Nearly two years ago, we were first talking about building Chairman Mom. We’d spent months talking to people about why they quit women’s and moms’ groups online, trying to deduce what made so many women’s communities go sideways.
Our belief—which most of the world still does not believe—is that the Internet doesn’t need to be toxic for women. That women don’t naturally one want tear one another down. That it was actually engineered into software in the earliest social networks, and we could engineer it out of software. (The hope of course is that we can also help engineer that out of society…)
That meant questioning a lot of the features we think about as standard in online communities, like threaded conversations (where hatred blooms!) and up-and-down voting (tribalism, anyone?).
In the earliest days of Chairman Mom, we had a fascinating conversation about the gender dynamics with messaging. At the time, messaging was all anyone could talk about given the growth of Snap, WhatsApp, Messenger and a dozen more massively growing online messaging apps. Building a community without messaging seemed insane. And yet, it was clear to us we couldn’t launch our beta with messaging. Why? Because of the patriarchy.
In society, men can message other men and if the men don’t reply, it’s no big thing. But if a woman doesn’t reply to another woman who may be asking her for career advice or coffee or to be her mentor? Somehow we’ve been socialized by a world that always wants to divide us apart to think it’s personal. The knock is she’s a b*tch.
Ask any famous female celebrity about this. You can stand around all day signing autographs and taking selfies with fans. But tell one person you are sorry but you are running late, and it’s all over Twitter: “What a b*tch! She couldn’t even sign a simple autograph!” It’s the same thinking that calls female celebrities “divas” when they want to be paid the same as a man.
All that said: It became clear pretty quickly we needed to find a way to solve messaging. The conversations that were happening in the threads were so intimate and personal, so unlike things being shared elsewhere online. Women were finding people who were going through the exact same things they were—no matter how individual it felt. So many women were offering to help one another on everything from advice on raising gender fluid kids, to re-doing each other’s resumes, to moving to New York with young kids, to putting the pieces back together once a spouse lost his job, to battling anxiety. People wanted to connect one-on-one, out of the glare of our larger community. And my connecting them one-by-one clearly wasn’t going to scale!
So finally, today we’ve launched messaging. Unlike a lot of social media features, we’ve added in friction. You both have to opt in in order to receive messages from one another. We do not opt you into receiving anything. When you come to the site today, you’ll have the option to decide whether you want anyone to be able to message you or you want to approve folks on an individual basis.
You can also block people from being able to contact you. We will never send a message guilting you into approving someone. You will only know they tried to message you if you turn messaging on, or approve that person. You can change your settings at any moment. And you can hover over someone’s user name in any thread and approve them to message you right there, without leaving that thread.
This allows people who may be incredibly time pressed to opt out of messaging altogether, without the social pressure of having “rejected” anyone. But it also allows people who want to connect more deeply throughout the community another way to have even more intimate conversations. (My messaging is totally open for everyone! Hit me up anytime!)
We don’t yet have anonymous messaging, but if two people want to connect in a thread and one of you isn’t anonymous, that person can open their messages and the anonymous poster can contact them and privately unmask themselves.
You’ll see a little mail icon on the top right of the site, click there to view your mailbox.
We’ll continue to iterate on this feature, but we hope you’ll give it a try. I know I’ve formed some deep friendships on the site already with women I’ve never met before. And certainly a lot of you know more about me than some of my closest friends! At its core Chairman Mom is about solving loneliness and isolation, and this is another way we’re getting at that end goal.
(One place to start might be this thread on where people live…several folks had discussed meeting up! I just messaged several Seattle folks because I’m coming there tomorrow!)