I Am Woman, Hear My (Web) Roar

In the world of geeky gadgetry, the foregone conclusion is that boys rule the tech school.

The traditional thinking goes like this: gadgets and porn sites (and sometimes gadget porn sites) drive Web traffic, so men must be online more than women.

But study after study is not just disproving this myth, but also shaping the strategy of Web giants trying to nab a piece of that burgeoning, powerful audience: women.

Today, Yahoo became the latest company to step into the female fray with the launch of Yahoo Shine, a site that incorporates a mix of original content in the form of blogs, articles and videos as well as partners such as Glamour and Good Housekeeping.

A total of 15 Hearst and Conde Nast publications have signed up. Shine, arguably the company's biggest content launch in years, aims right at the heart of women ages 25 to 54.

"It is the first launch we've had targeted to this key demographic," said Amy Iorio, vice president and general manager. "Our research showed that women wanted a community that was relative to their lives and also wanted credible sources."

Brandon Holley, the former editor of the now-defunct magazines Jane and Elle Girl, will run the site, which will cover everything from fashion and beauty to career and money.

"Women are really embracing this medium," Holley said. "To be online and get it back from the reader is amazing. I never thought I'd be here a year ago."

Holley, whose experience is almost exclusively in print journalism and primarily magazines, drew upon her extensive contacts in the print world, taking Erin Flaherty with her from Jane and signing up Valerie Rains as the home editor from another recently departed magazine Martha Stewart's Blueprint.

According to Iorio, Shine has been in the works for about seven months.

"We have women all over Yahoo and niche sites that are meeting some of their needs," Iorio said. "It seemed to make sense to broaden out and pull that content in."

That logical sense has been backed up by mountains of research.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that teenage girls were outpacing boys in the area of online content creation -- blogging, posting photos and social networking.

Thirty-five percent of all teen girls blog, while 20 percent of teen boys do.

"This is debunking this myth that boys are the ones that are driving the train when it comes to Internet use. Girls are absolutely sitting in the engine … and doing a lot of communicating," said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at Pew.

The trend extends to adult women as well.

A recent study by Solutions Research Group found that women are larger consumers of online video and online games and more likely to participate in social networks.

Donna Hall, a research director at Solutions, attributes the findings to the interests of multitasking women who are looking for help in their roles as employees, mothers and wives.

"The goal is to harness technology to better balance the life, work, leisure aspects. Be that watching TV online because it enables them to catch an episode they have missed, or using a social networking site to keep tabs on their kids or arrange play dates," Hall wrote in an e-mail. "Our numbers show that women have overtaken men in terms of visits to social media sites. And women are also more likely to watch TV episodes streamed off network TV Web sites than men who tend to download episodes from peer to peer sites."

Women in the study also expressed a need for community across all ages. Forty-two percent of online women visited a social media site in the last month. Even women older than 40, who are generally considered to be less technically savvy, participated in social networks. In the last year, their involvement in social networks has doubled.

Yahoo certainly isn't the only -- or the first company -- to explore this impulse. IVillage has been catering to women -- and programming magazine's Web sites -- for years. In fact, Google "women" and "Internet" and iVillage is one of the first results to pop up on the page.

But women have been increasingly branching out, looking for alternatives to mainstream women's Web programming. One example is Jezebel.com, part of the stable of Gawker blogs.

The site launched in November 2007 with three editorial staffers and now, five months later, boasts seven, a loyal comment-happy following and content that chronicles its editors' love-hate relationship with women's magazines.

More recently, women older than 40 saw the launch of Wowowow.com, a site started by 15 high-profile women -- Whoopi Goldberg, Peggy Noonan, Lily Tomlin and Candice Bergen among them.

The idea for a site aimed at an older female audience came about during a lunch, according to Joni Evans, Wowowow's CEO and a former agent at William Morris.

While Evans was trying to get another project off the ground, she kept hearing from her female writer clients that there wasn't a space for their writing or that they were being hemmed in by subject market. Then, Evans took things into her own hands.

"I just did my own market research. I just called everybody I could think to call" from AOL to iVillage, she said. "It was clearer and clearer that women were going online and so were women over 40 and women over 50. … The trend was so obvious."

The site launched March 8 as a mixture of blog-type columns written by the site's founders as well as polls and forums. Judging by the number of comments, the site seems to be getting good traffic, although Evans declined to say how much.

Evans believes that giving this audience an online space is long overdue.

"One of the secret inspirations is that this demographic that has been so quiet for so long. … [It] is so powerful and so dynamic and so curious and so young and so alive and yet in the old model of television or magazines -- it always cut us off. You hit something like 49; you've faded," she said. "To have the medium that says, Wait a minute. To say, 'We're here, we're wise, we're smart and we want to take the Hill and we want to change laws. … That's a building an army. That's powerful. … I think women will change the world and I hope we'll be part of that."