Sunday, October 23, 2011

My brush with Mumsnet Towers Royalty

Two Mondays ago, I went on a little excursion down to Canary Wharf during my lunch break, for a talk by one of the co-founders of Mumsnet that was being hosted by my company's parent organization.  I am, I later found out after hearing Carrie Longton use this term, a "lurker" on Mumsnet.  By that, I mean that I have a look at a lot of things, but have never actually made a post in a forum or commented on any of the broad range of things that are discussed by other "Mumsnetters". 
The tale of Mumsnet truly fascinated me.  It started as the product of a failed holiday taken by the other founder, Justine Roberts, with her one-year-old twins.  Failed, I guess, as in, it wasn't very fun and the place they ended up at wasn't very kid-friendly, etc.  When she returned, she thought that it would be great to somehow tap into the networks of mothers who were meeting daily, to get advice on things like vacations/holidays, what the best stroller/pushchair was, and other things that they, as the "experts" could comment on.  The two founders started off by taking postcards out to mothers in cafes, and in libraries, asking them to review products they owned - and liked or greatly disliked - which would then be loaded on to the forum.  Carrie Longton didn't even own a computer, and most people they spoke to (this was in 2000) didn't know their email addresses.  It was truly a different world.

In the nearly twelve years since then, they have made headlines, influenced political elections, gone head-to-head with one of the UK's "experts" on parenting - which ended in an out-of-court settlement, brought about great change, and built an amazing brand.  Apparently now they are making money, but for 6 years, they didn't.  Now, getting 20 million hits a month, Mumsnet is a true force in the world of mothers, parents, politicians, and businesses.  There were a few stories which made me get teary, such as one where a suicidal mother of two had posted that she had just taken an entire bottle of painkillers.  Fellow posters quickly got in touch with someone who knew her to get her address, sent an ambulance to her house, and raised money in order to pay for emergency care for her children.  Remarkable stories of complete strangers raising money for a fellow Mumsnetter whose ex-husband had spent his share of the cost of their son's birthday presents to take his new girlfriend to Spain. 

Carrie talked a bit about why Dadsnet wouldn't quite work in the same way (men just don't feel compelled to share their thoughts and opinions in the same way that women do, and then obsess over decisions and seek confirmation that they've done the right thing), but new this year is  Perhaps Bishy and Granny Karla want to have a look?

Overall it was a very cool way to spend a lunch hour, to hear how a simple idea on getting people to communicate has grown into something almost bigger than itself.  We also got a free copy of the book, The Mumsnet Rules, which I have been dipping in and out of for the past two weeks - it's hilarious!  You can read the foreward here.

I have to admit I enjoyed the foreward and then bristled slightly at page 7 (i.e. the first page of the actual book), in the chapter entitled You don't have to bake with your children, when I read this:

Unless you live up a tree in the rain forest, it is probably impossible to avoid Jamie Oliver and his kids.  Or many another celebrity plus offspring picutred in their lovely homes.   Baking and doing craft activities.  Or just looking radiant and fluffy in soft sunshine and cashmere cardigans.  And it's not just celebrities - we have too much access to all sorts of other people's prettified versions of their own parenting, too many books and blogs and tweets.  (Although you have to wonder about some of the blogging mummies - when do they find the time and how bored must they be to write those blogs?  Why do they never post about their bad days?  But let them blog - we all have to get through the day somehow).

I frowned as I read that, and then thought, well, I think I do write about the bad days too!  And decided that since Mumsnet had a blog network, then they couldn't think too badly of me.  Not that I care or will be joining it, in fact.  I'm just a lurker after all!

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