Top Women (you’ve probably never heard of) Shaping the Digital Culture

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’d like to shine a spotlight on some of the unsung heroines of the digital age. Everyone knows about the awesome women over at Yahoo! and Facebook. But I’m talking about a different breed of female: the pioneers, the world builders, the passionate geeks hacking their way to the top with inventive ideas and software.

Here’s my list of culture hackers. By intent and design, they use the Internet as a positive cultural force. Hats off to them.

Karen McGrane  wants to make the Internet more awesome. She delivers by creating usable digital products and content strategy through the power of user experience (UX) design. Currently, she’s one of the voices accelerating responsive design, a technology makes content mutable to easily format for any size screen. It’s an innovation that will further democratize web-based publishing. A content strategy guru, McGrane is managing partner at Bond Art + Science, where she develops interaction designs for a broad range of clients. A proponent for elevating the quality of online advertising, McGrane asserts “If you’re a UX (user experience) person, and you’re going in to talk to your clients with a snotty, condescending attitude about advertising, then you’re not doing your job. If you hate ads, then figure out a way to make the experience of ads better.” Now that would truly make the Internet more awesome. Follow her @karenmcgrane.

Cindy Gallop is an advertising sharpshooter whose award-winning career spans the death of the 8-track tape and the birth of Twitter. After indulging in a string of affairs with younger men, she observed that their ideas about women and sex were largely drawn from Internet pornography—much of it hard-core. That led her to launch Make Love Not Porn to provide more realistic information about how people have sex, and to restore #Realworldsex. Back in 2010, Gallop created IfWeRanTheWorld, a web platform that brings together human good intentions and corporate good intentions, and turn them into collective action. While she continues to consult as a brand strategist, she describes her role as the person who “blows sh*t up.” Follow her @cindygallop.

Lisa Wade, PhD and Gwen Sharp, PhD are co-founders of the influential website Sociological Images. Its mission is to “encourage all kinds of people to exercise and develop their sociological imagination.”  Using compelling imagery, the duo provokes conversations about sexuality, gender politics, and our belief systems. Their archive of over 4,500 posts is a social record in itself. With day jobs as professors, Wade and Sharp influence over 20,000 RSS subscribers, many of whom are bloggers. And their website enjoys 500,000 visits per month. You can friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or Pinterest (of course).

Liza Daly is changing the world of books. In 2008, she developed Bookworm, one of the first open source EPUB readers, and in 2010 she released Ibis Reader, the first HTML5 ebook platform. She was the lead developer on major online products for Oxford University Press and engineered e-resources for Columbia University Press. Founder of threepress, Daly helps publishers play catch-up in a world exploding with free content and she charts the course for the book industry’s future as a member of the Board of Directors for the International Digital Publishing Forum. Follow her @liza.

Shelley Bernstein keeps the Brooklyn Museum breathless at the cutting edge of social technologies. She engages audiences with projects like web-casting a 28-foot tepee being built in the museum or by testing people’s art smarts with a visual art quiz. Her efforts have expanded the museum’s reputation globally, making her a role model for museums around the world struggling to transform the connection between their content and audiences in a digital era. You can join one of the 403,000 Twitter followers Bernstein has cultivated @brooklynmuseum or check out her personal feed @shell7.

Constance Steinkuehler pioneered the idea that multi-player online games could change the way we teach and learn. She studies, for example, why teenage boys who are struggling readers can plow through complex video game instructions. Currently, she advises on national policy relating to the impact of video games on learning at the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Obama Administration. A founding fellow of the Games+Learning+Society Initiative, Steinkuehler chairs the annual Games, Learning & Society Conference. In 2009, she served on the National Academy of Sciences committee on games. Follow her @officeofedtech.