 658-665.