Last month the Internet received an estrogen injection with the launch of three high-profile Web sites aimed at women. First, Leslie Stahl and Liz Smith's incomprehensively titled Wowowow (covered previously in Broadsheet) gave us the online equivalent of the Oxygen Network. More recently, Yahoo's women's site, Shine, launched, as well as SheZoom, billed as the first video Web site for women.
This latest flurry of lady-centric start-ups seems to be part of a wider trend. Along with political sites, women's Web sites experienced the largest growth last year -- 35 percent -- according to a ComScore Media Metrix study of 100 major U.S. Internet destinations. So what's behind the growth? An article in the Guardian suggests that the women's Web site boom is a response to the needs of a growing number of female Web users who feel alienated by the fluffy, often brainless coverage of the glossies. Like Jezebel, which now claims to receive over 12 million visits a month, many of the sites vying for female visitors try to cast themselves as brainier, spunkier cousins of traditional women's magazines. Meanwhile the glossies are rushing to win back readers who may have abandoned them for the Web. Glamour.com has blogs and online polls, Self.com has a forum function that allows readers to start their own blogs, and anyone visiting Cosmopolitan.com is invited to join the "Cosmo Community." (Anna Wintour, meanwhile, apparently banned the word "blog" during Vogue's Web site relaunch last year.)
Now that the sites have had some time to get up and running, we thought we'd take a look at what they offer: Shine as yet feels like more of an extension of the glossies than an alternative (many of Shine's stories come directly from publishers like Condé Nast, Hearst, Rodale and Time). Shine seems less interested in creating a distinct voice than it does in becoming a portal -- along the lines of iVillage.com or AOL Living. Of course, if Shine can siphon off enough of the 40 million women between the ages of 25 and 40 who already visit Yahoo! each month, it will be able to offer advertisers the granddaddy of all marketing niches: Women users outnumbered men on the Web for the first time in 2007, according to Ad Age.
Wowowow, on the other hand, does have a distinct voice, albeit one that veers toward the intensely creepy. Visiting the site is a little like stumbling upon your liberal grandma's ladies-only garden party, and I'm inadvertently reminded of the time my own liberal grandmother pulled me aside and told me that Grandpa Sess was "still a tremendous lover" who "had the whole world in his pants."
Finally, there's SheZoom, the least likely to catch on with female Web users. Though it purports to be an "upbeat and engaging community that encourages women to laugh, learn, share and connect," so far I only feel encouraged to punch someone (or navigate away). The site covers the usual suspects of women's categories -- Friends & Relationships, Food, Mind & Body, Money, Family, etc. Yet it's bland in both form and content. As far as I can tell, there are still no user-generated videos on the site (which, it must be said, is still in beta mode). Regardless, the videos produced by SheZoom do not bode well for its future. SheZoom's main page currently features a bearded man making lemon-lime pasta (ew), a chubby guy giving a tutorial on buying and using a camcorder (make sure you can find the buttons!), tips on eating out while dieting from a guy wearing a lab coat (why?) and a lesson on going through menopause with a child in puberty (it's like being in a plane crash!). And do you really want this guy giving you dating advice?